Growing up as white kids in Canada we don't think we're too different from most others who's only exposure to ramen had always been those packages of dried noodles that you can find in supermarkets and even dollar stores at 10 for 10$ under the brand names "Top Ramen" or "Mr Noodles". They've long existed in the same realm as canned Chef Boyardee products in the minds of many as the type of food intended for hot plates, college dorms and cheap eats in your first apartment while broke and learning how to live on a budget. You would tear open the package, add the powdered flavoring in that silver astronaut pouch that basically tasted like crushed overwhelmingly sodium laden bouillon cubes into a pot of water; bring it to a boil and then add the brick of dried wavy noodles stirring until you had something that vaguely resembled food. It wasn't anywhere close to mom's home-cooked meals but it sure broke up the monotony of cereal or peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for dinner.
As it turns out, true ramen is far, far more than that abysmal packaged product. It's actually a dish that the Japanese take very seriously and that packaged crap is about as representative of the real thing as Swanson frozen TV dinners are to the thanksgiving meal they're meant to replicate. To put it into perspective, in Japan these noodles are revered in the same regard as say, smoked meat or bagels are in Montreal. The real deal is prepared by chefs who dedicate their lives to their craft trying to achieve perfection in the consistency of their noodles which they pull by hand to order, or the flavor of their broths which are often made of an amalgamation of several different individually prepared broths blended to produce final products as unique as their shops. These chefs serve hot bowls of noodles to customers who lineup patiently around the block and swear allegiance to their favorite spots the way we do with smoked meat joints. Starting to get the picture?
Our craving for ramen was induced by chef David Chang's new quarterly food magazine Lucky Peach, the inaugural issue had focused primarily on ramen. After voraciously reading it cover to cover our curiosity had peaked, our mission: find a good bowl of ramen in Montreal. We began our search in the most obvious of places to us, our fellow food bloggers' websites. After consulting Urbanspoon and reading about Yuki Ramen on Fou de Food MTL, This is Why We're Fat & Bubble Tea for Dinner the choice became clear that it was preferred to the alternative choice of Hakata Ramen which we've yet to try for ourselves.
Yuki Ramen exists in the most unlikely of places to find good food - The Faubourg food court. While in other parts of the world food courts can be perfectly good places to uncover good eats, in North America a food court is normally synonymous with McDonalds, KFC, bad pizza, wrap sandwiches and cinnabuns; okay who doesn't love cinnabuns, maybe they don't deserve to be painted in the same broad stroke as the rest of these examples.
We approached the counter at Yuki and requested a bowl each of ramen, one order of the BBQ roast pork and one called pork & sauce but they also offer beef chicken and seafood options. The first thing we notice immediately after ordering are the two gentlemen behind the glass that begin pulling and stretching our noodles by hand. It's really a cool thing to see them slap and twist a length of sticky wheat based dough into handfuls of thin noodles in front of your eyes in just moments. The noodles are cooked rapidly and then put in a bowl, covered with broth and finished with your previously selected topping. We're not going to pretend to understand this cuisine the way we do others, we never studied much asian cookery and can't elaborately comment on the preparation and technique the way we normally like to but suffice to say that it was impressive to see and equally delicious. We normally don't post photos of decor, signs or dining rooms in our blog posts, but we felt this was an exception to the rule, have a look below.
We carried our bowls to our table on our plastic food court trays along with little styrofoam cups of cold, crisp cabbage rubbed in what tasted a lot like gochujang but were not sure about that, it was tasty and faintly reminded us of Korean kimchi but not as good as the real stuff. Both broths had what would best be described as a very smooth texture. Most soups in European and American cultures are meticulously chilled and skimmed to rid them of any fat using various techniques, but when making ramen fat is rendered and intentionally added to amplify flavor and mouth feel, we liked it a lot. The broth in the roast BBQ pork bowl tasted very meaty and substantial almost like an amplified wonton soup broth. Napa cabbage, bok choy and coriander were added along with the roast pork which was tender and appetizing, the bowl was finished with a sprinkling of chopped green onion. The second bowl, labeled on the menu as pork & sauce was garnished similarly to the first bowl with cabbage, bok choy and green onion but the flavor profile and toppings were completely different. Although texturally identical to the first bowls broth the flavor was far more herbaceous, tasting predominantly of chopped coriander. The pork was more like crumbled sausage or ground meat and a hard boiled egg was floated in the bowl which was deeply saturated with pork flavor and brown color from the liquid it had been cooked in.
The noodles in both bowls were slightly firm, chewy and elastic in the best sense, their texture was terrific. They were not 100% uniform in size, some were notably thicker than others but that didn't bother us in the least. As time went on while we slurped away at our plentiful soup bowls the texture of the noodles diminished progressively to a more mushy texture but that's to be expected sitting in a hot broth. The portions were enormous which we appreciated and the price was a remarkable and student-friendly $6.95 a bowl (all menu items fall below the 10$ price point). It's always to be commended when an establishment does one thing, and does it well; we're not claiming to be ramen experts, but we enjoyed it quite a bit. A comforting hot bowl of noodle soup at Yuki ramen gets our vote for a definite "must try" this winter. The hand made noodles, unlikely location and great value are sure to impress.
BBQ Roast Pork Ramen - 6.95$
Pork & Sauce Ramen - 6.95$
1616 St Catherine Ouest (Faubourg Food Court)