I don’t want to draw too many metaphors comparing a bowl of steaming ramen to my walk through the steamy inner workings of my city. But, here I am, looking down at a just-prepared Shio Ramen. Pinks, whites, greens and yellows poke through the creamy pork broth, all supported by a bed of twisty, slurpy noodles. I can’t help but think back to the colourful neighborhoods I have passed through on my circular ramble to Kyu Bistro.
It’s still winter of course and, by ‘steamy inner workings’ of Winnipeg, I mean to say that there is a beautiful volatility to my morning ramble. My journey takes me from my relatively genteel Wolseley neighbourhood, across Portage Avenue to the modest residential-industrial-commercial mix of the West End and down Ellice Avenue with its intense mix of multi-cultural shops and restaurants. This is the land of ordinary buildings. Nothing fancy. Houses that provide shelter. Stores and restaurants in simple boxy enclosures. Yet these nondescript structures ooze personality. Colour is the weapon of choice. Not colour imposed by some grand urban plan but by a localized need to express a sense of place.
As my walk continues downtown, the architecture becomes more formal but the spaces in between no less edgy. I’m here for a noontime beer with friends at the Woodbine Hotel, a historic building still functioning as it did when built in 1878 (although it has seen extensive renovations through 1927). It’s a rare establishment in the increasingly gentrified Exchange District. Many Exchange spaces have been converted to galleries, condominiums, start-up enterprises, exotic boutiques and restaurants. The Woodbine rails against that nouveau chic quality, catering more to a less-fortunate crowd – and tourists like me – than its current trendy neighbours. How much longer can it hold out?
It’s off to Kyu Bistro for my late lunch, weaving north and west through the nether lands of the Exchange Street and down Elgin and Ross Avenues, lined with newer social housing schemes. They are interesting from the perspective of an architect or planner. But they are all modern-white. Unlike the West End or Ellice Avenue, there is no sign of personal identity. No pink or mauve or yellow. Or murals. Nothing to suggest the occupants have made this their place, whether by permission or appropriation.
The tiny restaurant itself is in a bland strip mall on a gritty stretch of Isabel Street, buried behind a row of cars. Inside is another world of dark walls, subdued lighting and artfully-prepared food. After brief moment admiring the bowl of ramen and conjuring up metaphors, I dig into the noodles.
My final loop back home takes me through familiar West End territory, rich with ramen-colour.