Tonsui (Tonkatsu), Shimokitazawa

After a post on a shop that's been doing business for 25 years, thought I'd go a little further back in time and decided to introduce you to the almost legendary deep-fried pork cutlet Tonkatsu restaurant "Tonsui" which is celebrating its 38th year tomorrow May 1st. I've referred to Iseya and Taisho as places that have been satisfying the hunger of generations of broken youth... Well, Tonsui is THE epitome of such precious business.

I first went to eat in this beanery about 20 years ago when a friend of mine used to live in the area, so this place definitely holds a special place in my heart. I was in college at the time and still remember having been blown away by the local atmosphere of this tiny shop (three small tables and a counter), the welcoming smiles of the couple managing the joint and the awesome food you could have for about ¥1,000.
The couple who are in their sixties now, started this pork cutlet business when the lady managing the previous restaurant had become pregnant and had to give up the location. Since then, they have not stopped!
This place is definitely not a gourmet restaurant, but everything they cook is always great. It might not be the best food you'll find in Shimokitazawa, but there's so much love in the recipe that it really doesn't matter. Can you believe that they have raised their prices only twice in almost 40 years? First, during the 1973 Oil Crisis that shocked Japan right after they started the shop, and then in 1988 when Consumption Tax was enforced. That's not a lot, and it's all because they want to keep everything affordable to everyone.

Cheese Katsu

OK, sorry for the rambling thread. As I said, this place is specialized in Tonkatsu, which you should definitely try. I used to be an adept of the less fatty "Hire-Katsu" (deep-fried pork filet cutlet) for years until I started switching to the most popular "Cheese-Katsu" (deep-fried pork cutlet filled with melted cheese) upon the couple's recommendation. It has to be a calorie-bomb but talk about "B-Kyu Gurume"! (B-Class gourmet). Add some Tare (Japanese style Worcestershire sauce) and a bit of very hot Karashi (Japanese mustard) and go nuts! It's slightly crunchy outside (depending on the amount of sauce you put on the cutlet, as the liquid will gradually soften the deep-fried breadcrumbs) but soft inside because of the melted cheese.
It goes incredibly well with the excellent rice cultivated by the manager's brother himself in countryside Gunma prefecture. Not only the rice is good, but it is steamed to perfection in an old Kamado grill, a utensil you won't come up with often now.

Cheese Katsu Teishoku

Though they are a Tonkatsu place, "Tonsui" also serves all sort of Teishoku combination meal (each Teishoku comes with a bowl of rice, a miso soup and some Tsukemono pickles), such as Tori No KaraAge (fried chicken), Saba No Shioyaki (grilled Mackerel), Nira Reba Itame (stir-fried liver with Nira chives) and Kuriimu Corokke (creamy croquettes) so you should find anything you want even if you're not into a pork mood.
They also have an array of little dishes ranging from ¥100 to ¥300 that you can add to your main course: Hiya Yakko (fresh tofu with leek and ginger), protein-rich Natto (fermented soybeans), Medama Yaki (sunny side up eggs), Yasai Itame (stir-fried mixed vegetables) among many many others.

The above is one of my favorite of these little dishes, the stir-fried eggplant Nasu-Yaki, cooked with vegetable oil, shoyu and spiced up with chili-powder. The slices are quite flavored and should help you finish your bowl of rice easily.

I could go on and on and on on this place, so I'll stop here and leave it up to you to try and explore the fantastic menu of this authentic Taishu Shokudo (local eatery) that any youngster residing in Shimokitazawa must have, at least, heard of.
You will most probably get out of there smelling like grease so if that's a turn off for you, you can always order their take-out Bento menu.

Tonsui is open everyday from 11:30 am to 23:20 pm except on Tuesdays. (They will be open during the Golden Week except on Tuesday 4th)
Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-39-13
Click here for a MAP

Taisho (Chinese), Shimokitazawa

Today's post is about the cheap Chinese joint "Taisho", which has been offering Ramen noodles, Chahan (fried rice) and Gyoza (minced meat and vegetables filled pan-fried Chinese dumplings) among other things for a quarter of a century now.

