Makansutra: Simply divine Tokyo fare
From 'stand-up' soba to fish hotpot cooked over charcoal, good food abounds in Japan's capital
I'll never know why it took me this long to visit Japan. Where have the Land of the Rising Sun been this past half century of my life?
During my week-long stay in Tokyo last week, I did not remember having a bad meal, I kid you not. Even the oden (Japanese-style yong tau foo) sold in a convenient store was good.
I did not go hunting for signboards listed in food guides; I merely looked at food and the way it was prepared, and trusted my well-intentioned friends who took me to little gems in Tokyo.
These three spots, among a few others, were the most memorable.
3-1-10, Nishi-Shinbashi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
11.30am-5pm, 5.30pm-8pm / closed Sat, Sun & public holidays
Nearest train station: Kamiyacho Station (Hibiya line); Toranomon Station (Ginza line)
The staff treat you like a prisoner lining up for a set lunch. You order and pay up at the door, take your soba when the chef tells you to, and then you are shown a standing space to eat over a centrepiece table where no one really talks to one another.
The huge bowl of soba was softly al dente with greens, seaweed and some pork slices.
The cold dip was robust with hints of konbu, miso and soy sauce. Crack and stir two of the eggs that come free into the noodles, dip into the sauce, and you'd know why the queue is a daily affair.
It is hard to spot the signboard, which is no bigger than a name-card stuck by the entrance. And "no photo", the staff told me after I snapped one.
3F, Isetan Kaikan, Shinjuku, 3-15-17, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
11.30am-3pm, 5pm-10.30pm daily
Nearest train station: Shinjukusanchome Station (Marunouchi line); Shinjuku Station (JR line)
If my local pals did not show the way, I'd not have given this little spot - half hidden by half-length curtains - much attention. The staff spoke no English (except "thank you" at the end of the meal).
They respectfully battered pieces of chicken, prawn, fish, pork, mushroom, pumpkin and a whole stick of asparagus, then rolled them in a stunning bed of breadcrumbs and deep-fried them.
The items were all amazing, but the one that stole my stomach was a crab meat and fish roulade. I finished it with the simple pleasure of a raw egg over hot rice with soy sauce.
KOMAKATA DOZEU (AKASAKA)
1-7-12 Komagata, Taito-ku,Tokyo Komagata
Nearest train station: Asakusa Station (Toei Asakusa line)
This place hails from the Edo era and is over 200 years old. It sure feels like it - in winter, it warms you with a planter of smokeless Binch-tan coals as you enter.
Its signature dish is the Dozeu fish (pond loach) hotpot over those coals, simmered in a rich broth of stock and soy sauce with touches of mirin and seaweed.
The Dozeu is like sardine and was popular in the Edo period.
The eatery also offers sides such as tamagoyaki (rolled omelette), tofu skewers and greens.