Today I had to run an errand up in Roppongi, and seeing as it was roughly lunchtime I decided to fold another lunch adventure into the outing. I zig-zagged through the streets, looking for something tasty, cheap, and intelligible. Most of the restaurants that serve lunch put out little signs with pictures of the food and lists of set lunch menus. I found a promising sign in front of a cute little doorway and thought, “sure! what the hell.” The doorway led through a little room that was covered in gravel, with little stepping stones all the way across, and little flowers climbing the walls, then into a small room with a single bar curving around the chef.
They waved me to a seat, and asked me something in Japanese. I didn’t understand what they were asking, but assumed they wanted my order, so tried to explain what I had seen on the sign. (Their menu inside was only a chalkboard with Japanese scrawl) Everybody becomes totally confused and consternated. The chef kept saying “sakana” which means fish, and the waitress who theoretically spoke english kept saying “yes?”. Waitress goes out to look at sign outside, comes back, says “paper no say”, which might have been an indication that the sign didn’t say anything useful, that she was mixing in french and didn’t know (sait) what i was talking about, or some sort of japanese/english combo in which the paper possesses something??!! I gave up at that point and pointed at the next guy over’s lunch.
So with the help of an iphone app Jen hooked me up with, I’m pretty sure this is mackerel (snapshot of my life in japan: I thought somebody called it saba, and since I can read katakana now I could read that there was a saba lunch which cost 900 yen, and then typing saba into my dictionary app it said mackerel.)
It was delicious, and also totally whole — guts and everything. While the Japanese seem to enjoy fish guts (particularly the salted/pickled varieties), I just pushed those to the side with my chopsticks. The fish wasn’t as hard to eat as I thought it would be, totally whole like this, you just sortof pick at the top half with your chopsticks, leaving the spine (and most of the bones) in the middle, then flip and repeat.
Also note the bowl of rice up top — since I had mentioned tamago (egg) in my initial description of the dish on the menu, the chef seemed particularly concerned that I know how to properly eat the rice as part of the meal. Fortunately the guy next to me ate his while I was waiting, so I just watched and mimicked him. You crack a raw egg into the hot rice, and add some soy sauce then stir it all together. It’s really good. The meal also came with two little salads (Japanese style salad, which means a bunch of vinegared veggies of one variety or another), a bowl of miso, a cup of tea (actually good tea, not the nasty burnt rice tea) and I asked for water.
I was particularly proud of myself at the end, since having just learned how to count things between 100 and 100,000 in class, I managed to verify in Japanese that the meal that I had ordered somewhat blindly was 900 yen.
My best guess is that the sign I saw was for another restaurant in the same building. I didn’t see any other doors right there, but they tuck these places into the tiniest nooks and crannies sometimes. At any rate, a delicious lunch, and a new adventure.