Vancouver’s Soup Culture: Which 4 Dominate The Food Scene?
As soon as it starts to get chilly outside, it’s not a surprise that we naturally want to turn to soup as a “warmer-upper.” In fact, the term “soup weather” is used at least 10 months of the year in Vancouver, basically any time it rains.
So it’s no wonder that in Vancouver, soup is always trending. The types of soups that seem to be most popular over the years are soups of Asian origin, mainly those containing noodles. In fact, there seems to always be something new to try when it comes to these types of soups. When you look at the trends over time, Asian noodle soup has been constant.
It is these types of soups that have existed in Asian cultures for generations. Over time as they become introduced to mainstream cuisine, they easily gain popularity.
Over time, you may have noticed that the number of noodle soup venues popping up. Just as once occurred with pizza or sushi. It’s safe to say, noodle soups have real staying power in Vancouver.
Let’s take a look at the ones that have hit the mainstream vibe in order of appearance.
1.) Wonton Soup
This soup became popularized decades ago, often served in Chinese restaurants as a soup option. Although it looks like a simple soup, each component is very essential and needs to be flavoursome on its own.
The broth itself is often a meaty stock, traditionally made by boiling down pork bones and shrimp shells to create a very distinct broth. The other main component is dumplings, often either pork or shrimp. The dumplings are made from dough (wheat) in a square that is filled with the raw meat, then steamed and added to the soup. That is the premise of the soup, however you may see variations such as the Cantonese version which also includes thin wheat noodles, or Wor Wonton soup which also has vegetables included.
This was likely the first Asian soup that Westerners really adopted and craved. Still to this day, wonton soup is requested or sought out on a cold day. However, it’s often difficult to find a truly good wonton soup, as it’s not often one item on a large menu.
Recommended places to get good wonton soup include:
Chon Qing is actually a Szechuan-style Chinese food restaurant, which means that their dishes have a little bit more seasoning or spice to them. The cuisine itself originates from the Sichuan Province of China, where there is more use of garlic and chili peppers (Sichuan pepper). So if you enjoy your traditional Chinese soup with a bit of a kick, this is the place for you.
-2808 Commercial Dr., Vancouver, BC V5N 4C6 -1260 Robson St., Vancouver, BC V6E 1C1
Hon’s is often being praised for being authentic and simple, which doesn’t compromise taste. Their wontons are actually hand-made and the broth is slowly simmered and seasoned. So although it may look simple, it is actually packed with flavour.
-25 E 2nd Ave, Vancouver, BC V5T 1B3 -661 E Broadway, Vancouver, BC, V5N 1V9 (COMING SOON)
This local favourite, has grown into a few locations around town, offering a Northern Chinese take on its menu. It was actually highlighted in the Vancouver episode of The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” by Guy Fieri. One of the most popular items is their dumplings, in fact, that’s what makes their soup so good as well.
-532 W. Broadway, Vancouver -43 E. 5th Avenue, Vancouver -2394 W. 4th Avenue, Vancouver -602 Seymour St, Vancouver -3320 Kingsway, Vancouver
Hot Pot, not necessarily always a soup, and is certainly not a noodle soup…however it is still a soup-based meal that definitely is worth mentioning in this list. Hot Pot actually refers to a Chinese cooking method, where the raw food is prepared in a simmering pot of soup stock or broth (various options are available from seasoned/spicy broth to simple meat broth), directly at the dining table by patrons.
Becoming quite popular in Vancouver in the early 90’s, and primarily for two reasons (other than the fact it’s delicious); a) hot pot offered a social aspect to soup as a group would gather to collectively cook food together and eat, and b) since the food is boiling, it’s a much healthier option or way to eat.
Having just opened in early 2018, the Boiling Point quickly grabbed the attention of Hot Pot lovers. One of the unique features include the fact that you can order individual hot pot (quite rare) so if you didn’t share a flavour like, or wanted to go on your own, you can. One of the most popular soup bases here is the Taiwanese Spicy soup base.
This is a slightly higher-quality/higher-tier restaurant when it comes to traditional Hot Pot, because of the design of the menu. Each individual must order their own broth, though the food is shared (items for cooking), and there is a fully stocked “sauce bar” for an additional price that provides unlimited access to sauces to season your meal. This is a global brand, with 52 locations worldwide, originally in Shanghai, so there is a reputation to uphold, hence the high-quality.
Location: 720-5300 No.3 Road Suite 720, Richmond, BC V6X 2C7
The Landmark is a long-standing well-known restaurant, which has won quite a few awards over the years (winning Chinese Restaurant Awards for the Critics’ Choice Signature Dish Awards). One of the key points that makes this place exceptional is the seafood that is offered. The master chef, Raymond Cheung, and owner, Mr. Lee, make it a point to source and obtain the freshest and seasonal seafood such as geoduck clams (well known for this particular item), King Crab, Dungeness Crab, Atlantic Lobster and more.
Who doesn’t love pho? By now, you have probably heard that it’s actually pronounced “fuh.” This Vietnamese rice noodle-based soup is traditionally made with beef broth or chicken broth. Interestingly enough there is a lot of debate on the origin of Pho, some believing that it came about during French colonization of Vietnam (saying ‘pho’ is derived from ‘feu’ – the French word for fire) and then further adapted from French beef stew in the 19th century. However, there are many theories, but one thing is certain as Pho was developed in Vietnam, wherever Vietnamese communities migrated to (mainly starting in the 1970’s), Pho seemed to follow and became immensely popular.
