Friday, August 13, 2010

Itoigawa, Monzennakacho (糸魚川)

What can I tell you? Riding around the city on summer nights is a great pleasure. In this instance, it was just the cruise home from work, but the lighting seemed conducive to snapping a shot of the mothership for prosperity.

And after changing, more cruising ensued...eventually ending up a bit south of the river in Botan, where I couldn't quite bring myself to venture into the horribly grubby place with the chef cooking outside in a towel-hat and wife beater. Next time. This time was for Itoigawa - "fugu and seafood".

No way has this place changed in the last 50 years. The flowers must be replaced periodically, and the TV isn't more than 10 years old, but all the basics are in place, firmly settled, and have acquired the coating of dust, age, and random junk that characterizes Japanese living. See the baseball on TV? That's summer in Japan.

Something that probably changes every year is the tori, a good luck 'rake' to 'rake in' money. I think these are kinda neat, and the traveling tori market comes to my town once a year, but they're just too expensive - one this size is definitely over $500, and it's more novelty than art object to me.

Sitting at the counter, I quickly made a new friend. He kept staring at me until I said hello. We got on well even though he was quiet and I ate his friends.

As befits a place like this, the fish was rough-cut and tasty. First time a master has told me to put ginger on mackerel, I think.

Itoigawa is a city in Niigata, towards the southwest extreme where it runs into Toyama. Unclear why the shop is named after it (immigration, I suppose), but the only sake they serve is...Itoigawa. And they won't serve it to you cold. You can have it hot or room temperature. Take your pick. And you'll get some potato salad with it.

The old guy sitting next to me drinking hot sake (keep in mind that it was still 90+ degrees outside) was pretty entertaining. I wanted to eat something else, and asked the mama what fried things they had. She recommended their homemade fried fishcake, which I didn't really want to eat, but she recommended it, so it's hard to say no, and I enlisted my neighbor's advice as a coping mechanism. He dithered and hemmed and hawed for a while about how it depended on what I wanted to eat, and she tried to sell me the fish cake, and he went on about the crust on the fried mackerel, and eventually she gave up and said "Fried mackerel, right?" and I said "Yup." Mayonnaise, soy sauce, and a lot of some weird hot pepper sauce from Gifu, and I couldn't get enough of this. Looks average, tasted incredible right then.

Back out on the street and cruising around, I disturbed this romantic moment between two older guys who were too drunk to walk and were sort of hugging in the street to keep from falling over. I shudder to think what happened after this.

I can't rhapsodize about it, but I'm not sorry I went either.

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