Let’s get this straight – one of the main things Gail and I were looking to sample here in Japan was the food. So it’s with no real surprise I bring you another food related blog entry!
I have to say, our apartment-hosts have knocked it out of the park from the very moment of our arrival (allowing us to turn up to the apartment and leave our cases, even before our check-in time, as we landed early in the morning and didn’t want to have to lug massive hold goliaths around town for half a day!) Even if the studio wasn’t as nice as it is, their attitude and friendliness would have made the premium over a hotel room worth it.
But on Day 2 they sent us an email with a list of local (and not-so-local) places they recommended for food. Now, of course we had our own list, but it only coincided with theirs on one occasion, and local knowledge should never be ignored, so over the last couple of evenings we’ve tried two izakayas – Japanese pubs with food.
The first was a very local (as in, we were the only gaijin there) bar that specialised in fish – that is, sashimi (which is what most people think of when they hear the word sushi), nigiri and other sushi. It took a moment or two to find it as it was in a row of three bars, none of which had their names in English script, but a quick websearch and Gail’s visual pattern-matching expertise and we were reading kanji like natives (not!)
We were shown to the bar, given menus and made to feel very welcome, despite the language differences. A little pointing and a smattering of “ichi, ni” and we had a glass of Sapporo each with a sashimi and nigiri selection on the way. The chefs cut the sashimi in front of us – the nigiri too, I’m sure, though I didn’t notice them being formed.
And it was fantastic! Truly amazing. We eat sushi most Wednesday nights in Granada, rolled by a (now) friend of ours who herself is Japanese, but the freshness and quality of the fish just doesn’t – and I don’t think could – compare. This was true, caught-this-morning-and-eaten-this-evening freshness, expertly cut and presented, with the skin left on some varieties (which I’ve never seen in the West) and with ginger- rather than pink-coloured ginger to boot!
We finished the evening sampling one of the selection of sakes that were advertised on the board behind the bar. With little experience of sake ourselves, and with them all being advertised at the same price, it was entirely potluck (though our waitress did manage to ask if we preferred sweet or dry drinks, the latter being our choice) but we weren’t disappointed. It arrived in a small bottle with two glasses and we served each other (as is the custom) two good rounds of amazingly fresh tasting rice wine to end a great meal with the locals!
One final observation – we were given two bowls for soy, and encouraged to mix ginger in one and wasabi in the other – a practice that’s considered a no-no amongst knowledgeable Western sushi eaters, myself included – until now!
Baird Beer Harajuku Taproom
Craft beer is incredibly popular in Tokyo, and the second izakaya, which we visited last night, was a craft beer pub that served yakitori – almost tapas-like portions of skewered food. It is just off Takeshita-Dori (Takeshita Street), a major meeting point for young Japanese and visitors alike, and so was much more lively and noisy that the previous night in Shinkichi – perfect for a Saturday night.
It also meant most of the staff spoke some English so we were easily seated and ordered our beer and yakitori with no problems at all. I tried a craft brewed stout and it was good – dark and bitter and only available in half-litre glasses (apparently – Gail’s Pale Red Ale came in a 200ml option…)
With it we ordered a couple of different skewers each – shiitake mushrooms and beef for Gail and chorizo (you know, to see how foods that we’ve now adopted as our own are tackled by people halfway around the world) and chicken with plum sauce. They were all pretty damn good to be frank – tapas-sized but generous and very tasty. The chorizo was far spicier than a Spaniard would have liked it though!
A second round of beers brought a Pale Ale for me (tasty, stronger than the stout, but with a much cleaner taste) but no yakitori, despite them being the houses’ speciality, as earlier I had spied that, off-menu, they served the fattest, plumpest gyoza I had ever seen! And my love for gyoza is already well documented here…
Again we rounded off the night with some sake. Although the bar’s blackboard suggested we ask the waiters about their sake “selection”, there was only one option, but it was again a dry so we went with it. Rather than being served in a bottle with glasses, it came in enormous beakers, full to the brim. It was a good job we didn’t have too far to walk home when we were finished!
Having Googled for months before we left for restaurants and other eateries in Tokyo, we had completely overlooked the izakaya, but they too are a great way of experiencing genuine Japanese cuisine in a (more-or-less) genuine enironment. Don’t be afraid to just walk in to somewhere that looks like a bar when you’re hungry – the chances are it’s an izakaya and the “bar-snacks” will be glorious!