Address: 832 Somerset St W, Ottawa
Hours: 11:30am – 10pm (Sun – Sat)
It wasn’t that long ago that ramen noodles in Canada were solely associated with packs of 25-cent noodles with flavour packets that I can only assume were made of some sort of super-concentrated salt. However, as Canadians’ tastes, and the immigrants coming to the country, have evolved, we now have restaurants dedicated to authentic bowls of ramen noodles. Their rich broths, springy alkaline noodles, and hearty toppings make them destination-worthy meals, and it was with this mindset that I went to try out Koichi Ramen.
Located in Chinatown between Rochester and Booth, Koichi is a small space, with an interesting interior that’s very wood-heavy, with lots of clean and crisp lines. I arrived shortly after the lunch rush, but there were still a few other tables of people coming and going as they got their ramen fix.
While obviously ramen-focused, the menu also has several appetizers that will appeal to both carnivores and vegetarians. Familiar Japanese apps like chicken karaage, gyoza, and chicken wing yakitori are there for your protein needs, while edamame, vegetable gyoza, and agedashi tofu are available if meat isn’t your thing. I was feeling like trying something new, so I went with the ika geso karaage – deep fried squid tentacles ($6.95).
Here at Koichi, they have a system for ordering their ramen – choose a broth (pork, chicken or vegetable, with a few sub-varieties of each), protein, and…spice level. I’ve never known ramen to be spicy, and haven’t seen this as an option before, but to each their own. I chose the Koichi signature ramen ($13.95), which has a tonkotsu broth with bamboo, bean sprouts, a marinated egg, green onion and kikurage (wood ear mushrooms). The pork belly was an obvious choice for my protein, and I went with no spice, so that I could get a good baseline impression of their ramen.
My squid karaage arrived quickly; the thin tentacles were lightly battered and came with a neon green-coloured wasabi mayo. They were cooked with a deft hand – they had a pleasant crunch, and no rubbery meat in sight. The mayo added a hefty zing, but I preferred the ika gesso karaage on its own.
While I waited for my ramen, I tried to figure out the Ramune melon soda ($2.90) I had ordered to drink. If you’re asking, “What about a soda needs figuring out?” – I give you this. The complex design is apparently a holdover from when there was no other way to seal carbonated beverages, but Ramune is keeping the tradition alive and making confused persons like myself look up on YouTube how to drink their product. Luckily, the drink was fizzy and sweet, and would be a nice counterpoint to my otherwise very umami-heavy meal.
Tonkotsu broth is made from boiling pork bones until they release gelatin, proteins, fat, and marrow, until you’re left with a milky-white broth that coats your mouth in its creamy goodness. Koichi’s tonkotsu was spot-on for colour, but I found it to be somewhat lacking in flavour and wasn’t the creamiest I’ve had.
The crinkled nature of the noodles suggested to me that they’re commercial ones, and most places that have hand-made noodles (rightly) like to advertise that fact. They were certainly better than the kind in the 25-cent packages of my university days, but they lacked the springy chew of a good ramen noodle.
The pork belly was wonderfully crisp, although I would have preferred a fattier and thicker belly (you are what you eat!). The generous amount of toppings all added layers of flavour to the dish, and oddly it was the marinated egg that I appreciated the most – not at all rubbery, and with a medium-cooked yolk, it was delicious.
It may not have been the biggest bowl of ramen I’ve ever received, but it was still more than enough for a solid meal. Also, who wants soup leftovers?
The lone waitress working the front of house was friendly and efficient, especially considering how busy she was the whole time I was there.
Koichi has a cool space and a menu that’s sure to make you hungry. The execution on the ramen isn’t quite there to reach the upper heights of ramen greatness, but it’s still a decent bowl of noods.