12th October 2012
Do you slurp when you eat your noodles? I do, it drives Mr Ikeda crazy but it’s the Japanese way (that’s what we tell him anyway). I’m not talking Super Noodles here, noodles should come with soup unless their fried so they reaaalllly slurp when you’re eating them. This is the way of the samurai ramen.
Traditionally ramen soup stock is flavoured with meat and/or fish, because blah blah blah it gives it flavour. However there are plenty of instant noodle brands that have vegetarian stock. I usually try not to focus too intently on an ingredients list after I have checked it’s vegan as it can be quite shocking how many things fit into that one tiny packet of soup stock. Most often MSG and other unnaturally sounding yet admittedly tasty components lurk within. It is super easy to make your own ramen noodle broth though with miso, soy sauce and sesame oil, once you have located some noodles without the soup stock.
I rarely eat ramen out at a restaurant, I have it so often at home that it doesn’t really feel like a treat. If I am at a Japanese restaurant why would you not have sushi?! Plus if it is a traditional Japanese restaurant it is most likely it will have a meaty soup base. *yawns*
Well just because I can have ramen whenever I like why should I deprive any other vegan (Sash) or myself for that matter from finding the best vegan ramen London has to offer?
Starting with places I have had ramen before we have Itsu.
I have to say I stopped eating at Itsu a while ago because I was quite frankly annoyed with all their ‘vegetarian’ options not being vegetarian.
You can however get a very filling pot of noodles and vegetable dumplings, topped with veggies and seeds for £4.75. Just be sure to ask them to make you one up with vegetarian miso and not the broth it comes with, because you know, Itsu think fish is a vegetable. (Rant over).
Noodles: Traditonal udon noodles, which are thick and very good at maintaining their shape and bite, but there is also an option to have this with rice.
Soup: Remember you cannot pick this up from the hot food section, you must ask a member of staff to make you one with the vegetarian miso (both the broth it comes with AND their standard miso soup contain fish). The vegetarian miso was pretty much flavourless till I got to the bottom but obviously no real effort has been made to create an actual vegetarian soup base for this dish (oops still ranting :)).
Extras: Vegetarian dumplings, seeds, crunchy green beans, carrot, spring onions, mushrooms, mange tout, peppers. Very generous portion of mixed vegetables and the dumplings are a nice touch.
I think the portion size has got smaller since the last time I had one, but to be fair it was enourmous before although they dont seem to have altered the price. Overall still very filling and good value for money.
Especially for the purposes of this investigation I tested out Pod’s £4.95 hot steamy soba.
Noodles: A mixture of kelp and soba (thinner) noodles but not really much of either.
Soup: I went for the yuzu flavoured broth (a Japanese citrus fruit). It was very spicy, so spicy in fact I could not detect the yuzu (apart from the seeds floating around) until I got to the bottom of the pot.
Extras: Carrot, bean sprouts, edamame, spinach, seaweed, spring onion and chilli slices. The majority of which were sitting on the top.
The noodles and vegetables were not particular filling which meant I drank all the soup. It was disappointing since I usually enjoy POD and they are one of those rare places that are very clear with their dietry requirement labelling.
NB It looks like this version has now been replaced by hot steamy superfood soba.
Wagamama have flash new allergy menus online these however don’t show whether items are modifiable, which the menus in store do. The only veganisable ramen on the menu is the saien soba.
Noodles: The noodles that come as standard have egg in, so you need them swapped for the flat rice noodles.
Soup: I hestitate to say it was bland because it definitely had flavour of some kind (vegetable based according to the menu), but something was missing. It was also very oily I am guessing from the tofu and veg which was fried.
Extras: Fried tofu, beansprouts, courgettes, asparagus, red onions (huge chunks!), leeks, mushrooms, mangetout and garlic.
Veggies, noodles and soup were all in plentiful supply, unfortunately another disappointing ramen.
If you are going here I would instead recommend the yasai chilli men with rice instead of noodles, which is my ‘usual’. And after years of grumbling to myself everytime I spotted the yasai gyoza on the menu, they have finally made them vegan suitable. Yay!
Of all the authentic noodles bars I contacted in central London Koya was the only one able to deliver on the vegan front. Most places either used egg noodles (not traditional Japanese I might add!) or not have a vegetarian broth.
Koya however confirmed everything marked with a ‘v’ on their menu is vegan. So Koya it was!
They have lots of options but I went for the curry udon, which at £9.90 is twice the cost of POD and Itsu but the quality was also twice as good.
Soup: More like a gravy than a soup, but deliciously comforting all the same.
Extras: Slices of sweet potato, spring onion, 1 piece of aubergine, and also had time to notice one piece of tofu before it was promptly shovelled in to my mouth.
Koya don’t take reservations so unless you can get there early be prepared to wait, and if you can, don’t go with a bigger group than two, Sash and I were lucky and managed to get seated without too much of a wait. Also check the specials board there were several vegetarian options on their board, but so might be worth checking if they are vegan. The are definitely my top pick and I would love to go back and try one of the other ramen dishes.