Old school Japan, Denki-Bran in Ebara-Nakanobu

I was recently invited to eat at a small Kushi-Age shop a bit out of town in Ebara-Nakanobu.  The food was very standard fair, but the retro posters and retro drinks made for an interesting evening.  The highlight of which was drinking Denki-Bran.  Not because it was delicious but more because you rarely see it and yet in a phase in Japanese drinking culture somewhere in the Showa era, this was a very common drink.  The name derives from electric and brandy.  In essence I was told that it made your tongue tingle, so they called it electric brandy or in Japanese Denki-Bran.  I like the fact they have kept a super retro bottle design.  If you see it somewhere, it is probably best drunk as a highball but give it a go over the rocks first to see if you get the electric shock.  Also try out Hoppy if they have it an interesting beer substitute, which I am told is ok for those with Gout.  All the interesting things you learn on an evening out in deep Japan.

Denki-Bran
Denki-Bran worth a try

864 Fukuniku Nikujiru Gyouza, Musashi Koyama, for those of you who are mad about Gyouza.

Bumped into this place of an evening while out riding.  The queue was about ten deep and the shop only has 16 tiny seats so gave it a miss.  On a second visit only had to wait five minutes.  The main draw is obviously the Gyouza but they also do some ramen noodles as a Shime (Closing dish to fill you up).  The guy who thought of this place must be Gyouza mad.  You can choose three types of fillings 80% 60% 40% meat content, hence the name 864.

864 Gyoza
864 Gyoza, Musashi Koyama

The Gyouza filling is lightly flavoured and the skins are fairly standard thickness.  You then get to choose from a whole bunch of options like Ma-Ra sauce, Coriander, Clay pot cooked and several others.  I took the Coriander 60% and the Ma-Ra ones with a Grapefruits sour.

Explantion of the fillings

In addition to the usual Ra-Yu, Soy Sauce and Vinegar, there is a special Ra-Yu which I recommend. Although it claims to be very spicy, I found this to be an exaggeration, but this did not detract from the nice crunch of peanuts and the additional flavour of the dried shrimps.

The sauces

Any way, what I most liked about this place vs say Harajuku Gyouza, which I also like, is that I managed to have all twelve Gyouza with a different combination of flavours.  I recommend this little exercise in creative thinking while you are eating. It made the meal that much more interesting and seemed to add to my appetite.  I am sure next time with the help of a few friends I will manage more than twelve combinations.

Ma-ra Gyoza, before
Coriander Gyoza before
After well worth the visit

Of food and other blunders in Japan

It is rare to have bad culinary experiences in Japan.  However, this drink was one such a rare blunder, Chilli Shochu Chu Hai in a small oyster bar, I will leave unnamed as it would be unfair to put a poor light on them, given everything else was great.  You see something like this on the menu and you think, I must try it.  It piques your interest in an odd fashion.  You then figure it must be drinkable, otherwise it would not be there on the menu.  After all we are in Japan and it is hard to blunder when ordering.  Visually quite an appealing drink. The three bright red Chillis with the Shiso leafs green, really bring the drink to life.   Then you take your first sip and you realise that there really are some crazy spice addicts in this country.  Whats wrong is that your lips mouth and throat are burning now.  Secondly its only flavor was heat, so no real taste sensation to take the edge of the heat or make the drink worthwhile.  The Shiso leaf was an interesting garnish, though it had no flavour effect on the drink. I ended up eating it to see if it would stop my lips from tingling.  I did not manage to finish this drink, because my lips were burning and out of fear of what it might do to my system overnight.

The guilty party

Still, life is all about trying things out, so I am glad I tried it and in the future I will refrain from ordering it.

I also spotted a funny pot of hair wax in this restaurant. I thought I would share it.  Some of the english you can spot in this country is hilarious, even after 17 odd years.  Besides being called “Cocks Grease,  Extra hard” at first glance I thought it said “Hair Gonads” on top. It was in fact “Hair Pomade”. Still what a wonderful brand name and catchy slogan.

Deserving of a marketing prize for catchy names.

