It was a cold night, rain falling down gently on our faces. I had dragged my girlfriend Yasu from work to have dinner with me, and we’d intended to go to Onyasai, a nabe (hotpot) place nearby. What better than hotpot on a chilly night?
However, when we got to Onyasai, we were informed we’d have to wait for 45 minutes. We decided not to wait, and headed out again as the wind became a little more blustery. We looked around in vain for a nabe restaurant, but there didn’t seem to be any.
Yasu then decided she would bring me to her favourite restaurant in Omoide Yokocho, aka Piss Alley. It’s a tiny street next to the South exit of the Shinjuku station. I had passed there many times, seeing tiny restaurants squashed in one little alley and had wanted to go there but it had somehow seemed too intimidating for me- too local, and I didn’t speak good Japanese. I had heard of ojisans (middle aged men) who did not like serving gaijins (foreigners). I didn’t want to be chased away for being a gaijin!
My worries were completely assuaged when we arrived at Tanchan. Yasu confidently told me she had tried many restaurants in Omoide Yokocho, but this was by far the best. Like all its other neighbours, Tanchan was a real squeeze of a shop. The Master of the shop moved some customers to make space for us. It looked cute, cosy, but would it really live up to the expectation of it being the best restaurant in Omoide Yokocho?
We started with an appetizer of cold, pickled vegetables. They were surprisingly tangy, a pleasant burst of flavour in my mouth. Hmmn. We were off to a positive start!
Yasu said that at this restaurant, the thing we HAD to order was the tsukune. Look at it below, in all it’s glory. It came served with green peppers. She broke off a little bit of the tsukune, dipped it in the egg, and then put it on a green pepper and chomped it down. I followed suit. My eyes bugged out. Holy crap. I’ve never had feelings for tsukune before, but perhaps I had just never met the right tsukune. We immediately ordered more. One was not enough for each!
I’m a real scallop girl, and as Yasu didn’t want to hear ‘Hotate tabetai!’ all night long from me, she ordered a few. Aiee, caramba. These scallops were so good, I immediately ordered another one, only to be told they had run out. I wanted to choke the other people who had ordered the last of my beloved hotate, I wanted to eat it!!!
Anyway, in order to placate my hotate anger, clams were ordered instead. I gobbled them down greedily. I don’t even like clams, but these clams were delicious!
I was then curious to what the girl was cooking in front of me.
A tuna steak appeared. A large, big chunk of fish materialized in front of us, and we quickly pulled at it’s flesh with our chopsticks. Holy crap, it was huge! This was good, but not as amazing as the rest, in my opinion.
Then, oysters! Oh, oysters. Yakikaki – grilled oysters, a word you should know. Slurped them down really quickly. I really liked these oysters, they were light and flavourful without smelling too much like the sea (although I know some people like that).
A sashimi plate was next to allow us to feel like we were healthy people.
I spied some customers ordering abalone, and as I watched the Master cook it completely slathered with butter, I was struck by a big wave of FOMO and decided we needed to order abalone too.
However, there was only one left. Because sharing is caring, we asked him to cut it up for us so that we could all eat it without getting into a big fight over who would eat this incredible abalone slaked with buttery goodness.
In case you haven’t figured out yet, I really like this restaurant and I am DEFINITELY going back. We had drinks too, beer and sake, which might explain me feeling pleasantly warm as I type this up. The entire bill was 12,000 yen (roughly 120 USD) which I was slightly surprised at, given that it was a rather tiny shop parked next to a toilet. However, it did have really good food so I parted with my money happily. Oh, there were three of us, because my boyfriend joined us too, so it was about 4,000 yen a person.
If you’re in Omoide Yokocho, you need to go here! Go, go, go!
Here’s what it looks like from the outside so you can recognize it:
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