Ramen tastes better in the winter

Ramen tastes better in the winter - Danielle Geva

When I travelled to Tokyo, I got hooked on ramen. Due to jet lag and poor planning, I even had ramen for breakfast. Once I returned, I tried replicating the dish at home. My ramen was pretty good, but it just wasn’t the same.

After looking up all of the ramen shops in Toronto, I narrowed it down to the places that offered a vegetarian broth. The vegetarian option was usually topped with a soft boiled egg, but I hoped it could be made vegan by removing the egg. Then I learned that most places exclusively use egg noodles.

One time the waiter was kind enough to bring the noodle packaging over so I could confirm the ingredients were vegan. The rest of the time, I’d be seated and then awkwardly leave after discovering the ramen wasn’t vegan. Since I felt bad about wasting their time, I started only going to places that had reviews mentioning a vegan option. There weren’t many, but over time more and more ramen shops started offering a vegan noodle substitutions.

Ramen tastes better in the winter - Danielle Geva

Only after eating at Jinya Ramen, I finally found a vegan ramen that really hit the spot. Jinya Ramen has two vegan options. The first is called Vegetable Soup Ramen. It is either vegan, or can be made vegan upon request. The vegetable broth reminds me of the one I enjoyed in Japan, but it is piled high with greens and vegetables. While this option is very good, it doesn’t begin to compare to the Spicy Creamy Vegan Ramen. The fact that the second option has vegan in title is already a huge win. I don’t have to double check for hidden fish sauce, or worry about egg noodles. The flavours in the Spicy Creamy Vegan Ramen are complex and layered, making each bite taste completely different.

The one thing that stays the same is the quality. Jinya Ramen consistently delivers delicious food and friendly service. The ramen is always as good as I remember it, no off days. The warm broth, the rich garlic flavour, and the spice make it the perfect dish for a chilly day (especially if you’re fighting a cold).

Ramen tastes better in the winter - Danielle Geva

Last time I went in to escape the cold, I was seated in a warm and toasty window spot. I got to enjoy the incredibly tasty ramen while basking in the sun and people watching. It was also the first time eating in public without my chopstick helper (a little device that makes it easier to eat with chopsticks). Since I often travel to Japan, I wanted to improve my chopstick skills. It wasn’t easy, but at least by eating slowly I was able to savour every slurp.

 

This Lunch Looks Better Than it Tastes

Lunch Looks Better Than it Tastes

After a bad experience at a restaurant I always wonder if I should even write about it. There is enough negativity in the world as is, and so many other great spots I could write about instead. My lunch wasn’t even that bad, the meal was just surprisingly bland. But the interesting part is that all of the factors that usually make a place great are the reasons it went poorly.

Positive Reviews

When a restaurant has tons of highly positive reviews, it’s usually a good sign. The downside though is that positive reviews elevate expectations. Since my meal was one of the more popular options on the menu, there were complementary reviews about this specific meal. Maybe my lunch had no chance against my high expectations.

Atmosphere

When a restaurant has beautiful decor and friendly staff, it usually means they are successful enough to afford investing in their atmosphere. After tasting my meal though it became clear that the resources spent on the vibe should’ve been spent on the food.

Lunch Set

A lunch set makes it easy for people to order, and can be a great way to showcase the most popular dish. Sometimes though a daily special means the restaurant is trying to get rid of leftovers and ingredients that are about to expire. I mostly ordered the lunch set because I like dishes with lots of variety. I hoped that the long wait was an indication that everything was being prepared fresh. While I couldn’t tell if anything was premade or borderline stale, I was surprised that not one thing on the plate was properly heated or seasoned.

Niche Menu

When everything on the menu is plant-based, and even organic, it’s much easier to place an order without the stress of substitutions. Since this is pretty rare to find, especially in some cities, people tend to be more forgiving about the food itself. As much as people can’t help but being honest about any grievances, they usually feel the need to give a place 5 stars when it caters to their specific dietary needs. This is exactly why I don’t plan on naming this restaurant. I’m just grateful they exist, and hope they either had an off day or will get better.

 

Ordering Ceremonial Matcha in Kyoto

Ordering ceremonial matcha in Kyoto

The good thing about arriving in a surprisingly busy area of Kyoto, was the amble choice of teahouses. In an attempt to be open to new experiences, I embraced under-planning and walked into the first teahouse I came across. After drinking matcha in Shinsaibashi in Osaka, I wanted to try a matcha flavoured food. The menu had a variety of matcha noodle dishes, and appetizing desserts. Since matcha is an acquired taste, flavoured ice cream, tiramisu, and parfaits are a great alternative for those who don’t yet appreciate ceremonial matcha.

