The Greatest Thing I Ever Ate: Soy Glazed Mackerel In The Tokyo Backstreets

A dark and dingy Tokyo street, beer crates for tables, hundreds of businessmen feasting on Yakitori and a piece of Mackerel that i'll remember until the day I keel over...
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A dark and dingy Tokyo street, beer crates for tables, hundreds of businessmen feasting on Yakitori and a piece of Mackerel that i'll remember until the day I keel over...

It's not easy, picking one meal or snack as the single best thing you've ever eaten. Not just because you (or certainly me) eat so much, more that depending on your emotional or physical state different foods can rank as the greatest. As I write this, I'm on a packed train to Kent, quaffing a bag of ready salted with one hand and washing them down with a can of Kronenbourg. It's ace.

There have been bacon sandwiches that have ripped the hangover from my system and allowed me to go back on the shant at lunchtime, the 15 course tasting menu at the French Laundry wasn't too shabby, i've got fond memories of all manner of burgers, kebabs, suckling pig, pies, tapas and chickens feet that have knocked me bandy and there was a taco in the mission district of San Francisco that, the moment I bit into it, I knew I was having another. And another. I sat mesmerised as the bloke behind the counter turned huge slabs of steak into diced taco meat and loved every second as it dripped down my chin with a mixture of guacamole, hot sauce and Modelo beer.

But for sheer fucking brilliance the soy glazed mackerel I had in a worker's bar in Tokyo has to take top spot. My wife and I were on our Honeymoon and my brother had popped in for a few days on his way back to New Zealand. We'd already taken down entire sushi counters, ate at the best Tempura place in the city, feasted on ridiculously fresh Sushi at 5am in the fish market and done a brace each of the Kobe burger at the Conrad Hilton.

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We strolled out one night looking for a renowned street of snack bars on the west of the Ginza district. We'd thought about getting a cab but as Tokyo cab drivers seemingly do the opposite of the knowledge we walked. Turning onto a street we were confronted with hundreds of businessmen, sat on small stools around tables fashioned from upturned beer crates at 20 or so restaurants that merged into one seething mass of cheap polyester suits, huge bottles of Asahi and barrowloads of yakitori.

Finding a spare crate at the smallest, dodgiest looking bar of the lot, we gave the signal for three beers and cracked on with the menu. Me and my brother were arguing about some nonsensical fact so we told my wife to order. First came the wagyu Yakitori with some salt and chilli edamame. Tender, a bit fatty in parts but ace. Next up was the chicken, tender still, no fat and salty enough to send the beers down and elicit calls for three more.

Then came the mackerel. I can't remember whose chopsticks came away first, but we all seemed to swear and groan in unison. A smattering of 'fuck mes' 'that's good' 'jesus wept' and 'we're having a few more of them' were blurted out between the three of us attacking this simple bit of fish, cooked with sod all else but a bit of soy glaze, that was torn to shreds with chopsticks wielded like knitting needles. I'd like to say that the company and occasion added to it but I'd be lying. It's a nice shared memory of course, but at the time I wished they weren't there so I could eat the lot. We stayed in that bar for ages, more Asahi, more mackerel, the firm salty flesh and freezing cold beer combining so our mouths felt coated in silk and our stomachs swelled and bulged gloriously.

From there, we moved onto a Filipino Karaoke bar, drank sake and danced with a man who had flashing teeth. But that's for another time...

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