Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Honke Tsuruki Soba: Sakamoto’s Most Famous Soba Restaurant

When lunchtime approaches, it is time to finish exploring the temple or shrine in Sakamoto you are in and to find a restaurant. As a town in the countryside, Sakamoto has no vegan-friendly restaurants. The closest place to enjoy a vegan meal is the Enryakuji Kaikan in Mt. Hiei. But if you don’t mind bringing a bottle of vegan dipping sauce, a good place to stop by for lunch or dinner is Honke Tsuruki Soba (本家 鶴㐂そば)!

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About Honke Tsuruki Soba

The handmade soba noodle restaurant has served the pilgrims and monks of Enryakuji for over 300 years. The traditional building built more than 130 years ago, is now considered an Important National Cultural Property. Although the price tag of the items on the menu is higher than that of the average soba restaurant, the experience is definitely worth it.

Their noodles and tempura dishes are simply delicious! After eating, take a short stroll into their gorgeous Japanese garden!

Honke Tsuruki Soba has two dining areas, one in the main house and the other in the annex. Throughout the restaurant, you will see images of characters not found elsewhere in Japan. These images/paintings are called Ōtsu-e or Ōtsu Painting. The style is unique to Ōtsu City. The topics of the painting can range from animals to deities. If you are interested in seeing more Ōtsu-e, visit the Ōtsu Painting Museum (大津絵美術館) in Enman-in.

Honke Tsuruki Soba’s History

The restaurateur’s founder, Tsuruya Kibachi (鶴屋喜八), was in charge of the meals served in Enraykuji. His duty was to prepare food for monks undergoing intense training and pilgrims who traveled a long way to Mt. Hiei.

Back then, when food was limited, buckwheat (soba) was chosen as the stable food due to its high nutrition and easy digestion. It supplemented the rice-centric diet for people living in rural areas, which was essential to the fasting monks who performed parts of their rituals.

In 1716, Kibachi opened Honke Tsuruki Soba to also make delicious noodles for visitors. Soba porridge was later turned into soba noodles in the Edo period. In 1912, when Emperor Taishō was a prince at the time, he honored the restaurant by letting them host his visit during his stay in Mt. Hiei.

The Soba Noodles at Honke Tsuruki Soba

The soba noodles here are generally made from 80% soba flour and 20% wheat flour. Like a true artisan, the chef adjusts the amount of water and wheat needed in the flour according to the day’s temperature and humidity and the condition of the soba flour.

Both the dipping sauce and broth are made in the restaurant as well.

Our Visit to Honke Tsuruki Soba

As we got to Honke Tsuruki Soba at around 12 pm, there was already a queue. Fortunately, we were able to put our names down on the waiting list before taking a seat on the restaurant’s low stone fence. There were around 9 groups of guests in front of us, but the rotation was relatively quick as we got seated at around 12:20 pm!

Standing between the two buildings is a nice traditional dry garden. It is well-maintained, and it even has a water ripple drawn! The guests sitting in the main house have the privilege of enjoying the garden view while eating (refer to the last photo in the Instagram post).

Our seats were in the annex. One benefit of dining at the annex is that it is close to the toilet. In the beginning, we were wondering why people were standing around our room’s entrance until we realized they were queuing for the toilet!

There were two rooms in the annex, and we got the one with more decors. The traditional instruments have Ōtsu-e painted (refer to the 3rd – 5th photos in the Instagram post).

We ordered cold soba noodles and a hot soba noodle soup set, each with a basket of vegetable tempura as a side dish. Because the Yuba (tofu skin) we had in Kyoto was so good, we also ordered it, thinking the quality should be around the same.

Just as expected, the soba noodles were phenomenal, with the right level of chewiness. The freshly fried vegetable tempura is as crispy as it could be. Sprinkling some salt, we finished the tempura without sauce because the vegetables were so fresh!

The tofu skin was soft and smooth too!

Tip: If you are strict with your vegan diet, order the cold soba noodles (Zaru Soba, ざるそば). You can easily replace the non-vegan dipping sauce with your vegan dipping sauce if you have one.

Honke Tsuruki Soba’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The restaurant is open from 11 am to 3 pm or until sold out.
    • The last order is taken at 2:30 pm.
    • The restaurant is not open on the 3rd Monday of the month, 1st of January, and the last Tuesday in August.
  • It is a 12 to 15-minute walk from Kaihan’s Sakamoto-hieizanguchi Station (坂本比叡駅).

Discover Sakamoto, The Town that Thrived at the Foot of Mt. Hiei

Click the photo to find out where to get this awesome photo yourself!

Are you wondering where else to go in Sakamoto? The town has many attractions that are worth your time. A couple of shrines and temples with unique and interesting histories and architecture await you to check them out!

For more information, please refer to our article on Sakamoto (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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