Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Art of Simple Eating

If it's one thing the Japanese can do it is to make food shine, simply. My belief is that what they leave to simplicity in ingredients, they more than make up for in their methods of packaging, something special all unto itself (read: another post on that one!). Not that there aren't elaborate displays of food - believe me, I experienced that too - but that in general I found a more elemental approach to food on a plate. Food undisturbed. One evening, we were treated to an izakaya dining experience. My friend repeated, "they don't try to make the food look pretty - it's just good food". This is a no-frills place - simple benches and small wooden chairs provided respite for diners and drinkers fresh from work. Lengths of aged-looking paper lined all of the walls, describing menu options. There was a din of smoking, laughter, and conversation. It felt like a measured carnival and we were happy to be along for the ride.

As we were still putting our belongings aside to settle in, an older lady who served as waitress to the entire place presented bowls of small cooked shrimp dressed in a spicy roe mixture. SO tasty. We began with beer and sake, let our hosts order, and eagerly anticipated what would come next.

Many things followed...

After two plates of incredilbly juicy sashimi, our waitress brought an oyster-cabbage stew; ham + tofu stir fry; chicken bits, tofu, and greens in flavorsome broth (came with it's own side sauce); coconut encrusted oysters on shredded raw cabbage with a dollop of hot mustard + mayo...

the broth, served with its side sauce

These two courses proved for the more adventurous - slices of fish liver served over shredded daikon in sauce, and turban shell served with a savory broth, in its shell.

salary women taking a needed break; our dear host slurping the last bits from the shell

My favorite course was ochazuke, which was like a savory rice porridge. The small bits of salmon, the confetti of nori, the warming flavors of the tea broth - it was wonderful.

There were other things I did not capture, like the fiddlehead fern tempura or the pieces of red snapper tails. I can assure you however that each and every thing placed in front of us disappeared quite quickly, and we left pleasantly full from those many small plates and our fill of beer and sake. Out to explore more of Ginza - our izakaya neighborhood - and to see what else the night had in store.


  1. Hi Melina,

    Running through the first few paragraphs and pictures, I was reminded of a place called Sanshu-ya... could it have been it? Haven't been there for years now, I can't be sure. Either way, the food looks great and I must say I'm impressed that you've tried some of the more 'unusual' food!


  2. gosh, chika... i'll have to ask my dear hosts, as all i can remember is we hurriedly followed them along, ducking into the small street and then under the flags hanging before the door, as we stepped in. i will find out and get back to you! the food certainly was great.

    we visited a second similar place with them near the end of our trip (in shibuya), and the only other more exotic thing we sampled was a pairing of particularly delicious sakes with a small ceramic pedestal filled with fish organs - salty and chewy, and cut nicely by the clear/crisp flavors of the sake.

  3. I recently visited Japan and immediately fell in love with the country! Japanese food really is incredible and I can't wait to go back soon!