One of the cool things about being in a giant cultural melting pot, is that we’re armed with plentiful food options. Take Pho, pho example. If you decided to hit up every Asian soup location on just Somerset alone, you’d need over a month to sample all the options. Expand that to the entire city, and there’s probably over 100 different spots. The trouble is separating the good from the bad, because bad pho often turns me off from eating it for months at a time. Thankfully, we have Ginza.
I first became aware of Ginza through one of my co-workers a couple of years ago. We went there for dinner one night, and the enthusiastic young owner was chatting away with all the customers, discussing his ideas for the future. He hadn’t yet expanded to ramen, but he fully intended to have it on the menu after he got his recipe “right”. He also discussed expanding the operation to a bar at night, which seemed a little ambitious given the size of the place.
Of course, I’ve since been proven wrong. Ginza has become a fantastic little social gathering spot for the hopping Elgin Street crowd. If I walk past it at 9:00pm on a Friday or Saturday night, I always see it full of well dressed millennials, working over fancy looking mixed drinks and sake.
Given that I’m a boring shmuck who has no interest in matters like “socializing” or “happy hour”, I visited Ginza on a weekend afternoon with my wife, and I was going specifically for the ramen. First, however, we needed some appetizers.
Emily wanted to try out their spring rolls, while I was all over the edamame. I have had issues with hypotension in the last year, low blood pressure that has given me dizzy spells at times, and even though there’s no direct treatment, from a dietary perspective, I’ve been asked to increase my salt intake and ensure I get high levels of protein. Edamame pretty much nails both; deliciously steamed Asian beans, which you pop out of the shell by running your teeth along the skin. The shells are salted, giving an awesome flavor balance – a perfect warmup for the main event.
The spring rolls were made in-house, as everything is at Ginza. Spring roll wrappers are always made out of a light dough, that crisps up while maintaining its form when fried in hot oil. These were stuffed with what appeared to be seasoned carrots and cabbage, and served with a light side sauce. The sauce isn’t a traditional North American dipping sauce, as it’s more brothy and doesn’t adhere to the spring rolls like glue. Instead, it coats the spring roll gently, like an oil, and is merely meant to lightly enhance the flavor. The spring rolls stood out plenty on their own, and the sauce only added to the umami.
Just as we finished up, the soup arrived. We both ordered pho, but asked to replace the traditional rice or egg noodles with ramen instead. If your only ramen experience is with the packaged, dehydrated Mr. Noodles variety, then Ginza is worth checking out if for no other reason than to see what authentic ramen is all about. Ramen is a wheat based noodle, invented in China, and popularized in Japan. Ginza is one of the only spots in the city to get traditional, fresh made ramen. Of course, like all Asian noodles, the dish is made by the broth. All of the best locations have soup that is made through hours of boiling down leftover bones and carcass, getting all the deep rich meat flavor seeping through every spoonful. Top with some green onions, and you’ve got a winner.
These soups were absolutely divine, hitting on all points. The chicken and shrimp in Emily’s bowl, as well as the three different beef offerings in mine, were all prepared exactly as advertised. The noodles were al dente; cooked just long enough to have absorbed much of that beautiful broth, without turning limp. I added even more flavor to my bowl, by going for the sriracha, soy, and miren, adding rich flavorful saltiness, and a hint of heat.
I love Asian cuisine; can’t get enough of it really! Japanese cooking is all about balance, hitting all of the various flavor spots on your tongue, without any one of them overpowering the other. No one in Ottawa understands this better than Ginza, my personal favorite go-to when I’m craving pho.