Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Konokara, Marunouchi (このから,新丸5)

OK, OK, I'm converted. I like oden now. I no longer think they're a bland, monotonous blot on the Japanese culinary landscape. In fact, next time I have visitors, I'm taking them to the truly charming-looking head store of this truly charming branch in Shin Maru. Many's the time I've walked by, and over time I was more and more attracted to the unassuming elegance on offer here - the whole seating area is elevated to allow for a huge wooden counter with horikotatsu (on the floor, legs under!) seating to put you almost on eye level with the master, who presides over a gently simmering copper vat of healthy delicacies. Reviews of oden place always say 'simmer' at some point, so my obligatory duties are now complete.

When you look at the web site, as I know you will, you'll see the lovely illustration that forms their logo - a Japanese hyotan gourd. Though I've already spent some inches saying how nice the interior was (leaving out the fact that you have to de-shoe at the door and then sock your way over the gleaming dark wood floors), the most impressive thing in there is without doubt the oden pot. Let's be honest (and digress) - most of our exposure to oden in Japan comes from 7-11 (or Famima in certain seasons). When you go into the store and immediately say "What's that awful smell?", it's the oden simmering away by the registers. Who buys that stuff? (Someone once told me it was good, but I categorically disbelieve it.) It sits all day in a little steel pot full of soup. At Konkara, the pot is gleaming copper, over a metre long, and shaped like a hyotan. It's awesome.

Do you know oden? Basically what we've got here is your basic cut-up-some-veg-and-stew-them-silly sort thing goin' on. In addition to basics like sliced daikon and boiled eggs, oden includes prepared things like ganmo (fish-and-stuff meatballs), shirataki (threads of konnyaku 'miracle noodle' tied up in cute little knots) and mochi kinchaku (a fried tofu skin 'purse' tied around a nugget of pounded rice paste). All of these things are a little better than they sound, which wouldn't be hard at all. And they cook for hours in the delicately flavored soup (which may or may not be delicate, depending on what region you're in. For instance, in Shizuoka, they put miso in the soup and also eat ice cream with the hot oden to cool off!).

All of this is by way of saying I liked KK a lot. The lunch sets let you choose a 'main' (either noodles or else rice with ground meat topping) and then 3, 4 or 5 oden to go with it. These start at Y1000 and go up in Y250 increments, which seems unjustified. I had an egg, a ganmo (KYO ganmo on the menu, so maybe this is Kyoto-style oden. The web site seems a little lacking in background.), and the above mochi kinchaku. Best mochi pouch I ever had. Never knew they could be as tasty as that. Great job guys. Seriously. The cold udon (ahhh, summer noodles!) with sesame sauce were suitably chewy, and the further freshening provided by shredded cucumber, myoga and shiso on top was...well, even more refreshing. Great stuff.

It's all a little on the soft-and-delicate side (again, Kyoto?) which you might want to watch out for if that bugs you. But I think it's worth a try, to see the pots if nothing else.

You must be outta yer gourd!

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