Ted of Soba Tuesdays has a reputation that precedes him. As the proprietor of Soba Tuesdays, running out of Ichiriki Restaurant, he serves biting, peerless soba every week, sourced directly from buckwheat farmers in Manitoba. He was eager to eat one of his favourite dishes in Canada, and unable to find it in Toronto, decided to start making and sharing it himself instead. He was kind enough to sit down with us for a quick chat.
Sadi: So I guess I just want to start off by asking you how business is going on Tuesdays, how busy it is, if you’re comfortable with business on Tuesdays?
Ted: It’s difficult to say. Of course, the restaurant business, maybe—not in my case, but generally speaking—it frustrates a lot. In order to kill restaurateurs, you don’t need a knife. Just bad weather.
S: How long have you been doing this on Tuesdays?
T: On Tuesdays? Over on King St., I started in 2009. We called that Soba Sunday. On King Street, for five years. Here another five.
S: What made you want to start?
T: I wanted to eat. Just so simple. I knew that Canada grows buckwheat. Then, coming here, I tried to find out the restaurants where they served buckwheat noodle, but none of them are doing such things. So if I go to the growing area, then the situation might be different. So I went to Manitoba. They called themselves the buckwheat capital of Canada. Even in the buckwheat capital, nobody knew soba. Of course the farmers are growing it, and they know it, but nobody knew the style of soba noodles and nobody tries. The majority of people there were always asking ‘what is soba?’ When I started the business, I had to explain everything from scratch. So soba is called buckwheat, buckwheat is a plant, then it is called buckwheat, and making it into the noodle shape it is called soba. Then, how to eat it, how to make it… So, at the time of five years of soba Sunday downtown on King St., I was still asked such primitive questions.
S: Do you still get those questions?
T: No more questions. Maybe after five years, I succeeded to educate a little bit.
S: One of the other things I wanted to ask you about is Soba Tuesdays—what the most popular item on the menu is on Soba Tuesdays?
T: Anything. Because in the middle of the winter, I cook food because I like it, and then I’m offering and serving cold, mainly cold soba, and the majority of people, especially Chinese, they didn’t have any custom to eat cold food. Cold food is only for beggars or the poorest of guys. They need something. But after five years on King St., the Chinese were always asking, why are you sticking only to offering cold food, why don’t you go hot? But the only way to enjoy buckwheat noodle itself, the cold is much more convenient. The Italian pasta is the same thing. When they serve, the eater has to start eating right away because at the moment they serve the dish, they say that’s the best time to consume it. But okay, we’re taking pictures, talking. Canadian culture is too social! Talk with your friend, enjoy the food at the same time. Yeah, but in the case of soba, once served, you have to immediately start eating it. Otherwise, every second you don’t eat, you’re losing texture and flavour. It’s so delicate. Even the hot broth, which they cook soba in, it changes very quickly. Two or three minutes is enough to kill the original textures. So after eating, then talk! I always tell them. Also, because of Canadian thinking and Canadian cultures, we eat together with friends and family, and we wait until everyone has their food before we start. While waiting, the noodles are out—they’re gone. With cold noodles, you can wait a little longer, but the hot one is so severe that right now you have to eat. Concentrate, right now!
S: So I know you’re really busy. When you’re not really busy, doing Soba Tuesdays, what are some of your favourite places to go and eat in Toronto?
T: It’s a very difficult question. Basically, as I’m Japanese, I know the taste of Japan. And I basically don’t eat meat or that kind of thing. So I am almost like a vegetarian. So going Canadian is always sausage, ham, starting with pig meat in the morning and steak for dinner. So it’s not my type also.
S: Do you know any other place in Toronto where I can get good soba?
T: No. Because I’m the only guy at food-maker festivals.
S: So you get your soba from Manitoba, is it all Manitoba buckwheat?
T: Not all. Sometimes I’ve bought from, say, Quebec. But I saw that the Quebecois, their usage purpose while using the flour is different. So I stopped buying from Quebec. But Manitoba, because they are only thinking of rapid self-consumption, and they’re very proud of it being high quality, I ended up just buying from them.
S: If you were going to pass away, what would your last meal be?
T: In such case, I am greedy!
S: That’s fine. You can be as greedy as you want—last meal, right?
T: Then I would order sake. Sake, and sashimi. And maybe soba too.
S: And then I wanted to ask, when you were starting out, beginning to make soba for other people, did anyone give you a piece of advice? Did you have a mentor that helped you in this business?
T: No. Because as I told you, I just wanted to eat Canadian-grown buckwheat. So I just tried to look for the guys who would be serving. But no one, even now, from Atlantic to Pacific, no one is serving.
S: My final question for you was, if someone was going to open a restaurant or a business, or do something like this with a food for people, what piece of advice would you give them?
T: Hm. Because maybe the experience is fifteen years of experience that I have in a soba restaurant, I have something to say. You cannot be a millionaire by soba here. Because it just started. And so then the cultivating the market and educating the people, at the same time? You cannot be a billionaire. You have to devote yourself and educate them, to feed that culture. So then the easy guys, OK, I have so many guys from Japan asking, I’d like to open a buckwheat soba restaurant here. “I’ve studied how to make it.” But the problem is not with that. The uniqueness of soba-making skill, its importance is less than 1% of the total.
S: Thank you for your time Ted!
Soba Tuesdays at Ichiriki Japanese Restaurant
120 Bloor St E