When it’s grey and wet in Vancouver, ramen always fits the bill. But I don’t mean the instant stuff North Americans tend to know as ramen, but the real comfort kind with slow-simmered broth.

Vancouver is full of fantastic ramen shops. Many of them are proven ventures from Japan, like Hokkaido Ramen Santouka. There’s a communal table up front near the steamed-up windows and smaller two-person tables in the back. It gets warm in there, but since I’m always cold that’s a good thing.

Service is the fast, efficient, sweet kind that only the Japanese can offer.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, VancouverGreat ramen for me is a combination of creamy broth, chewy noodles, tender pork and bursts of interesting toppings. Santouka hits all of these high notes.

The depth of their broth comes from simmering pork bones for 20 hours before adding vegetables, dried fish and kelp. Intriguingly, Santouka ensures it never comes to a boil to protect the flavour. It’s the same exact standards at all of their locations.

You choose from three variations of the broth: shio which is plain salt; miso which has miso paste added; and shoyu which has soy sauce added.

Their signature is toroniku, or pork jowl. The cheek meat (yah, yah pig face) is already tender, but then it’s simmered so it takes on a richer flavour. It’s utterly fantastic.

In a lovely presentation, the thinly sliced pork jowl comes on a plate with some well thought-out toppings. This way, you control what goes in your bowl of ramen.

A tiny pickled plum adds a surprising tartness against the salty broth. The bamboo shoots, or menma, give a satsifying crunch against the springy noodles. And finally some diced green onions and a piece of swirly pink and beige narutomaki (a cured fish product) for colour.

At $12.95, the toroniku ramen isn’t cheap but it’s completely satisfying.

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, 1690 Robson St., Vancouver, B.C. (604) 681-8121. Open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

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