It’s been a while since I’ve indulged in a bowl of ramen and I figured nothing was better than a snow storm to dive back into a bowl. I have scratched a few places off the list but hadn’t had the chance to try Touhenboku ramen on Queen Street. Spearheaded by owner Zuimei Okuyama, it has all the hallmarks of the trendy Toronto noodle houses. First, it has a name a white guy has a hard time remembering (Touhenboku means “blockhead” in Japanese). Second, it has a cute mascot (in this case a smiling tree stump named Tomo who is a half breed consisting of a Canadian and Japanese maple). Third, it has a small menu, modest interior and they sing you a farewell tune on the way out. The big difference is that they use chicken instead of pork as the base for their broth. From what I understand, this may be a “bone” of contention among ramen purists, but I approached it purely from a taste perspective. They also adhere to the “vegetarians need love too” philospohy and offer a vegetarian broth which is not the case for some of the other ramen houses in the area.
That said, I ordered my regular fare; shio ramen (thin noodles) and an order of gyoza. Since I was breaking the pork broth doctrine anyway, I decided to go spicy since I was intrigued by the addition of the “special chili oil”. The soup arrived quickly and I immediately noticed the distinct smell of chicken emanating from the bowl . Any fears of a dainty broth were quickly extinguished after the first few sips. As promised, it was rich and creamy and the oil added a modest amount of heat to the broth. The noodles and egg were cooked to near perfection (the noodles were firm and the egg was not quite hard boiled). The other ingredients were in good proportion to the broth and noodles.
Despite the fact the place was rather empty, the gyoza, despite being called an appetizer, didn’t arrive until I was almost finished the soup. With this annoyance aside, I was treated to a good plate of dumplings. They were seasoned well and nicely pan-finished, keeping the integrity of the dumpling while adding the right amount of crispiness.
I wanted to insert some witty banter into this post but I was left stumped. Once you’ve branched out to a number of ramen places, you run out of ideas. Touhenboku turns over a new leaf by having the gall to focus on mizutaki (chicken broth) and knot the traditional tonkotsu (pork broth) as the base to its hearty soups. The flavours are quite rich which might help justify the fact that boles are a bit smaller than other ramen joints. In the case of the spicy ramen, it’s bark was worse than it’s bite although the chili did add a nice flavour. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the gyoza, despite having a filling a little less poppy than others, were some of the better I’ve had since they were pan-fried to near perfection. In the end, Touhenboku has blossomed into good competition with other ramen houses in the area in regards to both service and more importantly, a decent bowl of soup. Domo arigato Zuimei Okuyama…wood you please take a bough?