Having been spoiled with opportunities to visit Vancouver several times a year, I’ll be first to admit that my standards for ramen and sushi are very high. My favourite ramen thus far has been from Ramen Santouka in Vancouver. Though the ramen here in Calgary can’t quite compare to the ones from the famous ramen-yas in Vancouver, to date, my go to place for ramen in Calgary has been Shikiji for their Chili Goma Ramen. When my friend suggested that I try the ramen at Maruju, I was a little skeptical at first, especially since Maruju is not a ramen-ya. I’d been to Maruju Sushi before several years back when they first opened. I thought their sushi was passable but not really outstanding. For the most part, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to sushi and generally prefer establishments that are run by Japanese owners as I find their preparation to be more authentic. Nonetheless, I was willing to keep an open mind and check out Maruju for their ramen.
Ordering ramen at Maruju can be a bit confusing. Ramen is listed on their regular menu and there are four varieties to choose from – plain, chicken karaage (deep-fried chicken), chuka (bbq pork), pork chop (breaded pork chop). However, there is also this separate menu for ramen in addition to the regular menu. Here on the ramen menu, there is a choice of soup base. The standard choices are Shoyu (soy sauce base) or Miso (soy bean base). There is an additional charge for all the other varieties of soup base such as Tonkotsu (pork bone broth base), Tom Yum (hot & sour), Kara Miso (spicy miso), or Tomato. I was a little surprised with the Tom Yum soup base offering as Tom Yum is a hot & sour clear soup typically associated with Thai or Laotian cuisine. I’d never actually seen it paired with ramen before. Perhaps, they are trying to do the fusion thing and create a “Thai-style” ramen. The price of the ramen at Maruju varies and is dependent on the toppings you choose. Here on the separate ramen menu, the toppings are named differently than on their regular menu. The pork chop actually corresponds to the pork cutlet, the chicken karaage corresponds to the chicken cutlet, while the chuka/bbq pork is actually the chashu. In addition, there are other choices of toppings such as ebi fry, roast pork, seafood, tempura, and Japanese wonton.
We started off with a small order of Yam Tempura ($5.75 for small; $9.75 for large). The Yam Tempura was executed well. The batter was light and not too greasy.
My friend ordered the Tonkotsu Ramen with Pork Cutlet ($9.95 for pork cutlet topping; additional $1.50 for Tonkotsu soup base). I was pleasantly surprised the pork cutlet pieces were actually tender with a crispy coating.
I ordered the Tonkotsu Ramen with Chashu ($9.95 for chashu topping; additional $1.50 f0r Tonkotsu soup base). This dish is also known as Chuka Ramen on the regular menu but with an upgraded Tonkotsu soup base. The Tonkotsu (pork bone) soup base was milky but very mild in flavour. It didn’t have the depth of flavour that I’ve come expect from the signature pork broth at Ramen Santouka in Vancouver. I wasn’t sure what to expect for a topping given that it was called Chuka. Chuka refers actually to Japanese-style “Chinese” dishes and since the topping was described as bbq pork/chashu, I actually wasn’t sure whether I might be getting the Chinese-style bbq pork as a topping.
I was relieved when my bowl arrived and the topping wasn’t actually honey-glazed Chinese-style bbq pork. The slabs Chashu/BBQ Pork actually turned out to be amazing, despite the soup base being rather pedestrian. The slices of seared pork belly were melt-in-your-mouth tender and the charring imparted a nice, smoky flavour to it. There was no doubt these slices of seared pork belly were the star of the show. It’s too bad there were only a few slices of this Chashu in the bowl as I could have eaten a whole plate of it. I wish more places would actually sear the Chashu that they put on top of their ramen as it totally transforms the dish from just being ok to being really memorable.
Since I was so impressed with the slices of Chashu, I went back a couple of days later with my coworkers for lunch. This time, I decided to try the Kara Miso Ramen (spicy miso) instead of the Tonkotsu, since I love spicy food. Of course, I chose Chashu for a topping again as I truly believe that is the outstanding item at Maruju. Though I’d found the Tonkotsu soup base to be rather pedestrian, I actually preferred it over the Kara Miso soup base. The Kara Miso soup base was nothing like the version that I had at Ramen Santouka in Vancouver. This Kara Miso at Maruju was indeed spicy but it didn’t have the depth of flavour that the version from Ramen Santouka had. In fact, I thought the spice and miso flavour actually took away from the subtle caramelized flavours of the Chashu. On future visits, I’ll stick to the gentle flavours of the Tonkotsu soup base to accompany the Chashu. If I feel like a bit of heat, I’ll just add some of the Togarashi (seven spice powder) that they provide.
All in all, this was a good find for ramen. While the Chili Goma Ramen at Shikiji is still my favourite in Calgary, I can’t stop thinking about these Chashu slices at Maruju.
919 Centre St N