There were many food items, but unfortunately no vegan options. Instead, I ordered a ceremonial matcha and hoped it would be served with a sweet treat. In Japanese teahouses, the most expensive matcha on the menu is the highest grade ceremonial matcha and is served with sencha and wagashi. Wagashi is a small Japanese confection, often made from sugar and rice flour. It is typically plant-based, even when it includes a filling.

The order did end up including a delicious pink wagashi. The matcha itself didn’t have that distinct umami flavour, however, it was still extremely fresh and skillfully prepared. I also ordered an iced matcha, which was smooth but much sweeter than expected as they added a generous amount of syrup.

Sometimes it’s nice to stroll around, and visit a place without looking at reviews. Though, I have extremely high expectations for my next matcha tasting as it would be in the highly regarded teahouses of Uji.

Brunch at Cafe Landwer

Brunch at Cafe Landwer

Last weekend, on my way to the park, I noticed a new cafe had opened up on University and Adelaide in Toronto. It looked like a cute brunch spot, and I got even more excited once I saw it was Cafe Landwer.

Brunch at Cafe Landwer

When I visited Israel, I met some of my childhood friends at a cafe by the same name. I remember it clearly, because the food looked great and I regretted only ordering their mint lemonade. I especially remember the name of the cafe because I had trouble pronouncing it, and accidentally referred to it as Cafe Lavender.

After checking online, I confirmed that the new cafe was in fact a new branch by the same company. I wasn’t hungry then, so I made plans to try out their food the next day. When I arrived, the place was filled to capacity and the wait for a table was 20 minutes long. Even though that is a pretty decent wait time for great food, it was unbearably hot by the door and I was starved. I debated leaving, but was too eager to try their vegan breakfast option. I decided to endure the heat.

While standing by the hostess, I overheard two separate parties boldly request to be seated before others on the list. I say boldly, and not rudely, because of the charming way they asked. The same way you’d expect people to ask at any other Israeli restaurant, with the notion that you don’t get what you don’t ask for. A more extreme version of “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no”. The hostess politely laughed, and continued to seat people according to the list.

Between these interactions, people watching, and scoping out the food, the time went by quickly. Once over, my wait was rewarded with booth style seating and a great view of the bar. Since I already knew what I was getting, I only glanced at the menu to make sure it was the same as the one online. Water arrived swiftly after, and I was delighted that it came before placing my order. As one of the few water lovers out there, I always appreciate when waiters bring water in addition to drinks and keep my glass full (especially if the food is spicy).

Brunch at Cafe Landwer

The vegan breakfast took up the whole table, as the omelette was served on a plate and the sides were brought on a wooden tray. I believe this is the first plant-based omelette I’ve ever had at a restaurant, and it tasted a million times better than my own homemade attempts. The herbs and grated carrots elevated the omelette’s flavour, resulting in pure perfection even without the accompanying dips and spreads.

While the sun dried tomato spread paired beautifully with the omelette, my favourite was Cafe Landwer’s roasted eggplant and tahini spread. After dipping the freshly baked bread in the tahini and salsa, I couldn’t imagine a better combination until I tasted the eggplant spread. I’ve encountered millions of eggplant dishes over the years, and they all pale in comparison to this small masterpiece. I’d love to know their secret, or at least be able to buy a tub of it weekly.

The vegan breakfast also included carrot spread, halva spread, jam, coconut yogurt & berries, and a guacamole which would be the highlight of any other brunch. I savoured every bite, and started plotting my return for their legendary coffee and a plate of halva Rosalach.

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

One of the first restaurants on my list was Chabuton in Osaka. Mostly because both their website and reviews confirmed they had vegan options. Chabuton was also more likely to be open, as well as easily accessible, as it was located at Yodobashi-Umeda. The incredibly busy department store was on the subway line, making it the perfect lunch spot on the way to drinking tea in Kyoto.

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

When the plant-based ramen arrived, it was reassuringly similar to all of the pictures I’ve seen online. Unfortunately, it turns out the reviews also accurately described its flavour. It was great as a vegetable soup, but far from a traditional tasting ramen. Now of course I’m no expert, especially since I’ve only ever had vegetarian ramen. However, ramen broth is usually much thicker and has a deep complex flavour. This dish tasted more like a light soup with fresh vegetables and noodles. While I’m grateful they had a vegan option at all, I’d love to taste V2.

Plant-Based Ramen at Chabuton in Yodobashi-Umeda

Since I was still hungry, I ordered the green veggie gyoza. I had to triple check the nutritional info, and rejoiced every time I saw the veggie gyoza were in fact vegan. The gyoza were pan fried and perfectly crisp. There was even a gyoza and rice set, which I planned on getting if I returned.

Two things to keep in mind when ordering a dish that comes with a dipping sauce in Japan. One, never assume the dipping sauce of any dish is free of fish-based dashi. Two, if all else fails there’s usually plain soy sauce nearby.