The shop is managed by an adorable couple, whose husband I first met at "Bear Pond" where he is a regular along with his 8 years old French bulldog.
Although I had been passing in front of their restaurant for years now, I was never tempted to go try it. The slightly cheap looking exterior never looked appealing and a hand-written poster on the door saying they serve "Gyoza without garlic" somehow seemed suspicious to me, as if they were trying to lure in customers with the promise of a fresh breath.

One day, after striking a conversation with the man over a cappuccino, and discovering that he was owning that restaurant, I asked him why he served the rare and odd garlic-less Gyoza (click here for a detailed article on the dish). The answer was interesting: Japanese soldiers and citizens in Manchuria during the war (shouldn't you be familiar with Manchuria's history, please click here) were so poor and lacking any fresh food that they started adding garlic to the local recipe and fry the dumplings in order to hide the foul taste of the half rotten meat. The spiced up version lived on when the Japanese came back to their homeland after the war, and eventually became the norm. So what he served was just what he believed to be the fried version of the original recipe.
I was so impressed by that history class that I decided to visit Taisho as soon as I could, which I did and which lead to another culinary discovery, the VERY ODD house specialty "Chikara Ramen".

The plate of 5 gyoza is at a very affordable ¥400 and the almost juicy and perfectly fried dumplings taste very good even without garlic. The master taught me another secret: instead of dipping the fried dumplings in the usual Shoyu (soy sauce)-Vinegar-Rayu (chili infused vegetable oil) mix, he uses Green Tabasco instead. I tried on the spot what I thought was blasphemy and it actually tasted good! If you ever order the Gyoza, try to ask him for the Louisiana sauce: he might be surprised, and yourself too!

Now, onto the most original Chikara Ramen. You need to know first that you will find in any Sobaya (soba noodles restaurant) menu the popular and personal childhood favorite "Chikara Soba" or "Chikara Udon". Soba being noodles made of buckwheat, whereas Udon are made of wheat flour, and Chikara designating the grilled Mochi (glutinous rice cake) that is topped on the noodles. Chikara means Strength in Japanese and refers to the belly-filling virtue of the cake.
The second thing you need to know is that you will NEVER find a Chikara Ramen, except at extraordinary "Taisho" whose owners have come up with the unorthodox menu in order to fill up the hungry belly of students, actors and musicians living in the area.
Being a major Chikara Udon fan and loving Ramen in equal proportion, you can understand how much of a no-brainer it was for me when I first saw that dish on the menu.
I'll be honest with you: I was a little bit disappointed with it because of the rather thin shoyu based ramen broth. However, I got to find out over time that this is a general rule in Taisho, where the Shoyu based, Miso (salty fermented soybean paste) based and Shio (salt) based ramen broths all taste rather watery. Most of the Japanese will probably agree in telling you that their ramen taste like the -natsukashii- good ol' ones you used to find in local Chuka (chinese restaurant), before Ramen became such a big culinary deal and thus strongly flavored.
Whether that's good or bad, I'll leave it up to your taste buds. The point here is more about enjoying the most unusual Mochi and Ramen noodles combination over an authentic late 20th century broth. I passed the disappointment phase and now regularly go catch up with the palate memories.
The Chikara Ramen comes with a sheet of Nori (dry sea weed), a slice of Chasu (Chinese style bbq pork), Menma (Japanese style Sungan) and leak.
I heard their Chahan (chinese style fried rice) is pretty good.

The place is well kept and very clean even after 25 years (they have not renovated the kitchen since opening and you will be amazed at its spotless state), as you can see from the above portrait. No, he was not posing in case you're wondering...

"Taisho" serves lunch and dinner, is closed on Thursdays and from about 14:30pm to 17:00pm on weekedays. They will be opened during the Golden Week Holidays that just started today.

