"There are a lot of ramen nerds in the city," says Carlo Bueno.
The chef behind a pop-up venture called The Ramen Club ought to know - he's kind of a ramen nerd himself.
After about a year of running The Ramen Club as a roaming venture, doing a day here and there at places like Between2Buns, Kulinarya, and Shameless Buns, Bueno has found a place to set up regularly and is sharing space and offering his menu at Bao Down in Olympic Village.
Bueno grew up in Whistler, but says he was drawn to the diverse Asian food scene of Vancouver on many visits. Ultimately, he made the move to the city and got to regularly indulge his love of ramen, which he first fell for in 2013 at Marutama - an iconic local ramen joint known for its soul-satisfying bowls of chicken ramen.
Ramen is a 'limitless dish' says the chef
Admittedly a food lover in search of a career, Bueno says he applied to work at Marutama because he figured at least that way he'd get to eat a lot of ramen.
"I learned a lot about the dish," Bueno explains while sitting down inside Bao Down for a lunch-time chat. "It fascinated me. It's a limitless dish - there are no rules to it."
Bueno came to understand that ramen must have five elements - the soup, noodles, toppings, seasoning, and aroma oil - but that within that framework so much of what you can do with the dish is possible. What makes ramen so versatile is that the core soup base isn't seasoned as a whole in the cooking process - the seasonings are added on by the bowl, which makes the broth - and flavours - so buildable.
Taking his obsession to the next level by launching an Instagram feed dedicated to his slurp-ventures in ramen eating, Bueno tried his hand at making the beloved Japanese noodle soup dish at home. He moved on to work for another award-winning Vancouver ramen spot, Danbo, before ending up in the kitchen at Shameless Buns - one of the restaurants that let him use their Fraser Street space for hosting pop-ups once he felt ready to share his ramen-making with the public.
The Ramen Club was up and running, and was itinerant for about a year before Bueno signed on to share the Bao Down space. The Olympic Village Filipino restaurant also is home to Riz sushi's catering outfit and the Mr Beast Burger pop-up.
What's on the menu at The Ramen Club
"There’s a big world of ramen. I wanted to make something different," Bueno says of what he offers on his Ramen Club menu. That means rather than going with the rich, creamy broths typically found at Vancouver ramen restaurants, The Ramen Club's soup base is a clear, light Tokyo-style broth that was one of the first styles of ramen in Japan.
"My style is taking old school techniques with my own modern take to it," Bueno explains.
Bueno uses his chicken-dashi base to build on for his core bowls - though he does do specials, too. His signature bowl is one you won't see on ramen joint menus around town: The Nibo uses niboshi, a paste made of dried sardines. The result is a deep, umami bomb funk that offers "quite a strong flavour." It's so strong, in fact, that Bueno tells customers when they order it that it can be an acquired taste.
Though Bueno is sourcing his medium-thick noodles from a Richmond vendor, he's able to cook them to a snappy, chewy perfection and set them to swim in the seasoned broth with unctuous slices of chashu pork and a ramen egg that's had a good long soy sauce soak to lend it an intense flavour. If you do order the Nibo, the broth is layered with flavour that deepens as you get closer to the bottom of the bowl where all the salty sardine bits are hanging out.
If sardine-enhanced broth isn't your vibe, fear not - The Ramen Club is also building bowls for shoyu (soy sauce) and tanmen (pork and vegetables) ramen. Bueno says he also offers specials, and is also dishing up sides of chicken karaage.
You'll find The Ramen Club inside Bao Down at 115 W. 2nd Ave, Thursday and Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Follow @theramenclub.yvr on Instagram.
@forkingawesomevia PS you dont have to join anything just go eat ramen. 🍜 #forkingawesome #vancouverbc #ramen ♬ Mastermind - Taylor Swift
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