Kansui Ramen is a pop-up lunchtime ramen shop which is embedded in the restaurant Hay Market in the Willow Glen part of San Jose. Tuesday through Saturday, you can get lunchtime ramen there. They seem to have a stable list of a few common types of ramen (shio, shoyu, tonkotsu, and spicy red miso), and then a rotating selection of specialty ramens. From what I can tell by looking at previous iterations of the menu, one of these is always fully vegetarian ramen, and then often a tsukemen and then something unique for ramen. They also make use of the regular bar at Hay Market, which being a hipster-esque American/Californian foodie place, has a good beer selection and looks to have a good wine list.
The ambiance is nice. It has Chinese restaurant, shared table seating – sit where you want aspect, so you may end up shoulder to shoulder with a stranger. There are lots of neat antiques around, and the standard beer in a faux mason jar sort of thing that you might expect. There are some TV’s as well, which made it a nice play to watch some afternoon world cup. The staff was very friendly and accommodating.
We got the shio ramen and the black boar ramen (with extra chashu in the latter).
Kansui Black Shoyu Boar Ramen
Kansui Shio Ramen
The black shoyu boar ramen broth was inky black. I assume its color comes from roasted garlic, like most black ramen, however, the color and consistency was quite good. The broth was thick and rich, but it didn’t taste like it had been additionally thickened. Overall, quite good. The add ins were really exceptional. The thin sliced mushrooms (more prominently visible in the shio ramen) were marinated in something, like yuzu based, and had a really exceptional flavor and texture. The egg was soft-boiled to perfection and marinated in something (likely tea). The toasted seaweed (nori) was good. The ground boar meat was wonderfully savory and rich. I asked for extra chashu, and was expecting the thin sliced semi-circles I had seen in the pictures on yelp, but instead got large rich chunks which were at the bottom of the noodle dish. The chashu was decent. The chashu cubes were big enough that it made for inelegant eating, and it was a bit like being at a Southern style BBQ restaurant. The thinner cuts which are then browned a little bit tend to have a little bit better, firmer mouthfeel, while retaining their slow cooked tenderness, and that is what I was expecting.
The noodles were a little bit on the thicker size, and very wheaty in flavor and texture. Everyone has noodle preferences, and these had so little kansui (potassium carbonate stuff that makes ramen noodles yellow and chewy), that they were basically like slightly thinner than usual udon. As noted in many previous posts, I am very much a fan of thinner, yellower noodles with lots of kansui. It was particularly strange to me, given the name of the restaurant, that the noodles didn’t seem to have much kansui actually in them. Note, that this is very much a subjective thing, and other people have very different noodle preferences than I do.
The noodles in the shio ramen seemed to be the same. The broth had a strong chicken flavor, with also a strong sesame taste. It was good, if a bit richer than many shio broths I have had, bordering on what would be considered almost like a tonkotsu somewhere else. Again, the marinated mushrooms were really top notch, and the egg was excellent.
Overall, Kansui is a recommend. It may be hard for some people to get there for lunch during the week. It’s nice that they seem to consistently have a fully vegetarian option on the menu. I definitely hope to return at some point to see what new special ramens they have. Looking at older menus, there are some really interesting and tasty looking combinations, including some with duck.
Faux Mason Jar and Okonomiyaki