Shinsekai means “new world”, and I can only imagine how striking this area must have been when it was new, a long, long time ago. Giant puffer fish(not called fugu in this area) lounge around a dense arrangement of lights, some street looking Japanese people hanging around, dark alleys cutting between the subdivisions on the block, and attractions reminiscent of carnivals in their heyday. Glare and inky darkness create a dystopic atmosphere in Shinsekai, bringing back snippets of Chinatown, Blade Runner, The Replacement Killers, Idoru (William Gibson), and other Noir works. I wonder how the food was in those world’s back alleys- Either Gibson or Stephenson wrote that most of the food available in his Shinsekai-like neighborhood was made of processed krill…
There must be about 10 different joints where they serve kushiyaki (skewered-fried food in the same family as shishkabobs and corndogs, but of different parentage) under the gaze of Tsutenkaku Tower, but the best looking one was the one where all of the locals were waiting to get in, right down this street. A huge counter surrounds the kitchen that runs down the middle of the length of the izakaya. The kushiyaki runs from 80 yen (regular fried pork cutlet and beef tendon- this item isn’t kushiyaki- stewed in a miso stew) to just over 200 yen per skewer (for more expensive stuff). You can sample so much for quite a reasonable price. The majority of the kushiyaki are prepared by frying them in panco, the bread crumbs that are used to coat tonkatsu.
It is unusual in Japan to have one of those food experiences where you wonder “Is it safe and sanitary to eat this?” (unlike the typical uninitiated gaijin question “Isn’t it supposed to be cooked/ not rotting/ dead when they serve it?”). Japan is typically the land where they will thourally package everything at least four different ways and use disposable wetnaps for every meal. Here, in the kushiyaki joints, the dipping sauce is shared in communal troughs with strangers and friends alike. Pools of swirling oil shimmer on top, and other random detritus can be seen floating, suspended in the collodial middle of the sauces thermoclamatic strata, or felt on the bottom by probing the benthosphere.
Like all wonderful late night culinary adventures, this place is best enjoyed over several mugs of beer. Beer tastes better with kushiyaki, and vice versa. And if you have any urge to satisfy your curiosity regarding something you would usually never eat, the beer will help you to go for it, and also serves as something to wash a bad experience past your mouth and into your gut. Using this very method, I was able to overcome killing, cleaning, and eating a live shrimp that quivered as it was digested inside my stomach, eat pig’s feet (the best thing I ate in Okinawa BTW) and other parts of the hog in their recognizable states that are usually reserved for the production of sausage, develop an appreciation for hormone (intestines) and every other type of innard prepared the proper way (I will never like cooked liver or kidneys, ever), and started to crave basashi (horse sashimi), grilled horse meat, and basashi liver. If you are content with eating exclusively out of McDonalds and convenience store food and have a need to use wetnaps before and after every meal, you will probably never understand what I’m talking about.
Oh, and just in case:
*Basashi should be enjoyed by wrapping it in a shiso leaf with paper-thin slices of tamanegi (onion) and dippped into shoyu with shoga (ginger) mixed into it. Wasabi is optional.
*Basashi liver is best enjoyed with paper-thin tamanegi slices dipped into shoyu with a few drops of goma-abura (sesame oil, the reguar stuff), and wasabi is optional.
*Like any other type of food, there is high-quality hormone and low-quality. If you eat bad hormone you will definetely know it, and the same is true of the good stuff because it will taste pretty good.
*Thanks to J for pointing out the mistakes in this entry.
Yesterday we went to a capoeira meet at the Budokan at Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka. We were invited by Adam’s pal from Kumamoto, Luke. We were supposed to meet other friends there, but they ranked because they are weak/married, etc.
Luke is a fascinating man who was born in South Africa and has travelled around the world studying various forms of martial arts. He has the kind of posture, a way of movement, that says: Hardcore. Basically, he was more focused than most of the instructors that showed up for the meet, and that impressed the hell out of me.
This being my first exposure to capoeira (commonly defined as an Afro-Brazilian dance form that incorporates martial arts moves), I brought along my aging camera and did some damage. Check out the extended entry linked below for the rest of the photos.
A tribute to the Big Hominid. Don’t strain too hard, man.
I just liked this frog. He had this attitude like, “come TRY and step on me motherfucker!” and I was all like, “No, I’m faux-Buddhist when I visit Southeast Asian countries. Must not kill living things! (except for those damn mosquitoes)”
So how do I flash, “send up a hooker, two midgets, and a video camera?”
Yes, I’m at the Hard-on Hotel (that’s really how it sounds when they pronounce it). My clients are at the nearby 4-star. Go figure.
Our trip to Kochi was partly accidental; it started with a flat tire that I needed to replace. Kochi was the largest city around, we had thought about going earlier, and I knew there would be an open tire shop there if we hurried.
The local >Autobacs was indeed open, so while I negotiated for a pair of Dunlops, Nam used my laptop to look for a good hotel online. We stayed in the Comfort Hotel (related to the comfort Inn chain) in front of Kochi Station, which I would link except that their air conditioning really sucks (I think this is a large factor in how they keep their prices down), and this is an unforgivable sin in the heat of the Japanese summer. They are a new hotel and a deluxe double went for 8,000 yen, so I might try staying there in the spring or fall.
Anyhow, we checked into the hotel and went looking for a likely place to eat and wind down. Lo and behold, there was a little robata-yaki place next to our hotel, where you are served by the hosts with a long wooden paddle. The food was excellent – local and fresh.
Story continued in the extended entry…
Brought to you by the “Don’t Do Drugs Cuz It’s Cool and Cute Japanese Chicks Dig It” Foundation.
Note: I finished editing photos from our trip to Kochi prefecture today, but don’t have time to write the post. This photo didn’t really fit in with the others, so I’m posting it alone first. This poster was inside a sealed bulletin board in front of a police station. Needless to say, whoever designed it must have been smoking crack. Then again, maybe that’s the whole point… Not.
Just got back from a long, long day in Nagoya at the sumo tournament. It was a wonderful experience, but the long drive home through stop-and-go traffic and a lightning storm has left me exhausted.
I will post more pics as I get around to editing them (got the backlog from last weekend, too). But for now… Time to sleeeeep.
One of the rites of passage in an Asian American household is fighting with your sibling for the eyeballs of the fish served up for dinner (assuming one large whole fish shared by the whole table, as opposed to smaller fish that provide eyeballs for each person). What I definitely do not remember is fighting over fish balls. Must be a SE Asian thing.
Photo taken in the Thai Town area of LA.