Itemae, Shibya Shinsen, handy little eatery just out from the hustle and bustle of Shibuya.

Lunch with a couple of friends.  While riding around on our bikes exploring some of the innumerable side street of Shibuya, we came across this little gem Itemae.  Teishoku lunches for around 1000 Yen, with a nice and simple interior.  The counter seating is a little bit of a squeeze but the tables at the back are spacious and nice.

Wafuu Ankake Kara-age teishoku.

All the trimmings like miso a small Kobachi (small side dish) are there.  The Kara-age was nice and crisp and the An (thickened sauce) had a nice mix of vegetables and a light soy sauce base.  Just kind of hit the spot.  A one up on the mom and pop shops, though I get odd cravings to going to those places too, but often more to get a feel of real Japan.  My friends opted for grilled fish, an absolute staple in the Japanese diet.  This was Aka-uo (Red Rockfish).  It was grilled just right, still moist while crisp on the outside.  Anyways after finishing up you can grab a coffee at one of the many many coffee shops in Shinsen, or if your in the mood a beer at OL.

Aka-uo yakizakana teishoku.

 

Takiey, Toritsu Daigaku, Craft beer bar with a tasty burger.

Healthy selection of craft beers and some ciders

Toritsudai is a bit out of central Tokyo on your way to Jiyuugaoka.  I was taken there by a visit to Maker`s Base.  For lunch after a little walking I found this place. It has a kind of homemade feel to it. Certainly not what I would call flash, but more homey.  They might have taken a little more time when considering their name, but still looked interesting.

Takiey Burger

I went for a burger as I had not had one in a while. My favorite to date in Tokyo is Jack 37 in Ningyouchou, but I enjoy trying new ones and there are plenty to try.  This one was a nice burger it did not top Jack 37 but was a tasty morcel.  I found some pleasure in the fact that they make their own home made tomato sauce, which was nice and tangy.

The other thing which is likely to bring me back to this place, was the large selection of craft beers.  I will come back of an evening and try and work my way through some of those with a few friends.

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Kuumba du Falafel, Shibuya Shinsen, for when you get that odd craving for a falafel sandwich.

Some Cuisines are hard to find in Japan and Middle Eastern is one of them.  Kuumba du Falafel is run by a couple of young guys and in essence Falafel is pretty much all they do.  Luckily they do it well.  So next time you have that urge for a Falafel sandwich go find this little gem.

On Kyu Yamate Dori

It is right at the back end of Shinsen up on Kyu Yamate Dori.  A poky triangular restaurant with I guess ten stools at a counter.  Some might moan that a Falafel sandwich should be cheaper, but I doubt they have had such an artistically minded person put one together like this before.  It almost looks like a flower when you get it.  They are not overly heavy on the seasonings, but they have a nice Tahini drizzled over the sandwich.  Personally, I like a little heat and the homemade Harissa is nice, not absurdly hot and salty, as some are, but milder and just right with the Falafel sandwich.  The bean soup was ok, too plain for my taste but was good to have with the sandwich.

Beautiful no?

The sandwich itself is full of salad, so you can feel like you have done your bit of healthy eating at least for this day.  The Falafel made to order are still crunchy, warm and fragrant.  I think this sandwich would win prizes if there was a Falafel competition.  I encourage you to go and try this one lazy afternoon.

Just as a nice little touch, check out their plates.  They are designed to look like a paper plate.  Very satisfying and pleasing to have found it in Tokyo.

Yumm!

Abe Sushi, Hiroo, a great lunch spot.

If you are in Hiroo and after a nice lunch Abe sushi is great.  It is down by Tengenjibashi crossing a little walk from the Hiroo shotengai.  The quality of the sushi is superb and the decor and service is nice.  It is actually a chain and there is another in Roppongi amongst others.  They seem to use a lot of younger sushi chefs so the atmosphere is a little lighter than some of the high brow sushi restaurants.  The vegetables used at the restaurant are reportedly grown by the owners mother and I must say the miso soup, in which you find the vegetables, is really quite delicious.

