November 23rd, 2010
After 8 hours of indulging my inner Edo-ko at the Tokyo Edo Museum, it was time to get back to reality – time for some food. The Ryogoku location gave us a prime position to make a strike on some of the famous, and sometimes infamous, eateries of the shitamachi area. Given that it was November and the evening air had begun to bite, oden was the call of the day – Luckily, I knew just the place.
The entrance is marked by a large cochin paper lantern, beyond which lies a small garden with stone lanterns and ornamental shubbery. Walking up the smooth stone path & ducking through the noren screen, we found ourselves in a large space that could best be described as well-loved and cozy. The lighting casts everything in sepia tones; the yellowing paper which lists the days special, the warm wooden accents & ikuyo-e prints evoke a feeling of shitamachi nostalgia.
Our polite hostess attempted to usher us to a table in the rear tatami room, but I was having none of it – I wanted one of the coveted seats at the counter in order to observe the proceedings and chat with the chef. My stubbornness paid dividends, when after a short wait we were seated in front of one of the Funadaiku sons and his oden pot, which, from the look of its condition, must be a surviving relic from the original store.
As it was winter, an order of kan-buri sashimi, from Toyama, was a given. Any misgivings I had on the virtue of ordering sashimi in a shop which doesn’t specialise in raw produce were quickly dispelled when a daintily arranged plate of unctuous yellowtail was placed before us. Divine.
Needless to say, with my second round, the problem was quickly remedied.
I had it on good authority that Otafuku specialised in Kanto-dashi oden, however, my bubble was quickly burst when Funadaiku-san responded emphatically in the negative; they serve Kansai style oden – hear that Robbie Swinnerton! To further illuminate the difference between the two styles we were treated to a mini tutorial on the preparation of Otafuku’s oden: Kansai dashi is made from the second brewing of a katsuodashi and kombu stock (the first brew is deemed too strong, so is discarded), which results in a light, delicately flavoured stock; where as shoyu and sugar are added to Kanto dashi, which creates a darker, more robust broth. Another point of difference is the cooking techinque: the ingredients in Kansai oden are par-boiled seperately before adding them to the oden pot to ensure that each ingredient is cooked to the correct texture and retains the integrity of its flavour; all of the ingredients in Kanto oden, however, go into the pot at the same time.
Lesson learned, we turned our attention to the pot and put our newly acquired knowledge to the test with a round of yuba maki (tofu skin), daikon, negi-maguro (tuna and spring onion) and otanoshimi obukuro (literally a ‘bag of enjoyment’ in which the ‘bag’ is grilled tofu skin and the ‘enjoyment’ is the tangle of konnyaku noodles, spring onion and duck meat nestled inside). All perfectly cooked and retaining their individual flavours.
We quickly followed up with an order of gobo maki (burdock root wrapped in fish cake), uzurano tamago (quail eggs) and ika ashi haite ita (squid stuffed with its own legs). The squid, despite being rather perverse in concept, was the unanimous favourite of the night – an absolute revelation.