After five years of eating my way through NYC’s ramen scene, I’m ready to get my ramen on in Portland. As the most vegan-friendly city in the country, it’s no surprise that every ramen joint here offers at least one vegan option on the menu, so my plan is to try all the meatless options at each spot before reporting back here. Here we go!
First up is Marukin Ramen, a renowned ramen chain of over 20 years with several locations in Tokyo, Japan. Their two Portland locations, Ankeny and Pine Street, are their first in the US. So far, I’ve only visited the Pine Street location inside Portland’s first food hall, where Marukin always draws a crowd even at 10am. I’ve been told that ramen in Japan is typically enjoyed at counters or in tiny stalls in busy train stations, so the bustling vibe of Pine Street Market seems like a fitting home for this ramen chain.
At Marukin, they specialize in hakata-style ramen, and every good ramenologist knows that means tonkotsu broth. But what does that mean for the vegan bowls? All three of Marukin’s vegan options have a base of garlic, onions, shiitake mushrooms, and kombu. The noodles are thin, non-curly noodles, which I’ll admit are not my favorite kind of noodles, but when cooked to a proper al dente, is still enjoyable.
Unfortunately, on two out of three visits, my noodles were softer than I would have liked. Interestingly enough, lots of folks on Yelp had complained about the noodles being too al dente. They consistently had a nice slipperiness though.
If you’re interested in getting a clean, uninterrupted taste of Marukin’s vegan broth, I recommend going with the Vegan Shoyu ($10). The broth is light and bright, but is still satisfying and even suitable for summer days. I’m not going to be dreaming about this broth for days to come, but it is a refreshing change of pace. For those who insist on a rich, heavy ramen broth, this one isn’t for you.
Standard toppings in Marukin’s vegan bowls include tomatoes, spinach, napa cabbage, tofu, mushrooms, and scallions. Sorry, never been a fan about long cut scallions. The tofu has a spongy texture that soaks up the broth nicely. Tomatoes can be hit or miss as a ramen topping, but Marukin does it well and never serves up soggy tomatoes.
The Vegan Red ($10) is my favorite of the three. They take the basic vegan broth and build an additional layer of flavor upon that. The spiciness is fairly mild, but stills warms the soul. I slurped this bowl on a hot summer day and didn’t break a sweat. When I ordered the Vegan Red, they were more generous with the mushrooms. Those juicy slices of mushrooms were real savory and meaty.
Available only during the warmer months, Marukin offers a cold Hiyashi Vegan Ramen ($10). I tend to stick to hot ramen even during the summer, but I’m glad I took a chance on this one. Despite being chilled and clear in color, the broth is packed with flavor. The pickled veggies and spongy tofu are nice, but the spiced shiitake mushrooms were the winning topping in this bowl.