I love a good brunch and take pride in finding the best breakfast sandwich around, but I also realize that our inclination to eat cereal or eggs and drink orange juice in the morning is purely driven by marketing and advertsing.
Ten years ago I was in Osaka, Japan, surprised and delighted to discover that miso soup and onigiri (rice and meat or fish wrapped in seaweed) are part of their early-morning meal. When traveling through Thailand, I loved that I could eat chicken and rice to start my day. Now I believe in eating whatever I want, no matter how early it is. So when heard about a Vancouver restaurant that served a traditional Japanese breakfast, I knew I had to search it out.
If it wasn’t for food blog Vanouver Slop, I never would have found Tenhachi Japanese Restaurant (1125 W 12th Ave.) while on a work trip to Van City. It’s located on a residential street in a large apartment/budget hotel/B&B named Shaugnessy Village. Inside, things are quite strange, with the most schizophrenic interior I’ve ever seen.
But decor doesn’t really matter to me if the service and food are stellar. And Tenhachi delivers on both fronts. The servers are so friendly and attentive in just the right way that I beamed through my entire meal.
While Tenhachi serves up several traditional Western breakfast options, it’s the list of Japanese Style Morning Combos that inspired my visit. And the amazing thing is, each of these combos clock in at a mere $8.45. When you look at the quantity and quality of food (especially compared to most brunch places in Toronto), this is completely preposterous (in a very good way).
I wasn’t feeling adventurous enough to try the Natto (fermented soy beans) this early in the morning, so I went with the safe bet of the Grilled Salmon Combo ($8.45) which comes with rice, miso soup, one kobachi side dish, tsukudani, pickles and dried seaweed.
The miso soup is among the best I’ve tasted. It wasn’t overly salty with a couple of weak seaweed and green onion pieces, this was a hearty bowl. Each spoonful yielded cabbage, tofu, scallions and soggy tempura bits.
The salmon was slightly dry and overcooked, but I liked the presentation because they weren’t afraid to serve it in a way which made it clear that yes, this is indeed part of a fish.
I did a bit of research beforehand, and from what I gathered, you unwrap the dried seaweed and eat it with the rice and fish. Someone suggested dipping it into the miso soup to soften the seaweed and I enjoyed that as well.
The kobachi side dish is a small ceramic bowl containing green veggies with tofu, slathered in sweet black sesame sauce. This was divine and I polished off its entire contents.
The L-shaped dish contained tsukudani (seaweed), beans and mushrooms. The most amusing part of my breakfast was the reactions I recieved from the other diners, who presumambly were staying at the hotel. One older couple came over to stare at my combo and ask “What are you eating!??!” and were in complete shock that I could consume that much food in the morning. Another gentleman and his mother came into the restaurant, saw my food, and rudely asked the servers if they had any “normal breakfast.” And to this man, I say “Your loss, buddy.”
My Japanese breakfast was the kind of great meal that sets up your entire day. I truly felt like a champion when I left and stepped out into the warm Vanouver air. I had consumed protein, rice, plenty of veggies and drank green tea, which seems like a much healthier start than pancakes with syrup. Now, if only I could find a restaurant in Toronto that begins their day the Japanese way.
Tenhachi Japanese Restaurant /1125 West 12th Ave., Vancouver
604 742 0234 / Hours: Breakfast Mon-Sun 7am-noon, Lunch Wed-Sun noon-2pm, Dinner Tues-Sun 5pm-9:30pm