Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tastes Like Ass

Literally. It tastes like ass because it is ass.

Exploring the dining options - there are many - on the blocks fanning out from the Kurasumori Exit of Shimbashi Station, the Ajimi team came upon a little izakaya, Aoki (青樹). The owner, Aoki himself, a small, tightly built man harangued us with his bare rasp of a disappearing voice to set on down and have a heapin' helpin' of his hospitality.

Aoki's xeroxed menu highlighted a mess of bargain drinks, some of the usual yaki suspects and its main claim to fame, motsu. Motsu being innards - liver, tripe, gizzards and more - the unknown and forbidden animal parts that most Americans would throw away in a heartbeat. That is if they even had the option of throwing it away. It's often difficult to even find liver in the meat department of a US grocery store these days.

Feeling intrepid... well, perhaps we had had a few to drink before landing on the stools outside of Aoki... we decided to order something we've never tried before. There were many never-before seen words on the menu, so a random choice led to teppou (テッポー). When quizzed as to what it was, the waitress pointed vaguely "down there" and with a giggle confirmed that it was very tasty indeed.

A beer later, the plate of teppou arrived. A couple of skewers with squares of gray-white meat stuff, lightly bronzed by the grill. All in all, it didn't look bad. I offered a piece to the wiser member of the Ajimi team, who chose to demur.

The first bite - tough. The second - tougher still. Several chews into the unknown organ meat and it seemed to be getting tougher and more rubbery with each mastication. Plus, to confound matters, a not too pleasant outer layer of fibrous material seemed to be getting more straw-like as it seemed to cling harder and harder to the layer of rubber it adhered to. Imagine a bicycle tire, cut into pieces, bleached white and laid to the flame.

But I can say that it probably didn't taste quite as good as burnt bicycle tires. As teeth crushed tissue a sort of pork-funkiness squirted forth that soon began reacting on those little glands at back of the mouth above the throat that emit an acrid sourness in times of danger. You know, the ones that signal its time to vomit. Now I like my pork as funky as any swine lover does. And in the immortal words of George Clinton - "you gotta funk yo' butt." But this pork/funk/butt axis definitely tasted a bit evil.

I managed to choke the thing down and foolishly tried a second piece.

I signaled to Aoki-san and queried "OK, what animal part is this?" He grabbed me by the hand, brought me to a poster from the Japan Livestock Industry Association and gleefully pointed to a picture of unidentifiable roadkill labled chokuchou (チョクチョウ), yet another name for the unmentionable body part that lies south of the intestines but barely north of the anus. Still in some denial, yet fearing the worst, we looked it up in our electronic dictionary only to confirm the obvious.

At least now, whenever I say "it tastes like ass!" I will be speaking with some authority.

The website for Aoki is here - http://mo2aoki.hp.infoseek.co.jp/

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kamakura-area Restaurant Highlights

The Ajimi Team took a few weeks this summer exploring dining options in Kamakura and the Shonan beach area of Kanto. The results of our research are now available for your consideration at bento.com.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Densha Otoko

There are times, particularly when the weather is dull and rainy, as it was in the days leading up to last Thursday's typhoon, when Tokyo feels like an obstacle course. Its 12 million or so inhabitants are channeled into the same tunnels and concourses, the same steaming trains, and their sole purpose seems to be to keep you from getting where you want to go. But these past few post-typhoon days have been glorious, sunny and crisp, and Tokyo has once again opened up, ours to explore, our fellow residents becoming objects of wonder.

On Saturday we decided to head to Hibiya to visit both the Japan Sake Brewers' Association and the park where we thought there was a Kyushu food festival going on. The sake brewers are located in an architectural desert around Toranomon between the fortified enclaves of the national government and the glitz of Ginza. The district is one of the few in Tokyo where the street pattern resembles a grid and it represents the triumph of efficiency over charm. The only human presence in non-business hours is the odd septugenarian moonlighting security guard. It would be a terrible place in which to be attacked by a pack of zombies but you can totally imagine it happening. Unfortunately, the JSBA was closed for the weekend but through the window we could see row upon row of nihonshu bottles as well as dusty dioramas depicting the sake-brewing process. If there's anything the Ajimi Team loves more than booze it's dioramas so we vowed to return. And off we went to Hibiya Park.

It turned out that the Kyushu festival was happening elsewhere. Instead, we followed the sound of an old-fashioned steam whistle to the 16th annual Railroad Festival. All the lively quirkiness that Toranomon lacked could be found in the surrounding few hectares of the park.

If the Ajimi Team had its entrepreneurial wits about it, it would design a series of train-related sex toys, such is the ardour that a certain (largely male) segment of the Japanese population holds for railroads. Imagine anatomically correct inflatable shinkansen cars ("Hi, I'm Nozomi. Let's go for a ride."). Cosplay subway attendant uniforms. The vibrator possibilities are endless. (NB: There are already places in seedier sections of town where you can grope simulated school girls in simulated subway cars so train-related porn is not, um, virgin territory.)

None of those kinds of things were on display at the railroad festival but it seemed that very little else had been left unmarketed. There were booths for 20 or more local and national train lines. They were selling old tickets, calendars, route maps, t-shirts, water bottles, key chains, train models, mascot stuffed animals, ekiben - the generally semi-edible lunch boxes sold at many stations, schedules, towels, socks. One booth even had a couple of rusty valves on offer. The free attractions included a wee Thomas the Tank Engine ride powered by a real steam engine (the source of the train whistle) that hauled kids and grownups around an oval track. It was also a rich environment for people-watching. One large, round 20-something lad, his waistband hiked up to just under his armpits, was marching around murmuring the names of the stops along the Yamanote Line into his clenched fist, perhaps living out a lifelong train conductor fantasy. No one batted an eye.

There were things of interest for people like us, too, you know, normal people. The Ajimi Team are suckers for "Showa retro" images of old Tokyo so we hung around the stands screening images of long-dead subway riders and vanished tram lines. We also loved the exhibit of Japan's historic wooden train stations, the subject of a recent NHK documentary series. We do love trains, just not in THAT way.


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