It’s easy to get a good meal when you’re paying a lot for a renowned chef to prepare your freeze-dried foie gras, but perhaps a bigger challenge is finding casual and affordable food that’s done well. Above, pork belly ramen that my brother refers to as “crack cocaine” at Hashigo near his office in downtown Tokyo. I can see why: the flavors we could pick out of the rich broth were sesame, yuzu, garlic, and soy sauce, but Hashigo likely guards its recipe closely as “the best ramen” is always of great debate.
We made a trip to Shin Hokkaien, Yuko’s favorite spot for Chinese dim sum. Two large men—impeccably dressed, heads down, making no eye contact—started smoking cigarettes in the restaurant, but no one dared say anything since everyone knew they were Yakuza. The saying goes that as long as you don’t mess with them, they don’t mess with you. Badass factor of dim sum just went up by a hundred.
Matthew and Yuko like Uno yakitori (bite-size pieces of chicken meat, and sometimes offal, grilled on bamboo skewers with salt or sauce) in their neighborhood of Setagaya in southwest Tokyo. Here, an appetizer of pickled vegetables and daikon (good for digestion) with soy sauce.
Who knew tofu could be so soft and creamy? Not like that rubber puck we usually find in America. Yuko says this is a fresh version that only lasts for three days or so. Here it is served with ginger, green onion, and salt.
They like Uno because he buys fresh whole Jidori chickens and breaks them down himself, whereas most yakitori restaurants tend to buy pre-cut frozen chicken pieces. We begin with chicken meatballs, chicken neck with zucchini, and chicken thigh with charred green onion.
Our last dining adventure was a place called Tsukushibo, which (pay attention now) is in the suburb of Tsukushino. The restaurant specializes in kushiage, or meat and vegetables deep-fried on skewers. (Top) Bone-in chicken leg with seaweed and shiso leaf. (Right) Shiitake mushroom and ground pork topped with chopped onion.
Crudités are eaten alongside the fried foods, and can be garnished with salt (containing sesame and blowfish bones—for flavor and likely some panache) or lemon. Additional sauces for the skewers included ketchup, Japanese mustard, and a Worcestershire-like sauce.
At this point I should probably tell you that I’m engaged in a Shochu Showdown with Yuko’s brother-in-law, Kazuhiko. Shochu—a distilled alcohol that can be made from sugar, grains, or sweet potatoes; with a stronger flavor than sake—is his favorite drink. He usually partakes with my brother, but since Matthew has been abstaining recently, I had to defend the family honor… obviously!
We continued to eat many fried dishes (it’s hard to make multiple shots of deep-fried foods look unique), including shrimp, beef and shiso, mushroom and mayonnaise, squid with sea urchin sauce, lotus root with curried beef, and asparagus with prosciutto. (Left) Konnyaku, an Asian vegetable whose gelatinous texture is similar to a fruit jelly candy (though not as sweet). (Right) Rice cake with dried seaweed.