Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ganesha, Kichijoji (ガネーシャカリー,ハーモニカ横丁)

I got laughed at a few times by different people for saying that going to Ganesha 'made me feel like I was in Asia'. It bears explaining that everyone around me these days thinks Japan isn't part of Asia, so when they use that word, they mean "All Asian countries except Japan". There's a lot of cultural significance in that, I'm sure.

But I sure felt like I was in Asia, and more specifically a cramped, hot covered market in Bangkok. That's a good feeling. This block of Kichijoji is called 'Harmonica Yokocho', and is a small warren of alleys like this one, filled with little stalls selling various things. Across the alley was a fortune teller, who was doing good business as pairs of girls kept coming and going, but on the relevant side was Ganesha Curry, a 4-seats-at-the-counter kinda Indian place.

Inside is a different world - the walls are papered over with various religious designs, many of which look as if they were colored in by hand (not with crayon, thankfully). There are also various statues and colored scarves, and a sparse yet aggressive soundtrack of Indian classical music plays overhead. Behind the counter, Mrs. Ganesha does a bit of cooking. It's strictly homey - no room for prep, so she must be making the curry at home and bringing it in. It lives under the counter in plastic bins that she ladles some out of when required, into one of the dedicated pots (again, there's not much room, so I think she just keeps a pot for each type of curry she's using on the day and doesn't wash them. Tastes better anyway.)

Chicken curry and Seafood curry were consumed on the day. The chicken was quite good, with the meat soft and tasty and the curry quite spicy and strongly flavored. The seafood was terrific - coconut-based, but with the more usual Indian flavor profile and with some shrimps and a whole scallop. In both cases there wasn't a whole lot of anything (meat, curry, rice) but it was enough.

Thing is, that seems to be sorta the concept. I don't know if it's the high-class location or just an attempt to make a living wage out of counter curry, but the prices are straight-up high. Chicken curry was Y1000, seafood was Y1450. Extra portions are Y300. In the picture below you'll see an exhibition of a pet peeve of mine - charging extra for spice. More red pepper? Y100. Even more red pepper? Y200 or Y300. A few snips of cilantro from a bagged plant under the counter. That's a charge too. If you had an extra-spicy, large-size seafood curry in this back alley of an outer suburb of Tokyo, it could cost you Y2000, and that feels really weird.

Ah well. A fascinating experience due to the crazy little environment!
And a darn good curry.
No phone. If you have the cook's keitai, you can call her; other people did.

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