Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Otafuku, Iriya (大多福)

Otafuku is an institution. The Woodsman has been here several times over his comings and going vis a vis Japan (something like 15 years since the first arrival, no?) and positioned it as one of those 'You haven't been?!' experiences. Plus the horse stew place I wanted to try was closed when we got there. Otafuku is never closed, and they've been simmering the same old pot of soup since 1916 (Taisho 4), so someone likes it. That someone is now me.

For some reason I didn't take my good camera, so the pictures are pretty lousy. Here's the exterior; it's on Kototoi Dori, closer to Ueno than Asakusa despite what it says on the lantern, and it's of the 'small elaborate frontage bordered by bland modern buildings' variety. If I owned this place, I wouldn't modernize it either. I'd be pretty damn proud of the history too.

Again, this is my crappy old camera, and it makes everything yellow, but the interior here is so old it almost feels like you're seeing in sepia. The counter trails away from the door and turns left at the stewpot before ending at the cashier's hut. Beyond that there seems to be all sorts of raised zashiki seating. You would have to be awfully jaded not to get some kind of thrill out of this interior, and I'm not that jaded. At all.

This shot of the counter almost looks like an old sepia print. Not sure what else to tell you. Atmospheric, isn't it?

It's a setup, my friends. You have your choice of sake - cold or hot. This is cold, with a wooden masu to drink out of. I'm making it sound bad so that you'll be pleasantly surprised when I tell you that it's an OK brand, Hakutsuru, and it's served from the cask, so it tastes woody. It's all you need. Even 'cold' isn't so cool though; I know I'm a rebel, because most people drink hot things with their hot oden. Me, I want the contrast. God, that is so amazing! Wow me. On the left, you can no doubt see the small dried fish, boiled octopus, and vinegar miso, so I won't mention them. I will point out that the tray under the masu also has some salt on it, which you can sprinkle on the edge of the wood before drinking  (or lick it off your hand after), and also has a picture of the moon-faced 'tafuku' woman that may or may not be the source of the shop's name. She's usually written with a 'lower case' o before her name, and I suspect that putting the 'capital' O before it changes the implication to be more literally a 'big lotta happiness!' It's a nice name either way.

Cheese and rice, will you look at the side of that pot? They take out the copper tray and wash it every night, but the black grease coating the immobile exterior of the apparatus is literally an inch thick in places (and when I say literally, I mean "it really is"). I made some kinda joke to the master...oh, I tried to say that the grease is the source of the flavor for the oden. I don't know if it came across, but he was nice enough to laugh. Actually, he was nice enough to everything. He was really nice, which is nice for the current owner (although his dad is still puttering around wearing the same uniform, leaning on his cane).

From here on, it's all brownish food. The plates are white though. It's just the camera. You recognize the shirataki (miracle noodles) on the left, and the chikuwa on the right (ground fish tubes), and I suppose you recognize the octopus leg in the back, but you can't imagine you good that octopus leg tasted. It tasted so good that I got another one right away, that's how good it tasted.

Woody ordered this assortment - some atsu-age (thick fried tofu), some daikon, a fish meatball, some scallops, and peeking out of the back, a tofu bag. I love tofu bags. Got another one later.

This looks disgusting, as befits beef tendon that's been cooking in sweetened soy sauce and other things for hours. Part of the problem is the camera, because this is a decent version. You know sometimes it's tough and chewy? This wasn't one of those times.

More octopus. Another tofu bag (these were the ones with sticky rice paste inside. They also have ones that contain those white noodly bundles from the top picture). Vegetable stems (what's a fuki anyway? It looks like a huge celery, kinda). Tuna chunks and onions on the right.

We were looking at this sitting in a dish on the's yellowtail, stewed yellowtail. You get some chunks of meat, but really you get a section of bones, and you're supposed to pick and scrape the meat off them. Unless you're a pair of friendly foreigners, in which case the master may offer to do it for you. Ahhh, the luxury!

Geez, more oden? I know what happened - it was last order time and I panicked. Plus there were things I love that I hadn't eaten yet - in the front, tofu skin; mid-left, freeze-dried tofu; right, seaweed (I don't love this. I didn't even eat it.); back, ganmodoki...a sort of fried tofu meatball. And when I say 'meatball', I mean to imply only the shape, not the content.

Whatever it means, there's sure to be happiness involved.

After dinner, I didn't feel like going home or going to sleep. Sushi zanmai is always open until 4 or so, and I passed a little time there. Sort of bittersweet - this is probably my single most-visited dining location in Japan, and I've seen it go through various phases. There was the time when I got mad at the manager and didn't go for 8 or 9 months. There was the time when he got promoted to running the prettier new store down the street, and then got demoted back to this one after a few weeks. Now they've redecorated - it's subtle, but it made me uneasy. And these two losers were passing out at the counter...until it came time for them to get kicked out - at which point they started looking crafty and insisting that they had no money. It went on for a while, them passing out, the staff waking them, them insisting they had no money while looking shifty, and then passing out again. After a few rounds it was really getting on everyone's nerves and I confess I started berating them. The manager seemed embarrassed, but once I asked to go through their bags looking for money they finally owned up, paid and left. Jerks.


  1. ahhhh! so jealous! i've been dying to go to otafuku since it started getting chilly.
    thanks for the review.

  2. Hi! I'm planning to visit japan next year and would love to try out oden :D I'm just wondering if I can eat at Otafuku despite my very limited jap vocabulary :(

    I'm travelling alone and a girl too, soooo.. But I really want to try oden uhuhu