The shop is easy to find at about 200m north from the West exit、little before Iseya if you're coming from the station.
Setagaya-ku, Daita 6-3-26
click here for a MAP

Iseya (Dango), Shimokitazawa

For the third post in a row for foods under ¥1,000, I've chosen the wonderful Dango shop "Iseya". A Dangoya mainly serves Dango (rice flour dumplings on a skewer) but will also often offer Daifuku (sweet-filled round glutinous-rice cakes), Onigiri (rice ball) and Makimono (variety of rolled sushis). Iseya offers all that, at an unbelievable quality!
This shop has been filling the bellies of broke students, sweets-loving kids and green tea slurping old folks for decades now, so you can see how important this place holds in the Shimokitazawa ecosystem.

I have been a fan of this place since I first tried their "Inari-Zushi" (rice filled pouch of sweetly-boiled deep-fried tofu). Their mouth-watering Inari are ¥80 a piece (¥70 on weekends!) and a true pleasure. When you're used to buy them at convenience stores or super-market where they have had time to dry up on the shelves, these feel oh so juicy... And right enough sweet. Don't leave this place without buying one or several!
I also recommend their beautifully pink-colored "Sekihan" (glutinous rice steamed with Azuki beans) for their taste. The salt and sesame mixture Gomashio on top provides a delicate additional crunchiness to the chewy rice and it's a delight to the teeth!

Sekihan Onigiri (Left) and Inari-Zushi (Right)

The next item has been one of my favorite present for friends or for work-related people for years now. The "Ichigo-Daifuku" (fresh-strawberry-filled round glutinous-rice cake) is the perfect bribe, I promise. The mochi (sticky rice cake) around is chewy enough without being obnoxiously unswallowable and the red beans (that looks black on the below pictures) have a delicate flavor.
I have never seen a hint of disappointment in anyone eating this . I love watching the delighted faces of people chewing in the Daifuku and discovering the juicy strawberry in it. Some shops insert jam instead of the fresh fruit, but NOTHING comes to the real berry, believe me.
One might think that this may be all too sweet with the combination of the fruit and the Anko (sweet red bean paste) around but that's far from being true. The harmony happens to be perfect. Try it and you'll see what I mean. Only hitch: they only serve this during the strawberry season, therefore you might not see it in the shop from mid May to end of October...Hurry up!

Last but not the least, how could I not feature any Dango in a Dangoya post?
Among many sorts, I have first opted for the excellent salty-sweet "Mitarashi-Dango"(covered with a special starch-thickened sauce made of shoyu and sugar) which is quickly grilled before being glazed.
Second choice was the nicely-colored "An Dango" covered with Anko. The green color of the dango might be mistaken for green tea but it is rather coming from the Yomogi (mugwort) they mix with the rice flour. Yomogi is a herb that you won't come across often so for anyone interested, here's an article on that green. The Yomogi adds to the skewer an unbeatable freshness that will go very very well with any slightly bitter green tea or Hoji-cha (charcoal roasted green tea)

An-Dango (Left) Mitarashi-Dango (Right)

Oh, and Daifuku literally means Great Luck, so even if they're out of Ichigo-Daifuku, try their regular Anko ones to replenish yourself with some of that good fortune.

Iseya is open everyday from 09:00am to 19:00pm except on Wednesdays.
The shop is easy to find at about 200+m north from the West exit. Click here for a MAP
Setagaya-ku, Daita 6-5-23

Sushiya Uoshin (Sushi), Shimokitazawa

I briefly featured the fish izakaya "Uoshin" before and I would like to introduce you to their Sushi restaurant next door "Sushiya Uoshin" which I've been going to frequently, because of its reasonable prices and always good stuff (they own a fish company so the products are always fresh and affordable), not to mention the super friendliness of the Itamaes (cooks in the counter).
For some reasons, I had never tried their lunch, which I did for the first time the other day. Well, the satisfaction was there, as always.

