Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bambi, Tsukishima (バンビ)

My friends, I'm pleased to say that I broke the 'one time per year' rule and enjoyed it. With the weather as nice as it was today, walking around Shitamachi just seemed like the thing to do. And one's steps naturally seem to lead to...Tsukishima. At least if you live in Monnaka. And don't start heading toward Kinshicho. Or Ningyocho. Hmmm.

If you've never been to Tsukishima, you should go at least once (until now, I would have said "you should go exactly once"). It's deep, deep Shitamachi, with tiny alleys crowded with plants, kid's bikes, and washing. There's a normal mix of stores - a grocery, a few shoe and clothing stores, etc. And then there are the restaurants, which are 90% monja.

Not an exaggeration, my friends. I've seen one sushi place, one tongue B-B-Q, one stewed-intestine, and maybe there are some others. But the rest are of the 'hey, the table's hot, so let's just slap a mess o' cabbage and batter on there and get right to it!' variety. The really weird thing is - on a Saturday, around lunch time, you could struggle to get a seat. People are waiting outside a bunch of places, and most of them are close to full.

Bambi is kinda middle-of-the-road, and in the middle of the shotengai. The inside is pretty much like everywhere else, maybe a little downmarket, but in a new and clean way. It's very appealing, especially the horikotatsu along the edge and the fire-engine red smoke pullers above every table. They look positively industrial-strength, but they don't suck a lotta air. This is probably why the staff very sensitively give you big plastic bags to put your coats and jackets in - you'll smell all monja otherwise.

Special mention goes to the turmeric-flavored highball that I drank (described on the menu as 'Terrible! Gimme one more!", which I guess is meant to imply that it's strangely addictive. I dunno if it was either of those things. I know that my liver thanks me for offsetting the cheap liquor with cheap ukon. So genki!

Mentaiko-mochi-cheese monja. It's the best, isn't it? For lack of much interesting to say about the restaurant, let me just say a few things that I believe constitute the secrets of monja. You've gotta cook and chop the cabbage adequately to get things starter. Then you've gotta build a good 'wall' to keep the batter in. Everyone at the table needs a spatula and needs to help push back escaping batter until things solidify a little. And then you need to wait. It takes longer than you think, and 'hot' does not equal 'cooked' does not equal 'tasty'. Lengthy cooking is required to make it gooey and burnt on the bottom, which is the way you're going to get the most flavor into it.

Ohhhhhh, it's all gooey and burnt and crisp and delicious! At this point I should make a joke that monja is my new favorite food, but that's going to far. Some things are too serious to joke about.

I love that there's a monja organization, and you can also see the fire hoses in this picture.

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