Once upon a time, a good chicken soup was the ticket to warm you up on a cold winter’s day.

Today, it’s ramen.

The Japanese soup/broth – long-brewed pork bones in which all the fat and marrow etc. cooks into cloudy white creamy liquid – has exploded in popularity. Since the Prairie Noodle Shop opened two years ago, at least 10  traditional ramen shops have sprung up across Metropolitan Edmonton.

And why not? The big bowl of creamy pork broth over noodles, slices of pork belly and various other accoutrements is a very fine comfort food and a meal unto itself.

Down a full bowl of ramen with its meat slices, slurpy noodles, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, boiled eggs and multiple other options … you are warmed from feet to head, ready once again to brave this new winter’s cold.

In Japan, ramen is as popular as hamburgers are here, being a quick but healthy food that can be downed in minutes if one is in a hurry. Like hamburgers, there are literally thousands of ramen variations, different kinds of noodles, different toppings, even broths from long-brewed chicken and seafood bones, though the creamy pork marrow is most popular. Like Vietnamese pho, authentic ramen restaurants have their own variations on the basic pork stock.

The Prairie Noodle Shop – “Asian noodles, prairie flavours” – on 124 Street remains the quality standard against which other ramen shops should be judged, taking into account that the Prairie Noodle Shop is proudly fusion as per its slogan. Most other ramen shops in town stick to more traditional ramen recipes.

The Weekly Dish checked out three of the city’s better known ramen houses. In the new Brewery District on 104 Avenue, Tokiwa Ramen was right up there with the Prairie Noodle House, different but equal in quality and value.

Nudoro Noodle Bar on Whyte Avenue had a good, but not great, tonkotsu (pork) ramen.

The pork broth at the downtown Nomiya Noodle Bar was thin and watery, a smaller serving for the same price ($14 to $15) as charged by the others.

Tokiwa Ramen, 11978-104 Ave., seven days a week, 11 a.m. until the broth pots are emptied – usually mid-afternoon: Certainly the best ramen of the bunch – up there with Prairie Noodle Shop – and a fun atmosphere to boot.

Tokiwa is a modern take on the famous Chinese restaurants way back when, all bustling and busy, windows steaming up on a cold winter day, usually a line-up. The difference, however, is Tokiwa is in a brand-new space and is ultra-clean.

All ramen all the time – nine kinds of ramen and a few rice bowls are all you will find on the menu – Tokiwa is the real meal deal. The chicken-base broth I tried was deep and delicious, all ingredients super-fresh, generous/tasty slices of pork belly and excellent light noodles. Owner Ted Asai, co-founder many years ago of The Japanese Village, has sought to make Tokiwa Ramen as authentic as possible. (Tokiwa is Ted’s home town in Japan.)

Nudoro Noodle Bar, 10832-82 Ave. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays 12-5 p.m., closed Mondays: The atmosphere is dull, one step up from a greasy spoon. The ramen is good … but not half-as-satisfying as Tokiwa Ramen or Prairie Noodle Shop. The broth is sweeter than elsewhere (coconut?) and Nudoro adds a few pickled items into the mix. Nudoro also makes delicious gyoza (Japanese dumplings).


Nudoru’s tonkotsu (pork) ramen had pickled and sweet notes in its broth.
 

 Nomiya Noodle Bar, 11238 104 Ave. two other locations on the South Side, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.: As mentioned, Nomiya was disappointing. The broth was nowhere near as exquisite as at Tokiwa, the soup bowl smaller. I did like, however, the smattering of sweet corn kernels.


Nomiya’s ramen broth was thin.
 

Worth checking out, I am told, are Kazoku Ramen in the west end and Menya Yuzen in St. Albert. A few full-menu Japanese restaurants have also added ramen to their menus. I’d be inclined to a speciality ramen house, given the time and effort it takes to make a proper broth … a broth that should leave you warm and tingly all over!