I ordered the Bara-Chirashi, a variant of the popular Chirashi-Zushi which is a bowl of vinegar-flavored rice "sumeshi" with all sorts of sliced ingredients on top of it. The Bara-Chirashi is more or less a different version of the same dish with the ingredients chopped in little dice size instead of sliced.
The regular size costs a very cheap ¥600, which I supersized for a mere ¥100. It was rather big but definitely eatable, so go for it if you feel hungry. Both sizes come with a tasty miso soup.

The fish ingredients might slightly vary depending on the seasons but what we got the other was: Sake (salmon), Ika (squid), Maguro (tuna), Ikura (salmon egg), Aji (sardin), Ebi (shrimp), Katsuo (bonito), Tamago-Yaki (egg omelet), Kyuri (cucumber) and Kanpyo (marinated shavings of calabash gourd)

I've been living in this country almost all my life but I still manage to get oftenly amazed by the Japanese aesthetic in food, no matter how cheap it is. Of course, that's only a bowl of rice with stuff on top, but isn't it the most beautiful thing?

So, definitely enjoy the look and the taste of the cheap but very satisfying Bara-Chirashi lunch whenever you pass by!

Sushiya Uoshin is open everyday from 12:00am to 00:30am (L.O. 23:30pm), though they're closed from 14:00pm to 17:00pm on weekdays.

Setagaya-ku, Kitazawa 2-1-1
click here for MAP

Densetsu No Sutadon (Butadon), Shimokitazawa

First of all, you need to know that I am not a gyudon (beef bowl) neither a butadon (pork bowl) guy. When it comes to going to the ultra popular gyudon or butadon joints, I'm always the first one to poop out. I've always found the meat in these cheap-eats to be too greasy and I'm frankly almost repulsed by the way it always stews for hours in the foul-smelling (but that's my personal opinion) broth. At the same time, given the average price of these dishes at around ¥300, you can't really ask for anything gorgeous.

So you understand how skeptical I was when I first entered this new-in-the-neighborhood Butadon restaurant...
Why did you go in there if you dislike it so much, will you ask me? Good question.
Well, first of all because they opened right in front of the station and it's tough to avoid them no matter how hard you try, second of all because their recommended Sutadon costs an astonishing ¥600 which is abnormally costly for what it is, and last but not the least I realized I hadn't featured any real cheap-eats yet in this blog so it was about time I did so.

I chose the house specialty "Sutadon". Sutadon is probably an abbreviation of "Sutamina Donburi" (Stamina bowl) and a quite appropriate name considering the amount of food you get: this bowl will make you go through the day, with 400g of rice in it...
As you can see, it also comes with a bowl of miso soup and a raw egg that you top on the bowl.

The big difference between Densetsu No Sutadon and most of the other Pork Bowl places resides in the meat itself and the way they cook it.
They use a surprising Italian Whey Pork (used also to make Prosciutto in the boot-shaped country) which is known for its water-retentivity and thus its tenderness. The fat is also easy to chew and not smelly at all.

They saute the back ribs meat with their secret recipe sauce made of Awase-Joyu (shoyu mixed with Katsuo-Bushi glaze) and garlic as soon as an order comes in, so you don't get that meat that's been stewing for ages in a broth, like in some other places.
The meat was good and the garlic flavor pleasant and appetite stimulating. I thought first that there wouldn't be enough meat to go with the large amount of rice but I was wrong.

So if you're hungry and you need a filling dish that's within your holiday budget, the Sutadon is definitely an option. It's not Haute Cuisine but it's satisfying nonetheless. They also have curries and noodle dish among other things if you're not in a butadon mood. By the way, they also have a smaller size for the Sutadon, just in case you're not into big portions.

Densetsu No Sutadon is easy to find, across the McDonald's right outside the station's South Exit.

They're open everyday from 11:00am to 3:00am!

Click here for a MAP