Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hanakago, Kanda (花かご)

So I was leaving work, and it had been a funny up-and-down day, and I thought 'What the hey, I'm going to Kanda to relax.' There was a place that I had seen just down the street from Mimasuya - tiny, shabby, really small, and not all that well-preserved, but on the bamboo screens outside they had a few famous sake labels, and I had a feeling about it.

But first I took this cool picture between the buildings right outside my office. You've got the street, the rail tracks, a train, another set of tracks, and then the Tokyo Sewer Authority headquarters there. Oh, and the sky. We like leaving work when the sky isn't black. It's a trend we could happily continue for the rest of our lives.

Enough of this royal plural stuff. Onward.

As expected, when I came upon Hanakago (flower basket) in its night-time glory, it looked great. The door was open, the breeze was making the curtains blow, and the sake labels were still there. Really, during the day you'd have little idea, but at night it's screamingly obvious that it's going to be a good place.

And here it is, pretty much all of it. There are three seats at the counter behind me, but this is all the other seating - 6 at the counter, 6 at that communal table (wait, there's a backroom table for 6 also, but I couldn't tell if that was a private room or someone's living room). It's a really communal place; the guy I started talking to was super friendly and really at home. He went to the fridge and got an extra glass so he could pour me some of his sake.

The picture is not my new friend; he's another 'friend of the house' who wandered in rocked off his ass and started making odd noises upon seeing a foreigner. Just another night in Kanda - 10 minutes walk and a world away from Otemachi.

My new friend checked out the fridge for his second sake selection (SSS). It's like an old display fridge in a supermarket, and put together with some other comments later here's what I think is going on: the old fish shop next door had a crappy back room that was doing nothing. They decided to wall it off, redecorate, install a surplus fridge from the shop, and call it an izakaya. The mama is the daughter of the fish shop, and this same fridge (at your back if you're at the communal table) is also where they keep the vegetables.

Here's how the system works. You pay Y300 for your seat. You check out the fridge and pick your sake. (or mama will be happy to tell you what to drink; the selection was good, with very fresh Denshu junmai and Hiroki daigin, then some others I hadn't heard of like Wataribune and Hanaabi. 10 or 12 in all, frequently rotating. They're supposed to get a bottle of Juyondai Omachi next Friday if you want to stop by.)  You get a tray with a flask of sake and a glass, and this costs Y1000, and the chef will make you 3 side dishes to go with it. All the sake is the same price (including that purported Juyondai, mama was proud to say), and every flask you drink will get you 3 more side dishes. There's no menu to choose from, but I think the chef will give you some options if you insist, and some extra dishes if you're hungry - sardine boiled in sweet soy sauce, pasta salad, sesame spinach, boiled egg.

Chicken wing. This is painfully ordinary food, but she's really good at cooking it. The sardine was incredible, even allowing for crunching through the spine and bones, which I hate. The pasta salad was noticeably better than the average. This chicken wing was delightful. Not as delightful as the chef, but delightful. I probably wouldn't have gotten enough food if my new friend hadn't insisted on giving me his, so if I go back (sorry, when), I'll be asking for more vittles. Japanese guys are funny like that - happy to drink a lot and pick at snacks without really eating.

Hell, my tooth still hasn't grown back, and Hozumi san is kabutting a festive pepper! He left kinda early since he had to go all the way back home to Saitama, and he was sweetly disappointed that I wasn't leaving at the same time as him. Still, there were other funny people to talk to, and then I had to ride my bike home, and work the next day, and, and...

There's no web site, not even a Tabelog page really, and let's keep it that way. This place emblematifies the small, sweet, graceful pleasures of drinking in Japan. Don't go without me.


  1. Hi Jon - what a neat place you are always finding. If you don't mind having a married grandma type joining you sometimes in Tokyo eating/drinking (I can drink!) then I love to go try this place when I'm in Tokyo with you and then you can certainly change that quote to "when I go back" (looks like it will be in late Sept to early Oct.

    I need to study up on nihonshu front though.

  2. BTW I really like the first photo! You captured something there that screams Tokyo.

  3. No study of nihonshu is necessary! They have other things to drink, including water or tea, as you like. Let's go!