Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Daruma, Kiyosumi Shirakawa (だるま)

Weird stuff, my friends. As I was leaving work I realized that not only was I really hungry, but I was thinking "It's good to be hungry. Maybe I'll skip dinner." That sort of thinking has got to stop, and since I needed to go to the rice store I decided to eat a bunch of food on the way home. Gives me the chills, thinking that. The weight loss isn't worth it.

Daruma is a place I've wanted to go to for a long time - soooo old-fashioned, so grubby, so atmospheric. Let me put it this way - if you want to unimpress someone, this is a great choice. Recently I read an article about "ways Japanese girls tell their boyfriends they want to break up". Naturally, "direct conversation" wasn't high on the list. It was down near the bottom, around the quirky "wearing less makeup and not dressing well for dates". For men, "taking her to Daruma" would be a good equivalent.

In the coat is the master. His chef is Chinese, his waitress is Philippina. His glory days are certainly behind him, but he's happy enough. Happier than his customers, that's for damn sure. Everything here was yellowed and faded except those lemons.

This is not related to Monnaka's Daruma. When the waitress told me so, another customer cut in with "That place sucks! The drinks are way too strong. Drink two and you're wasted!" Is that really a problem, I asked? "Another thing, this place isn't full of foreigners like that one, and the waitress is much better here." 

That was an "I'm right here and I can hear what you're saying" moment. Also, Masa-chan is both nicer and prettier than the waitress here, although maybe older and not at all English-enabled. And if her dear departed dad liked foreigners, well, good for him. He was an interesting guy and I was always pleased to shake his hand.

A good izakaya has a TV. Not every izakaya has these beautiful old signboards though. I should have asked; there's another izakaya down on the west side of Monnaka called Irifune (the right panel says that), so maybe they're related.

What's the food like? If you guessed "pretty crap", you wouldn't be far wrong. That's just in a Japanese context though, and in other countries this might qualify as good. I was consciously trying to eat a big dinner - starter of pumpkin and grilled ground fish (yaki chikuwa), big pot of meat tofu (my bad, I thought nikudofu meant something like soboro-kake tofu, but it's most like a little nabe with soft-stewed tendon playing the part of 'beef' and miracle noodles bulking it out. Shit, I accidentally ate diet food, didn't I.), fried octopus, teriyaki yellowtail. Not bad, not good. Cheap.

God, god. Why hast thou forsaken these men? They knew each other and could talk, but it seemed like slim comfort. With enough time and enough Hoppy, you could go around the counter and write a chapter of your book on each of them. A couple came in later, I mean a man and a woman, and perhaps this proves the rule above, because they just ordered and sat with blank faces, not looking at each other.

This was the most uncomfortable I've felt in an izakaya, more than the time a hard drunk asked me "So what about the bomb?" Everyone was friendly in a rough way, but so hard to understand that I was mildly afraid I was offending them and would be beaten for it. When I started taking pictures, my neighbor said to the waitress, "Hey watch out - this guy works for WikiLeaks. He's going to publish state secrets of Japanese cooking." I laughed, a bit too loudly.

Too many stories.

The guy in the red shirt was a character; he kept saying he was 'sponsored' by a company, or that he was Italian. As he pounded more Hoppy mixers, my neighbor asked "Did your doctor say it's OK to drink?" and he said "Naaah, not yet."

He asked me if I was long in Japan; he pointed to the Philippina waitress and said "She's been here 40 years!" He cackled when I said "Impossible! She's only 35!" and came back with "Naaaaah, she's EIGHTY-five!" She was nonplussed. She couldn't work here long if she got plussed.

Both of my neighbors were drinking something that looked just like a tall glass of hot water with a pair of chili peppers in it. They called them 'goldfish' when they ordered. This being an off night, I wasn't drinking, but a special 'goldfish' drink? What the heck. And in fact it's nothing but a shot of clear liquor, two peppers, and a fill of hot water. After half a glass the heat had evaporated some alcohol and I started to enjoy it. They laughed at me as I imitated them in breaking the peppers and squeezing out the seeds. I asked the waitress "So, this is the special drink here, huh?" and she said "No, it's just those two nuts next to you. They made it up."

The guy with the sad eyes behind the beer bottle was...sad. He just looked mournful, and once in a while waved listlessly to the waitress and said "Can't I have some sake?"

As I was leaving, an old guy came up to me and said proudly "First time!" "To see a foreigner?" I asked. "Well, in here at least!"  First and last, my friends. Let's bid a fond farewell, both to this evening at Daruma and also to going to old, deep places that offer nothing but low prices, atmosphere, and stories. I've had enough of them this year, and finishing alone at the deepest depth is a good place to call it done. Next year we start fresh, and French.

Whoa, that sounds like there won't be any more posts for the rest of the year. I didn't mean that! Holidays start tomorrow, so expect some Shimo-Kita, some Beatles and some randomness.

They're open 11-11, but closed Saturdays.


  1. Hmmm...looking forward to the next cheerful post!

  2. Take me !

  3. Absolutely awesome stuff, great writing skills. I wish I spoke Japanese, I'd dare to go into such places.

  4. Why not just go together? I'll be here, and the email always works!