Soba (蕎麦), is a variety of noodles made from buckwheat with a greyish colour, a popular dish in Japan. It can be eaten in a hot broth or dipped into a cold sauce (tsuyu, つゆ), a dish seen widely all over Japan. Most commonly, katsuo (skipjack tuna/ bonito) dashi is used in the broth or the dipping sauce, so unless you or someone you’re travelling with can communicate with the restaurant, it’s best to find somewhere which is suitable for vegans.
Having dietary requirements means we can’t just pop into any eateries. This can sometimes make you feel that you’re missing out on the authentic dining experiences Japan has to offer. Such as getting to meet the locals, and eating Japanese food whilst sitting in an old and traditional interior. A lot of people in Japan are still unaware of what vegan is, so could be confusing to them even if you do try to explain it.
However, that’s when I discovered Geji soba, a small restaurant tucked away in the middle of Osaka. Serving traditional Kansai handmade soba noodles, loved by the locals and visitors. They have a great vegan selection too!
During the day
We had a glorious day exploring Keitakuen Garden. A peaceful garden in Osaka, 20 minutes away by train from Dontonbori, the busy tourist destination.
Highly recommended you visit here if you are wanting a change of pace from sometimes a fast-paced, and busy Japan filled with bright colours, bright light and loud noises. The gardens were beautiful, we went in November so we got to enjoy the changing autumn leaves.
At only ¥150 (£0.90 / $1.15), you can enjoy some peace and quiet, looking at the gorgeous scenery. They have a pond with Koi fish, as well as turtles, and cranes. As well as a tea house nestles among the trees to sit and enjoy the view!
Here’s the link to the garden.
But let’s get back onto the topic, I’m talking about food in this blog post!
Unlike my other post about Osaka, we had planned to visit this restaurant. We were craving authentic Japanese food and after a little research, we found just the place.
Genji Soba is a small and cosy restaurant with a traditional Japanese aesthetic, showcasing pieces of retired machinery in their window, as well as old photos and ornaments around the restaurant. A friendly and welcoming restaurant with many dishes suitable for those who are gluten-free and vegan.
It has been around since 1929, starting as a sukiyaki (hot pot dish with a mix of meats and vegetables ) restaurant in Shinsekai, Osaka. It sadly got burned down in WWII, when they moved to Nara. The restaurant in Namba has been around since 1965 when the next generation changed it over from a sukiyaki store to a soba restaurant.
Genji Soba makes their own noodles, otherwise known as men (麺) by hand. They do a great job at identifying vegan-friendly and non-vegan items on their menu through their English menu, which has pictures and clear labelling. I had read reviews mentioning vegan items on their menu but was shocked by the number of items that could be made suitable.
There isn’t a separate vegan menu, it just says which of the items on the menu can be made suitable for those who are vegan. So, It’s important to ask for the vegan version when you order the dishes, if not they’ll probably use fish products mentioned earlier in their soups.
What we got
What’s it called?
How did it taste?
Kitsune soba literally translates to fox soba, the reason? Because of the colour of the abura-age (twice-fried tofu skin). I used to love eating kitsune soba when I lived in Japan and this was the first one I had eaten since being vegan. The homemade abura-age has a fun and spongy texture, soaking in the light and delicious flavoured hot broth that the soba noodles lay in.
This is not the type of meal to leave you feeling heavy. It’s light, healthy, and delicious, whilst making you feel full and satisfied. The finely cut spring onions on the top add extra depth to the flavour.
How much was it?
¥1,050 (£6.44 / $7.69)
What’s it called?
Vegetable tempura Zaru Soba
How to eat it
When you receive the meal, it can feel a little confusing greeted by so many different plates and bowls on the tray. Let me help you navigate!
- Soba noodles – to be dipped a mouthful portion at a time into a cup-looking dish (no.3)
- Finely cut spring onions and wasabi to be added into (no.3) cup full of tsuyu (sauce)
- The cup you eat the noodles out of. This will be empty when you receive it. Pour no.4 tsuyu in
- Tsuyu – soy sauce-based sauce you dip your soba noodles.
- Salt and wasabi salt to dip the tempura.
- Tentsuyu – a dip specifically for tempura
- A variety of vegetable tempura to be dipped in no.5 or 6
How did it taste?
This meal had two options, noodles using 80% buckwheat flour and 20% wheat flour or noodles using 100% buckwheat flour. Although a few hundred yen more, we decided to go with the latter, 100% buckwheat noodles.
It’s a cold noodle dish you dip in a soy sauce-based sauce, which is light and refreshing. You can add wasabi and or spring onions to the sauce for extra heat and a kick.
In the generous bowl of tempura, we got pumpkin, aubergine, pepper, tomato and mushrooms. They were all so tasty! A crispy and warm outside and delicious vegetables on the inside, to be enjoyed either dipped in the sauce (tentsuyu), salt or wasabi salt.
This was one person’s portion, and as I said it was a generous one! I would have not been able to finish all on my own, so I’m glad I had Jonny with me.
Near the end of your meal, you will get given a little teapot with cloudy water. The pot is filled with soba-yu (soba water), the water soba noodles are cooked in. When Soba is boiled, nutrients are dissolved into the water, which is said to have health benefits. Once you’ve eaten all the noodles, pour the soba-yu into the leftover sauce and drink it.
How much was it?
Noodles made from 80% buckwheat, 20% wheat flour – ¥2,100 (£12.90 / $15.30)
Noodles made from 100% buckwheat flour- ¥2,400 (£14.70 / $17.60)
Things that are close by
- Namba Station – 5 minute walk
- Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street – 7 minute walk
- Dontonbori – 6 minute walk
- Shinsaibashi-Suji Shopping Street – 10 minute walk
- National Bunraku Theatre – 13 minute walk
- Edion Arena Osaka – 5 minute walk
- Namba Yasaka Jinja – 8 minute walk
How to get to Genji Soba
Address: 〒4 Chome-5-8 Nanba, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 542-0076, Japan
Nearest train station: Subway Midosuji Line Nankai Line Kintetsu Line JR Namba Station
Open times: 11:00 – 14:30 | 17:00 – 21:30 (21:00 on Sundays) CLOSED THURSDAYS
Phone: +81 6-6633-5402
Genji Soba is the perfect place for anyone who wants an authentic Japanese dining experience. Both the kitsune soba and Vegetable tempura Zaru Soba had a delicious and fresh taste using GMO-free ingredients which doesn’t leave you feeling heavy after eating. I was so pleased by the number of items that were suitable for those who are vegan. The staff are super friendly, and you can have a fulfilling and healthy meal without breaking the bank, and who doesn’t love that?!