New Noodles: Marugame Udon Opens in Vancouver

After months of anticipation, with a flurry of social media excitement, and hour-long lines, Marugame Udon opened their very first location in Canada on February 24th. The lines have since abated at their location right across from the Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain station, but the excitement over this chain has not. Locals have rejoiced over being able to taste the flavours of these udon and rice bowls that were previously only accessible in Japan and select American locations like Honolulu.

New Noodles: Marugame Udon Opens in Vancouver

Marugame Matsuri

On March 15th, Marugame held their grand opening ceremony called Marugame Matsuri. Matsuri translates to festival in Japanese, and Marugame’s featured special guests, taiko drummers, and a ribbon cutting ceremony. The first one hundred customers of the day also received a free bowl of noodles. Two hours before opening, the line of noodle-hungry customers already reached down the block.

The special guests included dignitaries Deputy Consul General Satomi Okagaki and Economic Consul Keiji Hisata from the Consulate General of Japan in Vancouver, as well as Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung from the City of Vancouver. Performing as master of ceremonies was host, auctioneer, and CBC contributor Fred Lee. The corporate spokesperson for Marugame, Victor Hisao Misawa, shared with the crowd that Vancouver’s Marugame location was in the top five globally in terms of their overseas stores, even outperforming some locations in Japan. As Lee exclaimed in response to this impressive statistic: “That’s a lot of udon!”

New Noodles: Marugame Udon Opens in Vancouver

Why is Marugame so Special?

I had never tried Marugame before but it would seem there was a sense of relief in those who had that it was just as good here. It is also just as affordably priced (in fact, it is cheaper here than the Hawaiian locations). A simple bowl of udon noodles and fish dashi broth is only $6.49. The most expensive item on Marugame’s menu is $13.49.

The dough for Marugame’s udon is made with Japanese wheat. Once made, it is left to fully saturate for twenty-four hours giving it its signature texture and density. The dough is made daily in Marugame’s specially designed open kitchen. In fact, as you wait to order you can watch as fresh batches of udon are lowered into the boiling vat of water. A specific stirring motion is used to spread the noodles apart as they cook and a kind of strainer basket is cleverly employed to scoop all of the loose noodles back out when they are ready.

The design of each Marugame is specifically oriented around this theatrical space. Guests can see udon noodles rolled, cut, boiled, and served in steaming bowls of savoury broth and curry. You can always watch as freshly fried tempura is prepared. Golden brown, crispy pieces are plucked from the oil. Then, they are placed where customers can choose their own from the tempura bar.

Self-Service Offers Customization

Another important design element is the cafeteria-style, self-service counter. Marugame is, after all, essentially a fast-food restaurant. At the tempura station, you can choose as much or as little as you like. Each piece will add to your overall bill. The zucchini tempura I tried was a very generous piece that was essentially half of an entire zucchini. The prawn tempura is a classic but they also have mushroom and egg tempura. For added texture, tempura flakes are also available for sprinkling on top of your bowl.

New Noodles: Marugame Udon Opens in Vancouver
Photo by Maggie Lam

I tried the Curry Nikutama Udon because I wanted to try the beef and onsen egg as well as the thicker curry sauce. My bowl was piping hot, to the point that I almost burned my mouth on the first bite. The egg is very softly poached and continues to cook in the latent heat of the curry. The noodles have a fantastic chew. Their thickness stands up well to the slightly sweet flavour of the curry, which sticks beautifully to the noodles. I am keen to return and try the classic and more savoury Nikutama Udon, which is apparently their best seller. I’m also curious to see what Marugame Canada will cook up for the summer months. Given that a rich udon soup might not be the best hot weather food, I have heard talk of cold noodles. I can imagine these would be wonderfully refreshing.

Photo by Maggie Lam

If you haven’t tried Marugame yet, it’s likely you can stop by now without having to wait, at least not as long as when they first opened. Given the price and quick turnover of this Japanese fast food chain, it’s worth a taste.


About Bronwyn Lewis 60 Articles
Bronwyn Lewis is a food writer for the Vancouver Guardian. She’s also a screenwriter and producer. Born and raised in Vancouver, Bronwyn lives in Mount Pleasant and you can follow all her food adventures on Instagram.