KURIHARA - Traditional Vegan Soba and Sweets in Rural Hadano
In a world of increasingly creative ramen and yakisoba fusion dishes aimed at a young and foreign audience, Japanese classic "Soba" 蕎麦 (Buckwheat) noodles are disgracefully underrated. "KURIHARA" based in Hadano serves authentic, delicious soba dishes with plantbased tsuyu base, as well as vegan tempura and sweets!
SOBA - an underrated classic
Soba became a popular ingredient during the Edo period (1603-1868), as a healthy addition to the white rice-centered diet that often caused nutritional deficiencies. Soba contains four times the amount of vitamin B, as well as all eight essential amino acids, including "lysine", which is missing in wheat flour. It is furthermore low in fat, high in protein and... oh, yeah, extremely delicious! Authentic "十割蕎麦" (jyuuwarisoba) are 100% made out of buckwheat and therefore gradually popular as a gluten free option, even abroad. Note that some brands may add other flours, so be sure to check the label!
One of the things I miss the most since going vegan is traditional Japanese food. Making a delicious vegan okonomiyaki or donburi rice bowl at home is one thing, but the flavor and craftsmanship of handmade noodles, served in a generations-old, renowned family recipe broth, is an experience not easily imitated. Whereas soba* is a very popular cheap, healthy and fast option, often found at stations and "tachigui" standing diners, these chains will normally not be vegan friendly, nor flexible to make any changes.
Imagine my excitement finding this absolute gem in Hadano City (Kanagawa prefecture)
*Note: "Soba" is literally the word for buckwheat. However, it also refers to the dish soba noodles!
Kurihara 100% buckwheat handmade soba
Listed in a magazine ranking the BEST soba places in Kanagawa, is Kurihara - located 5 minutes by car, or 20 minutes by foot, from "Shibusawa Station". The 12 parking spots being full and more cars waiting at the entrance; The numbers plates ranging from Yokohama all the way to Nerima; and whole families arriving on foot, are all signs that people are definitely going out of their way to visit this in-the-middle-of-nowhere restaurant, that only operates between 11:30～15:00, five days per week*).
Upon arrival you write your name on the list and wait for your turn. No punishment there, as the beautiful Japanese garden is full of the local special 'Yaezakura' Cherry blossoms; Hadano Sakura is sometimes referred to as the most beautiful sakura in Japan (by the locals at least...!) and the production of pickled cherry blossoms is the highest in all of Japan!
The sakura, along with the lotus, and friendly tonbo dragonflies easily keep you occupied until a table frees up. The restaurant is located in a traditional Japanese house built over 70 years ago.
Even walking inside is an experience on its own - your footsteps on the Japanese wooden floor, the characteristic scent of traditional Japanese houses, the beautiful architecture and the garden view are enough to excite, without having taken even a single bite. The menu is in Japanese only, without pictures, but the staff is very helpful and knowledgeable on their ingredients. The restaurant has an open soba production room, so if you're lucky, you even get to see the master at work!
You can eat soba hot - as a noodle soup, or cold - in which case you get a plate of cold noodles and a cup of "tsuyu" to dip the noodles in. Regular tsuyu contains katsuo bonito dashi, but Kurihara makes a kombu seaweed dashi on request (NOTE: you need to call at least one day ahead!) They also serves an amazing vegetable tempura, with high quality local veggies, and topped with an intensely strong salt. Tempura batter often contains eggs, but you can request them to be made without, even without calling ahead!
The soba was AMAZING! It's nothing like soba served in chains or dried ones to make at home. The texture, intensity of the flavor and arrangement with fresh vegetables is mind blowing! As my visit was impromptu, I brought my own vegan tsuyu. For my next visit, I will definitely call ahead to try their homemade version, so I can try the hot soba!
The vegetable tempura was crispy and light - not the kind that gets soggy or makes you feel nauseous after three bites. Each veggie has its' own deep flavor; from the corn, the maitake mushroom and the nasu eggplant, they all come through so well, you want to savior every last bite!
As your plate starts getting empty, a pot of "Sobayu" is served: This is the water that the soba noodles were boiled in. This, also, is packed with good stuff, especially rutin - which will help you increase and strengthen those blood vessels (ya know, weak vegans and all).
And if you thought that was the end of it, you've never been more wrong! Kurihara offers a selection of homemade deserts - and guess what! They are made without EGGS, MILK, WHEAT OR WHITE SUGAR!!! Please humor yourself and take a moment to imagine me finding this out at the restaurant and losing my mind... *I'll have one of each!* - And each of one was had (hm?). Except for the signature cheese cake tart, as the tart just sold out... Next time!
Not only the sweets, but also the soba, tempura and various other options are available for take out! I took their muffin set - including the 'pickled Yaezakura' soba-flower- and 'Yubeshi (wagashi with Yuzu citrus)' local-rice-flour muffins, both of which' the key ingredients come from their own garden; And the soba-flour gâteau au chocolat with organic cacao powder and tofu cream! Made from buckwheat flour, high quality natural ingredients and no nasties whatsoever, don't expect Krispy Kreme-style junkfood sweets. I found them to be best enjoyed with a good cuppa tea and or some vegan butter, cream or a tiny bit of jam!
Finally, the restaurant has a small shop at the counter with fresh ￥100 veggies from local farmers, organic soaps, honey, seaweed, quinoa and sweets, and even vegan chips and candy!
Try them all!
Asking the owner what has inspired him to offer plantbased options in his 14 year old business, he explained it was a combination of implementing his family's lifestyle (organic, clean ingredients), as well as a commitment to serve their customers as good as possible.
As they are able to make tempura without egg, and they have their own homemade tsuyu as a base for soups and dip for cold noodles, almost every dish on the menu can be veganized – and they are more than happy to accommodate! Please do call in advance for confirm availability!
Address: Shibusawa 2098, Hadano-shi, Kanagawa, Japan 259-1322
Access: 5 minutes by car -free parking on site- , 20 minutes on foot (from Shibusawa station)
Food: Absolutely amazing, authentic Japanese soba, tofu and tempura dishes! Many vegan options incl. deserts. Ingredients are high quality, clean and local.
Price: Considering soba at a chain restaurant sets you back ￥300-400, the set menu for ￥1250 is a bit of a step up. But the authenticity, flavor and quality of the food makes up for it.
Service: Extremely friendly, passionate and patient, both on the phone as on site. Knowledgeable and willing to help.
Location: Bit of a trip for the city folk (about 90 min from Shinjuku). The building, garden and tableware will excite any Instagrammer. An the open kitchen is a big plus!
Overall: Definitely one of my very favorite restaurant experiences so far; an unexpected gem in the countryside. Love love loved the food and can't wait to go back. Strongly recommended for any soba- or tempura enthusiast, and to anyone wanting to eat an authentic Japanese meal in a traditional setting! ❤