There had been a lot of talk about this ramen joint that is in a very outdated food court of Robson Public Market. Like with most public markets, one tends to question themselves; “How do any of these businesses even make money?” I’ve heard good things about this place, so I thought why not step out from the long waits and pay big bucks for quality ramen, and give some small businesses a try.
The whole complex is lacking any traffic or signs of human life, I barely knew of its existence even though I’ve past it many times going to Guu and other ramen shops along Robson. Hida Takayama Ramen is located on the second floor where a food court is supposed to be, yet you would not have known it for it’s barren landscape. Aside from Hida, there is only one other shop that seems to be open for business. They share a corner with what seems to be a Vietnamese cuisine stall, that is lost in its identity. You can see all sorts of menu items listed with pictures plastered all over, such as burgers, pasta, Hong Kong cafe-style meals. I’m sure whatever you can name, they’ll probably have it. That sight already made me second guess coming here, but since Fatboy and I were here already, we decided to stick it out and not judge a book by its cover.
Despite the location, Hida Takayama claims to have no MSG in their soup base, with the reason of the ingredients being simmered for 3 days to yield the strong rich flavours. They even make their own noodles in-house, with the chashu being made from Kurobuta, a very high quality and well known pork in Japan. Just reading it made this place sound even more unbelievable, how the cost can be kept so low with such high end ingredients. They serve their noodles in three sizes: small, regular and large, all with the same price point. Unless indicated, they will serve you the large.
Spicy Miso Ramen; with ajitama
Of course I had to choose their spicy ramen, specially if the caption beside it said: This is HOT!! Perfect for people who enjoy spicy foods! If you want it extra spicy let us know. I didn’t have it extra spicy, as I want to taste the soup in all its nakedness at least once before. I added an ajitama since Hida doesn’t serve it with their noodles. I didn’t expect that they would give two halves, if so I would not have ordered it since Fatboy added one to his order as well. It had good flavour but was a bit overcooked for me as I like my yolk a little bit more runny. The baby corns threw me off, visually it felt out of place, having a bite proved that speculation. The noodles were cooked al dente, providing a nice texture and bite. Chashu was of decent size, well marbled with its fat-to-meat ratio, falling apart nicely with each bite. Now onto my concern with the soup, the miso soup base itself had a good flavour base, lacking a bit in depth making it come across as bland. Now what makes this soup ‘spicy’ are the few flecks of chilies you see floating about, and the light reddish tint, which explains that they most likely just added a spoonful of sauce onto it instead of actually incorporating a spicy factor. The ‘spicy sauce’ that they added felt like those Chinese bean paste ones, it was a little bit of salty, a little bit of spice, a little bit of sour (I don’t even know where this came from), and a whole lot of weird. I didn’t enjoy it as much per se, as I had to alter the flavours with a lot of shichimi.
White Sesame Ramen
Fatboy’s ramen, with the tagline: A Hida Takayama original! Enjoy the aroma & rich flavour of this sesame soup! Our thickest and heartiest soup. Which they were not lying bout this one, as you can see that thick layer of oil on top. It did have a nice aroma, however the sesame toppings fell short. It would have been much better if they had the sesame toasted first, but it is something different from all the other ramen joints. They must have added sesame paste, like the ones for gomaaes, therefore resulting in the rich and heavy soup. It had a nice nutty roundness to it that felt too heavy after a few good sips, definitely order a small size for this one unless you’re feeling extra hungry. The al dente noodles did a good job clinging onto the oily soup, that way you can enjoy the flavours fully without intaking too much of the heavy broth. Fatboy’s ajitama was better in comparison to mine, which he gloated about, but happily switched half with me.
Gyoza; traditional steamed and fried dumplings made with kurobuta pork
Aside from the two bowls of ramen, we both wanted to try the two side dishes they had to offer, once being the gyozas made with kurobuta. The wrapping was nice, with a good pan-seared bottom, but the filling was a complete letdown. It was crumbly with not much flavour, it was savory but despite it being made from kurobuta, it was not as juicy as one would expect. It was served alongside your regular gyoza sauce and chili oil, the only things that added a bit of flavour and enhanced this gyoza experience.
Nikuman; Japanese style steamed pork bun made with kurobuta
Nikuman seemed like an odd finish, specially after the ramen and the disappointing gyoza, Fatboy and I were getting quiet full. We also feared that it would be another disappointment, seeing how it was made with kurobuta as well, it might be the same filling for the gyoza.
As it turns out, it was most likely the same filling, but it worked in the nikuman more than it did for the gyozas. You can see the juices and oils still streaming out from the bun, unlike the gyoza this one was seasoned nicely. The bottom was a little bit too soggy, that was most likely the results from the pork, but in general the bun itself was very fluffy and soft. We both loved it so much, we bought a dozen to take home so that we could have it whenever we liked.
There were some hits and misses with Hida, but in general it was not a bad experience. Price wise it was not that much cheaper than the more famous stores along Robson, but it did offer fine ingredients and a spacious eating environment with no waits. No doubt, this is a hidden gem, but I wouldn’t necessarily come back given that there are other, much better, choices out there. The nikuman on the other hand, I’ll take a rain check on that.