Wednesday, June 12, 2024

This ghost kitchen in Esquimalt is cooking up some of the best ramen in town

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Ramen is one of the most crave-able dishes out there and Victoria has a few spots that make a mouthwatering rendition of the Japanese cuisine — but there’s a new ramen hotspot in town called Kizuna Ramen.

Currently, Kizuna is being operated as a ‘ghost kitchen’ — which is a restaurant that sells takeout food from a commissary kitchen. For Kizuna, they rent space at Little Piggy Catering in Esquimalt.

Yoshimune Arima grew up in Tokyo, moved to Toronto, then Germany and finally found himself in Victoria being sponsored by Ferris’ Grill and Garden Patio, all the while working in kitchens and learning along the way. 

Before Kizuna Ramen

It all started in 2021, at the height of the pandemic when restaurants were shut down. Arima was asked by head chef and owner of Ferris’, Dave Craggs, to come up with a ramen meal kit that customers could take home.

“During those days, people couldn’t get out of the house and restaurants were closed too,” Arima told Victoria Buzz. 

“Dave asked me to make a ramen meal kit and I was like, ‘I don’t know I’ve never made ramen,’” he laughed. 

Arima got to work researching best practices and making test batches of noodles, broth and toppings for a few months, but by the time he had come up with his own unique, yet authentic ramen, certain COVID-19 regulations had eased and Ferris’ didn’t need to do meal kits anymore.

“They didn’t need the meal kit anymore but my boss really liked the ramen that I made so he convinced me to open a pop-up at another restaurant — Part and Parcel,” said Arima.

Following that pop-up, Arima did one more at Perro Negro, one of Ferris’s sister restaurants. 

From there, Arima kept developing his recipe and figuring out how he could source his ingredients to set up shop running his own ramen restaurant.

The perfect noodle, broth and eggs

Ramen may seem like a simple dish but underneath it all it is a complex combination of flavours that are meticulously fine tuned to create the perfect umami experience —  the fifth taste which joins sweet, sour, salty and bitter in harmony. 

Arima created his noodle recipe himself, which consists of a blend of different flours and a fine-tuned hydration of the noodle to make it the ideal amount of bounciness.  

He found a company in Vancouver which will make his noodle recipe in large batches because he is so limited in time and kitchen space already. 

“We are the only ones who use these noodles which makes it special,” Arima said. 

His broth is a pork bone Tonkotsu broth which is made in house that he sources locally. Most butchers don’t have any use for pork bones, so Arima buys these off the local businesses and uses only BC bones. 

This helps use every part of the animal and adds immensely to the umami flavour of the broth. 

(Kizuna Ramen/Yoshimune Arima)

His eggs are soft-boiled to perfection and marinated in a mixture of sake, mirin, soy sauce, onion, garlic and kombu dashi. 

“The eggs need to be marinated for at least 12 hours so that the marinade can cook the soft-boiled eggs slowly so the egg yolk can become creamier,” ruminated Arima. 

Opening Kizuna Ramen

Kizuna means ‘bond’ in Japanese, which is a way of describing relationships or connections. 

“I hope one day my bowl of ramen connects people together in between like family, friends, our restaurant, farmers, butcheries — like any relationship, establish the ‘Kizuna’ through our ramen,” described Arima. 

Arima left Ferris’ in August 2022 and spent the next few months getting his ducks in a row, dealing with licensing, health authority inspections and ingredient sourcing before finally beginning service out of Little Piggy Catering in December 2022. 

But first he took a field trip to the iconic dish’s birthplace for some research.

“I went back to Japan and I tried all the ramen restaurants that I really wanted to go to,” said Arima.

After coming back he put together his menu, which is simple for now with more variety on the way down the road. 

Kizuna has a pork Tonkotsu ramen and they serve a vegan miso ramen as well. They also make veggie and pork gyoza as well as rice bowls. 

Arima made sure to not leave the vegans and vegetarians disappointed in his veggie creations either, they are top notch and just as good as their meaty counterparts. 

Now, only four months into his journey of being a restaurateur, sales are beginning to climb, additional staff has been hired and Arima is already looking to the future. 

Arima says that he is going to operate as a ghost kitchen for one full year before he applies for a loan to get him the funds he would need for a brick-and-mortar location in Victoria. 

“It’s why I started as a ghost kitchen,” explained Arima. “We didn’t have a budget to open a [Kizuna location].”

“It costs like $200,000 or $300,000 to open one space, so we started small.”

Once he has access to funds, Arima fully plans on finding a location to open for his customers to be able to dine-in. He hopes to find an affordable place in downtown Victoria but he said that is a bridge he will cross at a later time depending on what he can find. 

“This is just my dream, but one day I would love to have a central kitchen like what I’m using right now with smaller places in Victoria, Nanaimo and Langford that I can send ingredients to.”

Arima wants to get his ramen to as many mouths as possible on Vancouver Island and beyond. 

His ramen empire has only just begun. 

Kizuna Ramen

  • Where: 776 Fairview Road, Esquimalt
  • When:  Friday to Wednesday from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

 

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Curtis Blandy
curtis@victoriabuzz.com

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