Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fearless Eating

I don't know how I managed to get through nearly 7 years of living in Japan without discovering tamago gohan but, tragically, this was the case. Tamago means egg and gohan means rice and that is about all there is to the dish. We ordered it for the first time at Kokekokko (コケコッコ - it's what Japanese roosters say), a lively Showa-retro fashioned izakaya near the south entrance of JR Asagaya station. The waiter brought us a biggish bowl of steaming rice, a bottle of flavored soy sauce, and a bowl of eggs. We were invited to select as many eggs as we liked (two is the standard number). We cracked the eggs into a smaller bowl, whipped them up with a tablespoon or so of the soy sauce, then stirred the mixture in with the rice and a bit of chopped leek and some shredded dried seaweed. Oh man! A new favorite instantly entered the Sorrells/Vroman comfort food cornucopia.

Yes, the eggs were raw and they had been sitting unrefrigerated on the counter, perhaps for several hours. This idea has a very high ick factor in the US where we have become conditioned to fear contact with raw eggs. They are vectors of all kinds of nastiness picked up in the chicken factory and you are supposed to cook the hell out of them to kill the contaminants if, indeed, you are going to eat them at all which you probably shouldn't. The raw eggs I've eaten here (in sukiyaki, soba, and ramen as well as gohan) have bright orange yolks and taste rich and slightly sweet. And, yes, I'm still alive.

Japanese eggs are typically unrefrigerated at the supermarket, too. At more upscale markets, where 10 eggs can run $4 or more, it is not uncommon to see pictures of farmers cuddling their hens, presumably the mothers of the eggs on display or close relatives. We only buy the $2 variety so we don't get the family portrait with our purchase but we trust that our eggs come from very clean homes. Same with chicken, beef, organ meats, and other animal products which are also commonly eaten raw or nearly raw.

What accounts for this relative level of food safety in Japan? Better inspection? Smaller farms? More independent craft farming? I will look it up and get back to you.

Kokekokko (03-3220-7922) is located in Asagaya Minami 3, a few minutes' walk from JR Asagaya station, in an area filled with bars and yakitori joints. Turn right when leaving the station, follow the street that runs along the tracks for a couple of blocks and you'll bump right into it. They feature a lot of tasty and fun variations on traditional Japanese pub fare and a wide selection of shochu. They also hand out gifts to every customer: bath salts for the ladies and rice flavoring packets for the gentlemen.

VS

1 comment:

Steve Ford said...

Hi Virginia and Nic
Nice to meet you at the not very good Mongolian restaurant. Can't say I'm a fan of raw eggs, except in mayonnaise, don't think there is any extra special food safety going on here. Years ago when I was cooking in Tokyo the chicken companies did send us a note not to serve chicken sasami raw in the summer though.

I've got some links to some restaurants that might interest you; I've only been to the Minsk no Daidokoro and it is pretty good.

These two Uighur restaurants are in the sticks but they are calling to me.

http://blog.livedoor.jp/ma888tsu/archives/51513879.html

http://allabout.co.jp/gourmet/ethnicfood/closeup/CU20070418A/index3.htm

http://caferussia.web.fc2.com/

http://allabout.co.jp/gourmet/ethnicfood/closeup/CU20030426A/index2.htm

Cheers
Steve Ford