January 15, 2005

a typical place to eat atypical Japanese food

Wednesday, January 12

I am still in Japan, occasionally enjoying the cold weather, mostly stuck in front of computer working 24/7 (okay, little less. I mean, a lot less). I haven't been going out much like I did at the end of the year, but the other night I went out for dinner with him, my sister and her husband, before he was leaving here for Hawaii. With someone who doesn't want to eat fish/seafood (him) and someone who doesn't eat meat (my sister), it could be a bit of trouble finding a right spot to please everyone... and we settled down with an izakaya, or Japanese-style bar/restaurant near our place.

Izakayas have now become very popular among all generations (except for those aged <20, for the record) in this country, with a large variety of usually reasonably priced decent food. Lots of them offer dishes of various origins rather than single cuisne, such as "Japanese", "Italian", or "Chinese". They also tend to have "fusion" food, although the backbone is most likely Japanese that has influence of foreign cuisine, most often Chinese, Italian, and increasingly Thai and Korean. They can also be a source of inspiration for creative dishes, and I have made a lot of things with an inspiration from izakaya food.

That evening, there were three of us first - my sister was coming late from work - so we had to have (apparently) fishless dishes to feed the hungry meat-eater. We ordered several stuff, which came more or less all at once:

(sorry about the small, dark and blurry photos)

Carpaccio with amberjack sashimi. Carpaccio is originally ultra-thin slices of raw beef topped with arugula and shaves of parmigiano reggiano and drizzled with olive oil, but over here its sashimi-versions seem more common; marinated thinly sliced sashimi served with greens and herbs. This was topped with a generous amount of salmon roes and tasted pretty good. Well this was the only "real" fish dish that we had in that evening.

French fries aglio olio e pepperoncino. Regular French fries flavored with garlic, olive oil, and chili peppers.

Pizza Margherita. Not much of "twists" on this one, but a very simple thin-crust pizza with tomato sauce, cheese, and tomato dices (and one[!] leave of basil). Wait, I didn't have any bite of this... (who could that have been to be blamed for?)

Beef tendon stew. I don't think beef tendon is common at all in the US, but when it is slowly and carefully cooked, it becomes REALLY tender and ready to absorb soup/stock/sauce.

Rice ball with a hard-boiled egg in demi-glace sauce. Called Arancini in Italian, it is a deep-fried ball of rice flavored with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. This one had a whole hard-boiled egg inside and came with a sparkler (which wasn't for consumption, I suppose). This dish was named "Godzilla's egg". Wonder why.

Tofu with Chinese-style dressing. Dressing seemed to contain soy sauce, sesame oil, some Chinese pickles, and a hint of chili.

Deep-fried chicken with sweet and peppery sauce and tartar.

All these dishes came almost at one time, which means we had a tough time trying to eat everything in a right condition; if I tried to have the potato fries while they were hot and crispy, I had to miss sizzling-hot beef stew. We all gobbled things down over a beer (or two).

Then the other dish came:

Spaghetti in beef stew. I don't think I ever had had beef stew with such pasta, even though although they serve stew with egg pasta like tagliatelle, but it was not soupy at all, and tasted actually good. I think it would be a nice change for regular ragu (Bolognese sauce). But this was a third dish using demi-glace sauce this evening....

When the first batch of dishes came, we all thought that was way too much food, but by this time they were pretty much gone and we were getting full. Then my sister came late and joined us, and ordered a couple more dishes:

Potato chips "cajun flavored". A bit like the French fries aglio olio e pepperoncino in taste, but it had a whole lot different texture - thin, light and crisp.

House salad. Beneath the funky puffy pizza dough was a bowl of caeser salad. First we stabbed open the crisp balloon, cracked it into pieces, then mixed into the salad.

Everything was pretty good, reasonably portioned, and was decently priced overall. This is a kind of place that I miss when I am in Hawaii; a place where we can share many different styles of dishes instead of having a huge plate of pasta enough to serve me two full meals. It might be a bit like a potluck, except that I don't have to cook.

Among the dishes I had this time, I might try and reproduce French fries aglio olio e pepperoncino and spaghetti in beef stew at home.

I shall come back with a little more food from Japan before going back to Hawaii....


Santos said...

hi chika
everything looks wonderful, even that godzilla egg :-) we have izakayas here, but they are very traditional--i would love to have one with more variety and incorporated other cuisines. i think i would try making the french fries and the arancini at home. i've made a beef ragu spaghetti before and it was lovely. i used this mario batali recipe; i don't know if it's similar to the one you had here, but it's very good.

Anonymous said...

hello chika

i chanced upon your blog from and i LOVE it! the pictures and descriptions of the food are all so interesting! keep it up!


Reid said...

Hi Chika,

There are a couple of izakayas that have opened here recently that I'm wanting to try. One of them, called Momomo, serves lots of unique dishes which I think would be interesting to try. Probably won't be like what you had here though. It all looks so tasty!

Cat said...

clever title! mmm the food looks heavenly... im a big fan of fusion (as long as there are some places who stay traditional of course)

Anonymous said...

I'm jealous! I wanna eat at an izakaya in Japan!
Also, your pictures are truly beautiful! Can I ask what kind of camera you use? And are you professionally trained as a photographer? Your pictures are SO good!

chika said...

Hi there,

Santos - home-made arancini would be lovely! I think that beef-stew sauce for the pasta is more of, well, stew and demi-glace sauce than ragu with a lot of tomatoes, although I love ragu spaghetti anyways :)

gwenda - thanks a bunch!

Reid - you know what, I was wondering if you have been to Momomo, as I actually went there when I was in Honolulu before going back to Japan last month! A friend of us took us there, and even though it was THE day before we were going to Japan, it was a nice dinner and we all liked there, and guess what; he said it was THE best Japanese food he had ever had, in and out of Japan, even if he only ate some veggie and chicken dishes (I mean, it's really hard to appreciate Japanese food if you don't like fish/seafood). I've got a post about the dinner in my other blog (here) in Japanese, but you can at least see some pic of their food, if you like.

Cat - yeah, it's all about balance... we love fusion as long as there are traditionals!

Seine - hehehe, there is more to make you more jealous!(like this from my other blog as well, this one is more towards traditional side, though). As for the camera that I use, it is Nikon CoolPix 2500 which is basically broken and supposed to be replaced with a new one. I am not trained as a photographer or anything, but thanks for your complements. :)

Anonymous said...

Please post or email the name and address of this Italian izakaya in Japan. domo, sumimasen.  

Posted by Cynthia Sasaki

Anonymous said...

Hi Cynthia,

It is called TAPA, 3-4-2 Tamagawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo (tel: 03 3708 5305). It is a chain izakaya though, and there are other locations including Otemachi, Shinbashi, Ikebukuro, etc. If you read Japanese this site below will help: 

Posted by chika

Anonymous said...

thank you - my oto-chan is living in Tokyo! 

Posted by Cynthia Sasaki

Anonymous said...

Hi Cynthia,
hope your dad and his company will like it! :) 

Posted by chika

Anonymous said...

Marvellous blog, chica.
Great writing, fabulous pix, really a wonderful place to come wander around - and get hungry!


Posted by ehbeth