Little side salad

With the lunch you also get a nice little salad with a Japanese style caramelised onions dressing.  You can opt for a Higawari 1100 Yen, Oomori 1500 Yen or similar priced Chirashi sushi options.  There is also a course lunch and a high end lunch with Uni, Ootoro and the likes.  You get to sit at a beautiful Hinoki counter and the room is nicely lit with wood panelling, which is a warm contrast to the quite bright lighting.  All in all it is a lunch that is well worth trying . Enjoy!

Higawari lunch

Ban, Yutenji, quirky place for a light diner.

How do you describe this place?  Well, what struck me was the ordinary nature of this place, and how much I enjoyed the experience of going there.  If you speak and read some Japanese, and want to see a bit of real contemporary Japan, this is well worth a visit.  No fancy decor.  No fancy dishes. No special service awards.  Just affordable, tasty food and a lively shitamachi (Suburbia) atmosphere.

Along the Komazawa Dori, Motsuyaki Ban.

I stumbled on this place returning from Toritsudai by bike.  I had cycled past numerous times and was astonished by the fact it was always busy, despite a seemingly odd location a fair way from any station.  I chanced it and entered.    There was the din of chatter, a waft of grilling meat and bright lights as I walked in.  The locals took a split second to see the odd looking gaijin who just walked in and straight back to their banter.   There are actually two parts to the restaurant and three doors.  I guess testament to an ad hoc expansion at sometime and the fact that the inside is a little cramped.  Ban advertises as a Motsu Yaki restaurant on their Chochin (Paper latern) outside.  Originally it was in Meguro for 40 years or so and 12 years ago moved to Yutenji.  So ready for a little bit of pig offal on skewers, I sat at the counter.  A minute or two deciphering the menu and observing the place, gave me some hints on what to order.  I went with a Lemon Sour, Ama Ebi kara-age, raw cabbage, and a mixture of skewers some of which I had no idea what they were.  And so began the evening.

Toriaezu Lemon Sour

The three young ladies behind the counter talked Chinese interjecting the odd word of Japanese as they took the order.  The two middle aged men in the kitchen were busy chopping sashimi and grilling skewers.  A Lemon, a jockey of ice and shochu, a lemon juicer and a bottle of soda were plonked in front of me.  I am not sure why but the lemon seemed remarkably juicy. I used just one half and half the bottle of soda seemed enough to fill the jockey.   The otoshi (amuse bouche) was eda mame.  The Lemon sour was strong shall we say, and very refreshing.  The redness of the faces of many of the patrons was testament to this drink.  Then the ebi and the cabbage and skewers came. All very pleasant.

Ama Ebi Kara-age you eat them whole

I will share a bit of terminology here for those who decide to visit.  Furansu was neck meat. Kashira was meat from the pigs head.  Tsukune was minced pork and the second variant with Nankotsu (cartilage) added a nice crunch.  Tepou was intestine of some variety. It had a slight odour, reminiscent of the french Andouille (Pig intestine sausage).  I would opt for Tare (dipped in sauce) for the Tepou and Tsukune, but the meat skewers I prefer with salt.  I noticed a few ordering Piman (Green Peppers) to eat with the Tsukune.  A mix I can recommend. The bitter crunchy raw Piman, with the sweet tare meaty Tsukune is a little delight.   There are plenty of mysteries on their menu.  I suspect I might not like them all but this night worked out well.

Raw cabbage with miso, Hiyayako and Kashira.

Another interesting lesson was learnt when, my neighbour ordered “Nakami dake” and proffered his empty jockey.  This order was for a shochu refill.  Having drunk most of mine, I thought I should do the same.  This is likely why they give you a whole lemon and why only half the bottle of soda fits in the jockey.  After a little banter with my neighbour, a pottery wholesaler, last orders came and went.  One of the chefs offered me a bowl of NikomiDofu.  They had a special name for it which escapes me, but the heat of the Nikomi did not escape me.  My neighbour informed me that the spiciness of the Nikomi varied day to day, upon the mood of the chef, but that todays was on balance rather mild.  I should not like to order that on one of his bad days, shall we say.  Still it brought a very pleasent evening to a close.

