Tenzaru Soba @ Torarenbo in Richmond

by Ed Lau on June 16, 2009

soba

One of the foods I miss the most from my trip to Japan was zaru soba, or cold buckwheat noodles. I’m not exaggerating when I say it is the perfect summer food. Cool, light and delicious. In the 30+ degrees of blazing heat, I think I had cold soba at least every couple days if not more. It’s quite a cheap, common meal and while it’s rare to find one that isn’t good, true mastery of cold soba is difficult to find. Kanda Yabu Soba, for instance, is a great example of absolutely amazing soba.

However, it is more difficult than you imagine to find zaru soba in North America. Regardless of the permeation of Japanese cuisine into the Western world, the idea of cold noodles is lost on most people here. It is available at very few Japanese restaurants and even fewer actually get it right. I look for relatively dry, chilled noodles that are not stuck together and don’t fall apart very easily. There’s nothing worse than having to pick up bits and pieces of noodles stuck together. It sounds simple but in reality, it is quite difficult to achieve.

Vancouver is blessed with a number of wonderful Japanese restaurants where the vocabulary isn’t limited to “teriyaki” and “california roll”. I’ve been missing Japan more and more lately since around this time, I was still traveling so I expect to review a few of the great Japanese restaurants in town, such as Sushi Hachi, Seto and Ichiro. Torarenbo is one such place that has a number of traditional Japanese dishes as well as some that are indigenous to North America. The ingredients are fresh and prepared well.

soba

I ordered the tenzaru soba, which is cold buckwheat noodles served with assorted tempura as well as a chopped scallop and tobiko (flying fish roe) roll. My roll arrived first and the scallops were fresh and sweet. Those of you who have only had their scallops seared or otherwise cooked are missing out. Scallops are perhaps one of the best foods in the world to eat raw.

The soba tray was quite a bit bigger than I expected. Usually, soba is regarded as a very light meal but the mount sitting on the bamboo sieve appeared mountainous! However, upon closer inspection, the noodles were simply sitting on a bed of ice cubes to keep them chilled. Not as huge an amount as I originally thought but still a very good amount of noodles.

soba

Perhaps even more important than the quality and texture of the noodles is the quality of the tsuyu, or the dipping sauce for your zaru soba, which is usually a mixture of sweet soy sauce and mirin. My noodles at Torarenbo came with something I’ve never really seen before with soba…a raw quail egg. I don’t know about you but I love raw eggs. They add a great richness and depth to a lot of things. You also dash in some sesame seeds, wasabi and chopped green onions into your tsuyu. My tray also came with a large plate of tempura – a couple large prawns, zuchini, yam and pumpkin.

The noodles were fantastic and held up well, without any little bits and pieces hanging around the bottom of the bamboo tray at the end. Although the tempura wasn’t as oil-free and as lightly battered as some of the better tempura I’ve had, it also wasn’t anything to really complain about. Still a world apart from the junk you usually get at many Japanese restaurants. Either way, I was ecstatic to have some good cold soba close to home! The staff is very friendly and my surroundings were quite Japanese with Hanshin Tigers memorabilia on the walls and a Japanese food show on the flat screen on the wall.

With the soba a steal at $7.95 and my roll at $4.50, my bill came to just under $15 after a Coke. If you’re melting in the summer heat, grab yourself a tray of zaru soba and cool down with a great hot weather meal.

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in Food and Fine Dining

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Play Games Win Prizes June 18, 2009 at 12:16 am

North America has EVERYTHING…so we don’t have to worry :)

-Mike

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Ben Pei June 19, 2009 at 6:51 am

I had this in Osaka and it cost about $10 USD per bowl. Too ex man! But nice..

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Jonnek June 21, 2009 at 3:31 am

Did u mix the raw quail egg with the noodle or the sauce? BTW, those pictures are pretty bad.. Just commenting.

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DOREENE July 21, 2010 at 12:04 pm

If you love true, fresh, authentic & fantastic Japanese cuisine including Tenzaru Soba being on the menu, if in the Alexandria VA area visit Matsui Sushi 703.550.6100.

Having lived in Okinawa for more than 5 years, I fell in love with a lot of the food, Soba/Sashimi and Katsu Don being some of my favorites.

Four Stars for this restaurant

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