Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sakaiya Food Hall, Hikifune (サカイ食堂,曳舟)

Hoodwinked, cruelly tricked, and disgusted. And maybe a little proud. If you're a foreigner, and you like to say "I can eat anything", there's one hurdle that may be too far, and you may just have to be pressured into hurdling that hurdle with cheap booze and fast conversation. Unfortunately, all that's on the other side of the hurdle is a little personal point of pride that lets you say "Hey, I can eat grilled guts now." Worth it? Mmmmm, dunno. But if you're one of those 'nose to tail' fetishists, I've got a primer for you on the bits in between. Have at it.
Hikifune is in the northeast corner of Tokyo, in the quieter triangle where the Sumida and Ara rivers start to squeeze together. Don't feel bad that you haven't heard of it - I hadn't either, and when my friend Hikuzo asked earlier in the day if I could meet him there so he could lend me a dobro, I had to ask 4 times and confirm "That's a real station, right?" Due to mapping difficulties, I took the long way to get there, going all the way up to Kita Senju and then taking the Isesaki line back down (who even knew that that line went south from there? I thought it was strictly north.). When I got to Hikifune early and did the usual recon, I was startled by how small it was; there are maybe two streets that could be described as 'entertainment area', including two advertising sake...but earlier in the day he had been asking if I could eat guts, and when I saw the loudish Showa throwback decor of Sakaiya, I knew it was the place he was talking about.

Other people showed up first, which is when I realized this was a big gut-eating party with Hikuzo's whole band, who had played a show in the afternoon. Considering that most of them are friends from studying engineering at the same university, they're party people. And Sakaiya is a party place. Good question how long it's been here; I usually think that places with this much 'atmosphere' must be reconstructed, but if you look at online maps the shop name is baked in, so they've been here for a bit. Compared to other retro places (I'm thinking in particular of the Dagashi Bar chain), they differentiated a little bit with a lot of old records on the walls. 

AND with the ability to drink Hoppy on tap. This is evidently a big rarity - most of the time you see Hoppy available in bottles, and you pour it into a glass with shochu to approximate beer. Think of it as even-lower-class happoushu, maybe, since I guess it avoids all the beer-and-beer-substitute taxes that Japan has dreamed up over the years. (Incidentally, I saw another blogger saying repeatedly that happoushu was 'popular in the post-war years', but I don't think this is true. My understanding is that it was invented more recently in order to circumvent the taxes placed on real beer. And then the government taxed happoushu too, and that's what eventually gave us crap like the 7% added-alcohol beers that came out in the last year or so. Perhaps I shouldn't say 'crap', because I've avoided trying it.)  This digression is all by way of trying to make you forget that there's nothing very interesting about Hoppy; it's light, lacks almost all bitterness, and is easy to drink. Based on the amount we drank, I'd have to say it's in the 3-4% alcohol range, but they're mixing up every mug so it could vary.

And all of this digression is a cover for the fact that we ate a lot of stuff you're either going to find nostalgic or disgusting, depending on where you're from. Let's look at the raw items first. Raw liver, anyone? (Interestingly, I find more palatable than cooked liver, which is still one of the few things that comes close to making me gag. Fortunately, someone ordered it later.) 

'Yukke', which is a Korean-style dish of raw beef topped with raw egg and onions. Mix well. Enjoy. (I actually DO enjoy this, and would order it without prompting.)

We enter thenceforth into items that come raw but get cooked. Everything gets cooked on a shichirin, a round clay pot with charcoal in the bottom and aluminum screens on top. Flare-ups like this happen (especially because the intestines are largely fat), and I learned an interesting trick for dealing with them - take note, American backyard grillers. Rather than keeping a spray bottle of water attached to your Grillslinger multi-tool barbeque belt, you can just throw some ice cubes on the grill and let the gradual melt keep the flames down. Voici, a selection of items that were grilled and eaten. 

There were a bunch of mystery meats (were they even meats? Do they qualify?), but Jerry, who was sitting opposite me, introduced the first one by saying they were 'ris de veau in French'. This really set me back, because it didn't occur to me that something I actively seek out in a different context would be included in a context that I hitherto found gross. In fact, grilled sweetbreads are kinda gross. Everybody was excited to learn that a normal way to cook them in France is to oil-fry them; much agreement was raised about the tastiness of said approach. 

Extra-fatty pork.

Beef. Just beef. God, I almost cried when I saw this because I was so happy to see something I recognized and knew would be non-threatening. You know, I didn't take pictures of most of the nasty bits. I just wanted to forget.

But one of the worst segments of the evening, memorialized in some pictures that are blurry because I was gagging, came when someone ordered 'Maru chan ippon!' 'Chan' makes anything sound cute, but I was pretty shaken by the 'ippon', which means 'one long thing', and as expected it turned out to be a whole segment of intestine. Ugh. Honestly, it was edible. There were only one or two things all night that I found close to inedible, and one of them was liver, which I know is my own bias.

Here's what this stuff usually looks like once it's been grilled. I get the fact that the taste is nice - it's really 'juicy', with a sweet, charred outside. But boy oh boy is the inside squishy and gross. At least this bit was better than the kind of thing where you chew and chew and chew and nothing happens. There were plenty of those (not pictured).

You're supposed to change the grill regularly - no one likes the burnt, greasy grill - and they had a great routine here whereby the waitress could change the grill while you were in the middle of cooking the meat. She did this once with no fanfare, and I was horrified to have missed it, so I asked her if I could film the second time, and that turned it into a big, applause-worthy event for the table. 

Fortunately there was no dessert, because I imagine that would have entailed a whole intestine stuffed with dried fruit, spices and ice cream before being lightly kissed by the flames. 

I shudder to think.

1 comment:

  1. They tell you not to use aluminum pots and pans to cook with cause aluminum isnt good for you ( I cant remember what it is, Maybe makes you dumb. ) So now they are cooking the aluminum right into the food by using it as a grill. I think you would get a bigger dose of aluminum that way