Izakaya hopping with Dave and Tobias.
Finally we met with Dave and Tobias in Tokyo. Through their blogs (Tobias’ Izakaya Sanpo has been off line for sometime because of the withdrawal of Apple’s web hosting service. Hopefully he will resume his blog sometime soon), Through their respective blogs and our shared interest in izakayas and food, it felt like we already knew each other even though it was the first time we met. We had a great time visiting Izakayas with them.
I knew about this place from Mark’s Izakaya book and it was nice to finally visit. We met Tobias in front of Yamariki Honten at 4:30pm and were the first in the line that would form behind us.Tobias told us that the line would have been very long if this has been Friday or Saturday. In any case, this was a genuine Izakaya experience; waiting in line for the Izakaya to open! As the opening time 5pm approached the attendants put out the famous red lantern and hung the norens that announced the place was open for business. We were the first party to go in. Tobias got us prime seating at a table near the counter on the second floor. It was an upstairs table in a rather cozy space with a view of the large caldron of offal stew or “nikomi” 煮込み for which Yamariki is most famous. Yakidai 焼台 was behind the counter where another famous “Yakiton” やきとん or grilled pork parts was prepared.
(Picture from Yamariki web site, www.yamariki.com)
When we sat down, the waitress having identified me as the only Japanese in the company seemed to assume I was entertaining a group of gringos and began by addressing me. Tobias immediately answered in fluent Japanese and set her straight as to who was entertaining whom. Soon after we were seated Dave arrived. So many things happened quickly. Dishes started arriving and the beer and sake started freely flowing, We can’t quite recall all the dishes but here are some of the highlights.
Of course, we had to have their famous “Nikomi”. We had it with garlic bread and “tamago” 卵 or a boiled egg. The broth was savory (we were told they used red wine and bouquet garni) and the offal meat (mostly intestine) was tender but the amount of fat attached to the intestine was a bit too much for us. It gave a greasy feeling to the dish and as soon as the nikomi started cooling down congealed fat appeared on the surface further adding to the appeal of the dish. Some lesser known “nikomi” we had was a bit more agreeable to us but this is a totally personal preference. We had “Gatsu sashimi” ガツ刺生姜醤油 (fortunately “guts” was boiled not raw), several fish sashimi while we were enjoying two kinds of Jizakes 地酒 (or local sake) of the day’s recommendation. Another highlight was a fermented cube of tofu “tofu-yo” 豆腐よう consumed using a tooth pick. We were initially taken aback by its florescent pink color which suggested it could be quite pungent. Undaunted we plunged in and it was not as strong as it looked–it was quite good. It actually tasted like mild aged soft cheese and went especially well in small nibbles between sips of cold sake. The assortment of smoked items 燻製盛合せ was also excellent especially a fatty fish which none of us could identify—the consensus was (mackerel??). Dave suggested we order some more “robust” food. His suggestion was answered by ordering “hand-cut French fries” ポテトフライ which might not have been robust enough for Dave. We were fully sated and watered at this point (may be, except for Dave).
Tobias suggested a change of venue to Orihara-shoten 折原商店 in Mon-naka 門前仲町. We took the subway from Morishita to Monzen-nakacho. The story of a “bunch of foreigners” crashing the opening party at Orihara-shoten is eloquently chronicled by the legendary Jon of EOITWJ. A similar “bunch of foreigners” descended upon them again and while we may have been equally rowdy, I hope we were not more so.
Mon-Naka has a really nice “shita-machi” atmosphere 下町情緒. On the way Tobias pointed out his favorite coffee shop which exuded “sho-wa” 昭和 era charm. A few blocks from Mon-Naka station, we were at Orihara-shoten. This is a store specializing in many sakes from all over Japan. They are displayed in wall-to-wall refrigerators with glass doors. It is also unique in that you can buy whichever sake you like by the glass. There are two islands where you can stand and enjoy the sake with the snacks that are available.
Tobias’ first choice was “Gassan” jun-gin from Shimane prefecture 島根県, Non-pasteurized, non-filtered genshu made from “Sakanishiki” rice taken in the middle pressing 無濾過生原酒直汲中取佐香錦 (this was written on the red label attached obliquely). This was a quite amazing sake with some effervescence still remaining with a touch of sweetness but a nice clean taste. We had many more rounds. Otokoyma 男山 from Hokkaido 北海道, Uragasumi “zen” 浦霞禅 from Miyagi 宮城県 and many more. Some kind of citrus liquor was also offered by Tobias which we found was not our favorite but disappeared nonetheless. They also have mostly packaged snacks as you can see in the picture (must be cheese in a tube). We had a few snacks, one of which was a type of dried fish (skate wings エイヒレ?) that had been heated. It tasted great with the sake. The details of the other snacks we had totally escapes me.
We must have been the loudest, most boisterous and drunkest group among the other customers; polite Japanese groups quietly drinking and enjoying sake. The store staff observed us occasionally with worried expressions.
We engaged in conversation from time to time with Japanese customers who shared the island at which we were standing. I am not sure if the conversations were conducted in English or in Japanese but my wife also engaged in them which means someone (possibly me) must have translated or they were in English. Hope we did not offend anybody. People came and went but we persevered for several hours. At first, we thought it would be extremely uncomfortable standing up but since we were well anesthetized, we didn’t notice any discomfort. I have to say this was the most fun we’ve had in a long time.
Finally, we came to the senses and collectively decided to call it quits. We all staggered back to Mon-naka station. Navigating Tokyo metro system while intoxicated (or while sober for that matter) is not an easy task especially for us.
In any case, we went back to our hotel in Ginza safely. Thank you very much Dave and Tobias, this was one of the greatest evening we had in Japan.