When my friend suggested the other day to go have some ramen, I thought we were going to be eating instant noodles out of styrofoam cups, or, at most, having boiled or microwaved instant ramen in fancy bowls. When we arrived at Kenzo on Bloor, however, I realized that I was thinking of instant ramen, not the original ramen that inspired the one-minute noodles in styrofoam cups.
Ramen (also spelled raumen), originated from China in the 19th century. Chinese immigrants brought the early form of ramen, wheat noodles served in a meat-based broth, to Japan. Over the decades, the Japanese developed their own signature style on the dish by altering the way that the noodles and soup were prepared.
In an ironic contrast to the cheap college-student nature of instant noodles today, ramen was initially a labor-intensive and expensive delicacy. The soup noodles then spread in popularity during the Second World War, when food supplies were scarce. Since the ingredients needed to make ramen were cheap, the noodles quickly became a staple food item for the Japanese during wartime, and it continues to be so today. Ramen has since become not only Japan’s national dish, but it has also been voted by the citizens as Japan’s greatest invention.
In Toronto, eateries that serve ramen noodles are somewhat rare. Kenzo, with two downtown locations, is one of the most popular and highly regarded noodle houses in the city. The eatery serves over ten types of freshly made ramen, differentiated largely by the ingredients and the preparation of the broth. The restaurant also specialized in spicy ramen, perfect for those who enjoy a hot kick in their noodles (and possibly a runny nose).
Being a specialized restaurant, the only other dishes to try in Kenzo aside from ramen are two appetizers, gyoza (fried dumplings) and takoyaki (fried octopus balls). Though the menu is limited, the good news is that the ramen is cheap: most if not all items on the menu are under $10. The serving size is also adequate for a full meal, especially impressive given the cheap price.
Kenzo’s simple décor, which includes artwork of ramen ingredients and a cute motorized replica of chopsticks gathering ramen from a bowl, makes a casual setting for noodle lovers and Asian food enthusiasts. Note that since the dining area is small, groups of more than four diners may have to wait some time before getting a table.
Kenzo is located at 138 Dundas St. W (intersection Bay and Dundas) and at 372 Bloor St. W (one block west of Bloor and Spadina). The restaurant is open from 11am to 10pm, seven days a week. For more information, visit the official website.
All photos courtesy of Kenzo Ramen restaurant.