Kirinji: A Saigon Secret for Soba Noodles

In our second Vietnam Foodie installment, we follow up on our bun bo article with an alternative to the delicious Vietnamese dish — some Japanese noodles we think you’ll love.

The first time I saw Kirinji, I was walking out of the Co.op Mart at Vivo City in District 7 and I kept on walking. No way would this place be any good, I thought, especially because there a lot of Japanese people in my family so I grew up eating a lot of the food. I was so wrong.

Since that day, I have been back a handful of times. And this is even after I moved to Binh Thanh District from D7.

Here’s why…

A Japanese hole in the wall

In America, shopping malls typically don’t have great places to eat. Most of the restaurants are fast food joints with cuisine that’s barely mediocre (if you’re lucky). This is largely the reason I walked by Kirinji so many times before finally trying it.

In fact, it took the recommendation of a friend to get me to try it.

After deciding to give it a shot, I started to notice stuff I never noticed before.

There are lanterns everywhere, to give it a Japanese feel. They’ve also got Japanese artwork on the wall, a Maneki-neko (beckoning cat figurine believed to bring good luck), and the hanging cloth near the small kitchen with the Japanese characters on it. (I have no idea if it’s hiragana, katakana or kanji, but it looks legit.)

Some people might argue that it’s tacky, but I appreciate the effort.

Best of all, every time I have gone, it has been so quiet.

I know this is not what the restaurant probably wants to hear, because more people means more business. But I like that it’s so peaceful when I’m there.

You can eat with little noise or disturbance, and if someone is with you, it’s easy to hear him or her talk.

Maybe the noise level will change now that I have written this. After all, it’s better if you don’t do your grocery shopping on an empty stomach so Kirinji is a good stop before you enter the Co.op Mart.

Friendly convenience

Upon sitting, the first thing that stands out is the soba cheat sheet.

First they cover the benefits of soba, such as the way it helps with digestion and cholesterol. Then they give you instructions on how to eat it, including the amount of chili oil and rice vinegar you should mix into your bowl.

The folks here are so friendly so they alert you to this information, to bolster your experience. Again, maybe you think this is overkill but to me it’s nice, especially for someone trying soba for the first time.

By this point you’re probably quite hungry. How could you not be after reading about all the yummy goodness you’re about to feast upon, and lucky for you, the soba comes fast.

This is probably directly related to the often-quiet environment of the place. Or maybe they do a good job with prep work before they open. Actually, it’s probably a combination of the two.

Either way, you won’t wait much longer than 5 minutes to get your food.

If you’re often in a hurry, like I am (because New York culture is embedded in my DNA), this is a huge plus. If you’re never in a hurry, it doesn’t matter because…

It’s delicious

Don’t get me wrong, you can find better soba noodles in Japan. Of course, you can also find better pizza in Italy, better bread in France, better dim sum in China…well, you get the point.

That said, this soba is good.

A lot of places oversaturate the noodles and vegetables with soy sauce, drowning out the taste of the other ingredients. I had this experience at a place I will not name in the little Japantown near my Binh Thanh apartment.

The chefs at Kirinji know better, hence the reason I keep returning.

The tender slices of pork, shredded seaweed and sliced vegetables are mainstays with every bowl. Then you can choose the featured ingredient.

My favorites are the Japanese fried chicken or the cod roe (although I don’t like that mayonnaise came with my fish eggs so I’ll remember to ask them to hold the white stuff next time).

You can also choose cheese or a boiled egg. I have no desire to try these because it seems weird to have cheese with rice and I can make eggs at home. But if this is your thing, by all means.

What we can probably agree on is that the price, around 100,000 VND no matter which bowl you choose, is fair and reasonable. You might even say it’s a steal.

Kirinji Japantown

That’s right, there’s a second location. (Actually, maybe it’s the original one in Saigon. They just need to update the map on their Facebook page.) Funny enough, I just found out about this recently so I could have saved myself the 30-minute trip to District 7.

I also learned the restaurant apparently is owned by a Japanese company.

From now on, I’ll head to Thai Van Lung, the street that runs by the main Japantown in Saigon, in District 1. It should take me only 5 to 10 minutes to get there, and my hope is my food comes just as fast after I order it.

Vietnam Foodie rating: 4.4 of 5