Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tarumatsu/Kanda Daruma, Ueno (たる松,神田達磨)

Considering that we started out for a short walk around the neighborhood, ending up on the train to Ueno was a bit of a surprise. It happened because the Modern Art museum was closed for the month (renovations) and a random walk left us back at the Oedo line in Kiyosumi Shirakawa. These stations often advertise the distance to presumably exciting destinations, and when this one said "9 minutes to Okachimachi!" something went off in our heads and we got on the train.

Okachimachi is of course the place to get off for Ameyokocho - ridiculously crowded home of cheap fish sellers ("Everything $10! Tuna, $10! Crab, $10!" I don't know how it works and am too scared to try.), dried-food stores, ethnic supplies, leather goods, silver jewelry and western apparel. It's a must-visit when in Tokyo, but not for anything fancy. I love the old-city atmosphere, where there are slightly grubby people sitting on stools drinking at any time of day. If you walk the length of Ameyoko, you'll be at Ueno station proper, which is also the gateway to Ueno Park and the national museums.

There are a lot of places to eat, and they're all cheap. Our real reason for being in Ueno was to go to a museum (Western Art this time - interesting slice of the permanent collection focused on religious art, mostly 17th century-ish), so at some point I just picked a place and dived in. It turned out to be Tarumatsu, which turns out to be more a sake distributor than a restaurant - they stock barrels of things from all over Japan. Howver they have three cheap izakaya, 2 in Ueno and 1 in the basement of the Asahi building, conveniently located just across the tracks from the office...

This being an unplanned snack, I tried to keep it light with a tenzaru, which means cold soba on a bamboo strainer plus a few piece of tempura. The soba was pretty good actually, firm and light, although the dipping solution was overly strong (this may be 'downtown' style and not suited to effete eaters like me). The tempura was pretty terrible, with a weird cakey sort of batter, but the shrimp were pretty nice. The real attraction for me was the atmosphere; I'm a sucker for old people sitting around cackling with laughter.

Pick up the tenpo!

After, we had a further snack while walking up to the museum - there's a famous taiyaki shop called Daruma at the north end of the neighborhood. Taiyaki is literally 'snapper fry', but is actually a sweet snack consisting of bean paste cooked inside a soft dough shell in special molds shaped like a fish. And for completeness' sake, let me say that this is a branch operation, where the head store is in Kanda and there's one other on Sakura Dori in Yaesu (again near the office! I'm starting to feel like it's a good neighborhood, at least for downmarket things).

Really a good taiyaki; an opinion was ventured (not by me) that this is better than the famous one in Azabu Juban with the perpetual 1+ hour wait. The signature seems be that it's 'adult' - the shell is very thin and light compared to a usual taiyaki, and this is accentuated by the way they leave a rectangle from the mold around the fish instead of trimming strictly to fish-shape. The filling of ground, sweetened red beans only comes in the 'tsubu' (chunky) variety, and it not particularly sweet. It's really a good taiyaki.


That was an exhaustive post for a very relaxed day with little dining content...

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