19 September 2023

Hot in Gungahlin: Ikigai serves up life-changing ramen

| Lucy Ridge
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Ikigai interior with lit up statue of noodles on chopsticks

Ikigai is the passion project of chef Anj Sulit. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Canberra chef Anj Sulit was travelling solo through Japan in 2017 when she found a hole-in-the-wall noodle joint that would send her on a whole new journey.

“I couldn’t understand anything on the menu so I just pointed and they served me a tonkotsu ramen that changed my life,” Anj told Region.

“When I sipped the broth, the feeling was out of this world. There are no words for it! So when I came back here I tried all the ramen shops in Canberra but I never found that same feeling.”

High top tables at Ikigai

Anj and her family wanted to create an upmarket space in Gungahlin. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Her hunt for that feeling sent her down a rabbit hole of experimentation. After years of perfecting the broth, Anj was finally happy with the results. She started hosting pop-up ramen dinners at her much-loved Gungahlin cafe Sunday in Canberra.

“The ramen nights were just a passion project, but our customers really supported it, so when the opportunity came up with this new space, we decided we’d try a ramen shop.”

And so Ikigai Ramen was born.

Small cast-iron dish with two croquettes topped with spring onion

The crab croquettes are a delicious entree with a moreish miso cream. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Like Sunday in Canberra, it’s a family affair. Anj’s parents, Joe and Vivian, own the business, while Anj and her sister, Kat Zaldivar, run the day-to-day operations. Anj is the head chef, and Kat manages front of house.

Ikigai is a Japanese word that Anj describes as “the reason you wake up every morning. It’s your purpose in life”.

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Ramen has become the reason Anj wakes up every morning. Literally. The broth for her signature tonkotsu ramen takes 12 hours to prepare!

But the menu at Ikigai goes beyond just tonkotsu, with three other varieties of ramen, entrees, rice dishes and drinks.

Bowl of delicious looking tonkotsu ramen with egg, pork and spring onion

Anj worked for years to perfect her tonkotsu ramen to emulate the same emotion she had during her travels in Tokyo. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

The miso crab is a delicious entree. Two creamy crab croquettes sit in a delicious puddle of miso cream with smokey burnt mozzarella. Topped with furikake seasoning, it’s an umami-rich tastebud pleaser that won’t fill you up too much before your ramen arrives.

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The tonkotsu ramen is simply gorgeous. The pork broth is both rich and clean, with a generous portion of chewy wheat noodles. The chashu pork is flavoursome and tender, and the ajitama soy egg is perfectly jammy. Bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms and fresh spring onion round out the toppings. Each mouthful is a delight, with mayu garlic oil adding an extra layer of flavour.

Each spoonful feels like an indulgence.

Pair your ramen with a Japanese beer, or cut through the richness with a citrusy Suntory hard lemonade (dangerously drinkable at 6 per cent ABV).

Ikigai Ramen exterior

Ikigai Ramen is located right next to the tram stop in Gungahlin. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

The atmosphere in the restaurant is classy and inviting. It’s a nice place to linger over a meal with friends; or if you’re looking to emulate Anj’s solo Tokyo experience, pull up a stool at the kitchen bar or by the window.

The family wanted to provide the Gungahlin area with a more upmarket restaurant option.

“We’re from Gungahlin. We don’t want to drive all the way to Braddon or the City to have a nice meal,” Anj explained.

The family recently sold Sunday in Canberra to focus on Ikigai, which locals have enthusiastically welcomed. The location right next to the tram stop makes it an easily accessible destination for people coming from outside of the Gungahlin area as well.

At opening time on a Monday evening, a handful of groups were waiting by the door to be the first to dine in: folks looking to try their own bowl of life-changing ramen.

Ikigai Ramen is located at 43 Hibberson St, Gungahlin. They are open from 5.30 pm to 8.30 pm six days a week (it’s closed Tuesdays). Follow Ikigai on Facebook or Instagram and visit their Ikigai Ramen for more details.

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