It’s interesting to note that the term Pho is actually referring to the noodles, which is very specific white flour noodles (now made with rice noodles). The broth in the soup is traditionally clear but derived from bone marrow or cartilage, and thus packed with nutrients and flavour.
The noodles are served in a beef broth (or chicken) topped with meat (there are vegetarian options as well), which you then garnish to your liking with sprouts, basil, chilies, lime and hoisin sauce. The herbal garnishes are meant to be ripped up and sprinkled in, and culturally the noodles are eaten first, and the broth sipped after.
This local spot has been made quite popular because of their signature satay broth they offer (a spicy soup option made with peanut sauce and coconut milk), which is a fun take on the traditional pho (which they also offer). They have been touted “The Best Pho” in the past years. A hidden option is to be able their rice/noodle dishes into pho, for example, lemongrass chicken, you can get it as pho, though not on the actual menu.
Originally opened on Davie street, this local hot spot grew in popularity because of its very traditional take on pho and the broth flavour is bang-on. It has been featured in the Best Of City Westender Magazine for best Vietnamese and best pho in 2012,2016 and 2017 respectively. One of the features patrons love…the tender slices of beef on the beef brisket pho.
-1150 Davie Street, Vancouver, BC -3079 Main Street, Vancouver, BC
There is usually a line-up during busy hours, and with good reason. The food here has won the hearts of locals for a few reasons: it’s award-winning, there are vegan and gluten-free options. If you would like to try something a little different, you have varieties such as boneless free-range chicken and quail egg, and organic tofu, as well as the traditional beef brisket and meatballs.
However, the history makes this place even more beautiful. The concept first started as an in-home pop-up shop in the early 80’s, and transformed to the well-known Pho Hoang Vietnamese Restaurant, which is renowned as one of Vancouver’s first pho restaurants. Anh and Chi are owned and operated by the children of those Pho pioneers.
What makes this place so special and unique is the fact that it is actually a Vietnamese restaurant with French influence and cooking (which makes the earlier theory make sense). Chef Tai Nguyen came to Canada, from Vietnam, in 2001 and studied French cuisine, and was determined to create a casual restaurant offering both his cuisine passions. Although you will find only one pho item on the menu, it is one worth trying.
The latest craze, though not new, is definitely ramen. This dish comes from Japan and literally means “pulled noodles”. The ramen consists of Chinese thin wheat noodles cooked in broth (usually pork or chicken broth), with various options for meat, vegetables, and toppings (a boiled egg and nori being popular additions). The soup base is a variety of options ranging from seasoned pork broth to a more creamier chicken broth, or miso soup base.
You may notice that this soup is taking Vancouver by storm. It appears there is a new ramen place opening up on every street. In fact, the West end hosts “Ramen Row” where there is a series of ramen noodle restaurants along Robson Street for ramen lovers to peruse through.
Most ramen restaurants actually have small menus, offering 5 to 10 options for soups, with little else. However, if you are even able to finish your whole bowl of ramen, it’s very unlikely you will be hungry for anything else.
Some of Vancouver’s most sought out after ramen locations include:
Marutama is quite popularly known for offering soup made with chicken broth, which is thought to be more flavourful and creamy. Although, with only about 6 items on the menu, there is something for everyone, including a spicy soup at their Main Street location, where you choose the level of intensity.
Even Aquaman has visited, Jason Mamoa has been seen eating here.
-780 Bidwell St, Vancouver -270 Robson St, Vancouver -2858 Main St, Vancouver -5278 Kingsway, Burnaby
One of the things you will first notice when walking into this space is that it is bigger than most ramen noodle spots (38 seats). The owner, Yasuhiro Sumino, purposely created the space to create a relaxed environment for the community and wanted people to feel relaxed (hence why he chose wood decor for a natural feel). The food and serving is as well thought out as the decor.
Ramen is served in two different bowls, white bowls are for healthier choices, with fat removed as well as reduced sodium and oil; the black bowls are for authentic recipes without much tampering. There are quite a few options on the menu, with a chicken broth, miso (three types in fact), as well as some spicy options including the popular spicy tan tan (made with ground pork). No matter what you choose, you are bound to feel satisfied.
This place usually has a line-up, but with good reason. The soups are delicate but pack a lot of flavour, which is the intent. Something interesting is that the signature dish, the original shio ramen is always topped with a small pickled red plum…the restaurant says that it eludes to red lipstick, adding a feminine touch.
-1690, Robson Street, Vancouver, BC V6G 1C7 -558 West Broadway Street Vancouver,BC V5Z 1E9
It would be rare to see this spot without a line-up, however, its standout ramen spot simply because everything, from the thickness of noodles to the level of spice is customized to your liking. You basically have the option of building your ramen bowl. All the soups here are made in the traditional pork broth base, which is nothing to complain about, trust us.
With so many options, is no wonder why Vancouverites love soup, and in particular the flavours of these Asian-origin soups, which are basically a big bowl of comfort and jam-packed with warmth.
If we continue to embrace Asian soup culture, and in particular noodle soup, as we have done throughout our food history, it seems that we will be due for a new soup trend shortly. One this is certain, these soups have warmed their way into our bellies and hearts.
With so many options and varieties, soup simply is never boring.
Christina is a local freelance writer/blogger, passionate about exploring cafes and eateries in Vancouver. Her passion for food stems from her educational background in Food, Health and Nutrition from UBC. Christina is also a mom to two toddlers, who you may often see her with grabbing "coffee" on Main Street.