A well spent evening

The bill 1950 Yen, an hour and a half well spent soaking up a bit of Japanese day to day life.  There are plenty of mysteries on the menu and this place will never get awards, but it seems to have earned a place in the hear of many of its patrons.  I plan to revisit with some friends to get get through a little more of the menu.

There Website Ban

 

Ramen Suzuran, Ebisu, “It was like a religious experience!”

The quote is from a friend of mine who visited.  Suzuran is small, just 11 counter seats.  Its decor is finished to a high standard unlike many Ramenyas.  Lighting is warm and the room is nicely air conditioned.  From this alone it comes across differently from your traditional Ramenya.  The pricing too is above average.  Still for those who pilgrimage here the quality is exceptional.

In fact, Suzuran began in Shibuya about thirty years.  Known for its home made men (noodles) it had a strong following and a fairly ordinary menu.  It was when it moved to Ebisu that Suzuran really blossomed.  The menu was upgraded significantly and took in new styles.  Not haphazardly though, with a keen respect for the new dishes they took on.  Gone was Shio Ramen, Miso Ramen.  In came Donabe Mabou Men, Kuri Tan Tan Men and others.

The attention to detail at Suzuran is wonderful and presentation is given an appropriate amount of respect, including some dishes with height and bowls reminiscent of a fancy French restaurant. Even on their simplest dish of Chukamen, care was taken to add some crazily tasty powdered scallop and pork, just hidden under the shredded negi.  The Kaku Ni Men, where the braised pork belly comes on a side plate, is perhaps their signature dish and you won’t find better Kaku Ni than this.  The noodles, home made, are predominantly a Hosomen, which keeps its Hagotai (al-dente texture) perfectly the time it takes to eat it.  The soup stock is clear and a mix of the sea and the land.  Most of the menu is Shoyu based but their specials offer plenty of off the beaten track choices.  The flavours are strong and powerful in all the dishes.  Suzuran really offers you something to feast your eyes and taste buds on.

In terms of atmosphere my friends’ quote catches the mood.  The place is quiet and church like.  There is no “Irashaimase!” screamed out as you walk in.  People tend to eat quietly and you rarely see big groups.  Weekends and some evenings you may have to order a drink too.  If you do and you like Yuzu, the Yuzushu is phenomenal.  You might like to add just a splash of water as the Yuzu flavour is very powerful.

If you know Ramen culture in Japan you will immediately feel the difference between this place and the rest.  This is a celebration of a staple, that elevates it to a higher level.  You can only applaud the owners who took the time to really reconsider what Ramen can be.  No need to recommend a dish at this place. They are all wonderful.  Unfortunately no photos.

Masa’s Kitchen 47, Ebisu, lunch with friends.

Masa’s Kitchen 47, hidden away in a basement at the back of Ebisu is a lovely Sichuan chinese restaurant run by Masa.  The decor is modern a little cool but very well done.  There is an imposing marble counter behind which is the kitchen, bustling with chefs and the clatter of the woks.

The lunch menu is simple a short course menu or a choice of a series of different noodle or rice sets.  The sets come with truly divine Shoronpou, served with black vinegar and finely julienned ginger.  Pricing is around 2000 Yen or a litle under, which for Tokyo might feel pricey, but diner here is at least 10,000 Yen.

The food is predictably spicy, but not pure heat.  The chef has taken care to make it rightly spicy.  The use of Sichuan peppers and Chillies leave a very harmonious tingle in the mouth.  The food feels authentic and there are some lovely details.  The Mabou rice comes in a clay pot, which when served is puffing steam as if a dragon was caged inside.  The Okoge at the bottom must be something to relish.  The small soup and the two small amuse-bouche included just take the lunch up a level and make this a lovely lunch spot.

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Beef Tendon Ramen

It would probably be wise to book, if you decide to go.  Queues have been witnessed before and it fills up quickly.  On the basis of a couple of lunch visits, Masa’s is likely to be a decent diner spot too.  Hopefully a pleasure to be had in the future.