If any bowl of soup in Calgary can be called a “cult favourite,” it’s got to be the delightfully rich ramen concoction known as Chili Goma. A noodle-filled bowl of sesame and chili-spiked broth topped with spicy minced pork, Chili Goma has a silky and slightly spicy flavour that has its many fans coming back for bowl after bowl.
Chili Goma is available at not one, but two Calgary restaurants: Shikiji and Shiki Menya, both owned and operated by the Aihara family. The soup was born about a decade ago when Koki Aihara (the driving force behind Shiki Menya) tried a sesame and ground pork ramen called tantanmen in Japan. He came back home and helped his father Tsukasa develop a version for Shikiji, dubbing it Chili Goma (“goma” means sesame in Japanese). While the roots of the dish are not wholly unique, the name “Chili Goma” is not something you’re likely to hear outside of Calgary.
When Koki opened Shiki Menya in 2014, Chili Goma was the one dish that he brought over from the Shikiji menu. Both restaurants use the same basic concept: you’ve got your ramen noodles and broth (with a little bit of chili and sesame seasoning), plus a scoop of cooked ground pork, mushrooms, pickled radish and bamboo shoots. The flavour is deep and earthy, and the level of spice is mild enough to let the nuances of the sesame pork broth shine through.
There are some small variations between the Shikiji and Shiki Menya versions (Shiki Menya uses a woodier mushroom), but the key differentiator is the broth. Since Shiki Menya focuses almost solely on ramen, it’s more serious about the broth. Its 20-hour pork bone broth has a deeper and more complex flavour than its parent restaurant’s less intense (though still delicious) version.
A bowl of Chili Goma ramen goes for $16 at Shikiji and $14 at Shiki Menya. Whichever place you choose, show up with an appetite: it may just be soup, but Chili Goma is also a bit of a gut-buster.