Cold weather is soup weather, because when you need to get warm, you mine as well be eating something delicious in the process. And when I need to simultaneously beat the winter blues and my hunger pangs, one type of soup comes to mind: ramen.
But Michael, you might be thinking, what about pho? Isn't that the most filling, warming, and delicious soup to eat? Isn't ramen just that freeze-dried stuff at the dep you get when you're broke as a joke?
Let me answer these questions in succession.
First: f*ck pho. Pho is so played out. We've all eaten a big bowl of the vietnamese soup a thousand times over, and in all honesty, good pho places are few and far between.
Second: if you think ramen is just that Mr. Noodles junk, you've got your head on wrong, and you've obviously never had real ramen before.
If that's the case, then you've also never enjoyed the ramen at Yokato Yokabai in the Plateau, because the ramen soup at this place will blow your mind. Literally, unused chunks of my brain oozed out of my ears during the foodgasm I had while slurping up the noodles and broth at Yokato Yokabai.
Okay, maybe that was a tad hyperbolic, but I'm just trying to showcase how f*cking amazing the ramen (a traditional Japanese soup-noodle dish, for those who aren't following) at Yokato Yokobai truly is. The answer is very.
Tucked away on Drolet street, just off of Rachel, you could walk right by Yokato Yokobai and not even know it. Admittedly, when heading to the resto on my first visit, I totally did. Don't make that mistake.
Housed within the same building as Ichi Go Ichi E, and owned by the same folks (they also run Imadake), Yokato Yokobai is a fairly small restaurant, meaning that finding space for multiple guests can be something of an issue. Your best bet is to go with one other person, as larger groups may get seated awkwardly.
As soon as you walk into the restaurant, you're greeted with a resounding "Welcome!" from the entire staff, a longstanding Japanese tradition. It's a pretty cute way to start your dining experience, and definitely adds to the charm of the restaurant.
Once you do sit down (and the turn over is pretty fast, so you don't really wait long) the flavour journey begins. Before even eating you can catch glimpses of what you'll be enjoying, as you watch the kitchen staff assemble soups like a well-oiled machine. It's actually quite impressive.
Ordering is all done by filling out a slip of paper (right next to the strategically located water pitchers, allowing you to fill up your cup whenever you want, a major plus) that has a bunch of boxes to check off. If you don't know ramen/Japanese cuisine, it can be confusing, but that's what I'm here for.
Essentially, you have two soup options: Tonkotsu ramen, made with pork bone broth that was boiled for 12 hours, and Kara-miso, described to me as "the tonkotsu but just spicy."
I've only ever had the straight-up tonkoustu style with pork (chicken also available), and have never even looked back or regretted my decision, mainly because it is soup ecstasy.
The big ol' bowl of ramen arrives pretty promptly (essential when hangry) and will truly wow you as soon as you sip on the broth. Somehow, the soup has a creamy-milky quality achieved without the addition of any form of dairy, making it all the more impressive.
Smooth, light-yet-rich, and altogether velvety, the soup's broth is salty perfection, complimented by the tender ramen noodles that you'll love to slurp up.
And the pork. Oh my God the pork. Cut into thick slices rather than pieces, the pork will quite literally melt in your mouth and holds a great balance between fat and meat content. The chicken is no slouch in the flavour department either, and "feels" a bit healthier, if pork isn't your thing.
Adding a layer of complexity to the flavours of each and every ramen bowl is your ability to customize your soup. Before ordering you can check off a box for the level of saltiness, amount of nori (seaweed) and green onions, if you want more noodles, and if you'd like a half, whole, or no egg.
Pro tip: always go for the full egg. The small surcharge be damned, the perfectly half-boiled egg magically blends into the soup's flavour profile, especially when taken with a bite of noodles and your chosen meat. "Utter bliss" would be the best way to describe it.
You can then customize a bit further by throwing in some of condiments provided at every table. The add-ins include sesame seeds, pickled ginger, fried garlic oil, and spicy chili oil, with the latter two being stellar flavour boosters, not that the ramen really needs it.
If you feel like you need some green in your life you can also get a mix of veggies in your bowl instead of meat. The veggies do add more nutritional value to the soup, but honestly, if you want pure comfort, please don't hesitate to bypass the veggies. Sure they're good, but its nothing compared to the melt-in-your mouth pork.
Oh, and don't feel bad or be surprised when you're done eating your ramen in all of three minutes. The big bowl, giant spoon, and insatiable flavour make the soup entirely gorge-able. Seriously, I have a hard time stopping myself for a second to breathe most of the time.
For the vegetarians/vegans reading, note that there is a veggie-friendly ramen available. I've yet to try the soup, though reviews from my no-meat friends haven't been stellar. Still, that doesn't concern an omnivore like myself, nor should it dissaude you if you also eat meat.
Ramen is definitely the star of the show at Yokato Yokabai, as I've gone at-length to explain, but there are other dishes that round out the menu. Several appetizers are available, and if you don't know much about Japanese cuisine you might not know what they are, so here's a rundown:
- A simple spring salad (okay, so you know that one)
- Gobo: basically french fries, but made with burdock root. Served with a mayo-ish dipping sauce.
- Karage: crispy pieces of fried chicken topped with a tangy sauce.
- Chasu-Don: a rice bowl including small tidbits of braised (and rather fatty) pork
In all honesty, the ramen is so filling you don't really need appetizers, but if you want to try one out (since you can't find such dishes at many restaurants) then go for it. I've had everything but the Chasu-Don and have been altogether pleased, if not seriously stuffed after eating my soup.
If you do somehow manage to save room during your inaugural Yokato Yokabai ramen love affair, please do order some of the restaurant's homemade ice cream. Yazu (read: lemon), green tea, and plain old vanilla are all available, each of which will end your meal on a high and sweet note.
But even if you just stick to the ramen (what I usually do, actually) you're in for an eating experience which can't be paralleled in Montreal, at least to my knowledge.
Admittedly, I'm not an expert on ramen, so I can't say Yokato Yokabai is the best in the city, but it's got to be up there. The ramen is too damn good for it not to be among the city's best.
So when you're feeling downtrodden by the arctic winds of winter and want some comfort food of a different sort, head to Yokato Yokabai, where you'll be filled with some of the most flavourful soup Montreal has to offer.