Sushi in Tokyo is fantastic. I haven’t done the whole Jiro Dreams of Sushi thing because I don’t want to drop $600 US + for a meal for two that will last only 30 minutes. I’m sure I’d love such an experience, but it’s not within my means. I have long suffered from a problem called champagne taste on a beer budget. So, I make do with super sushi finds that costs me a fraction of what I’d pay for in Calgary. For this post, let’s listen to All My Money by Matt Giovanisci.
I introduced our group to a cheap conveyor belt sushi place by our hotel – Tenkazushi Ikebukuro. Plates of sushi start at 125 Yen. L and I will have around five plates each, and our bill is always around 2,000 Yen. On our second night in Tokyo, I accidentally went to the wrong conveyor belt restaurant. Their sushi was 110 Yen and it was not nearly as good as Tenkazushi. The extra 15 Yen is worth it.
Tenkazushi is foreign friendly and are accommodating even if you speak zero Japanese. I find the sushi tasty, particularly for the price. Take a look at the amaebi (sweet raw shrimp). I think it cost me about 275 Yen. The sushi rice was good too. L liked this place but he’s never been to Tachigui Midori Echika, my favourite spot.
Tachigui Midori Echika is located at the C6 exit in Ikeburkuro station. The standup room is tiny and fits 10 people at a time. I’ve waited in line at 10:30 a.m. before it opens to snag a spot. I’ve arrived at 10:50 a.m. and had to wait half an hour. L doesn’t like to wait in line or stand up while he eats, so I haven’t taken him here.
Tachigui gets busy at lunch because of their 500 Yen meal set. You get a bowl of complimentary miso soup too. This set is a steal. You can get a similar set in their takeout section for 500 Yen, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I found a piece of octopus so chewy and fibrous, I couldn’t eat it. For the takeout sets, it’s best to pick the most expensive ones, which aren’t pricey. For eight pieces of nigiri, I only paid 790 Yen. The quality is much better than your average sushi joint in Calgary.
Inside the sushi bar, I enjoyed the trio of salmon nigiri. Two are seared, one with a creamy sauce on top. The pieces of salmon are generous. The texture is so smooth and soft. I love the smokey taste of the torched salmon. Just thinking about it makes me drool. This trio cost me 390 Yen.
My only issue is I don’t like the new sushi chef. Last year, there was a jolly guy who was very kind to me. I spoke what I could in Japanese and when I struggled, I would make up with it by a sumimasen (excuse me) domo arigatō gozaimasu (thank you) and look apologetic. That chef gave me a baby scallop on the house when I told him the sushi was oishī (delicious). He recognized me in future visits and was always pleasant.
This year, I made the mistake of ordering from a man who gave me an English menu. He was actually in charge of bringing people inside and setting them up for the meal. The sushi chef looked pissed and the poor guy I first talked to looked startled, and pointed to the sushi chef. I apologized but it was too late. The damage was done. I’ll call this sushi chef Enraged.
I ordered the most expensive stuff – uni (300 Yen), uni cone with the most expensive fatty tuna (490 Yen) speckled with ikura (salmon roe), different cuts of toro (200 – 300 Yen) and everything my heart desired. The other customers enviously looked at my picks as they all got the 500 Yen set and cheaper pieces.
I saw all the other customers calling out their sushi requests. Enraged would nod and make them their dish, no problem. These customers weren’t polite and didn’t say thank you or anything. However, I had to wait until we made eye contact and then he would nod his head to me and say something in Japanese before I could order. No one else had to do this. It could have been because he needed to be free in order to take my order, as I pointed or spoke in poorly pronunicated Japanese.
Below is a tuna set for 990 Yen. I wouldn’t order this again. The seared tuna was average. I only liked three of the five pieces. I’m better off ordering a la carte.
I didn’t clue in until the second time that I had to catch his eye and not to call like the other customers. When I didn’t stare at him until he noticed, Enraged would hiss at me and give the meanest look and say something in Japanese. I don’t know what he said but if I had to guess, it would be “Wait! Not your turn.” The other customers and the junior sushi chef would look at me intently for my reaction.
I was really pissed off by his attitude. I was about to give him a foul look in return. I paused, took a bite of my sushi cone, then decided to shut my mouth. The combination of uni, fish roe and tuna belly was amazing. Everything – the texture, the taste, was exquisive. Enraged being a jerk didn’t detract from the food at all. I had a choice. Either swallow my pride and eat like a queen and pay like a pauper or be rude back and not be able to eat here again.
At the end of each meal, I said in Japanese, “thank you” and “delicious”. Enraged would beam at me with such pure joy, I realized that I can put up with his attitude. Plus, obviously I did something to offend him even though I tried my hardest to be polite. Story of my life in Japan.
In Japan, the locals treat me like a local. I even had Japanese speaking guys come up to me to ask for directions. When locals would speak to me in Japanese, I didn’t know what to say back. If I get too anxious, my mind goes blank. I freeze up and forget the phrases L taught me – Nihon-go wa wakari mason (I don’t understand Japanese) or wakari mason (I don’t understand). When I didn’t respond properly, locals would give me the cold shoulder. It was so frustrating. At least when I offend someone in North America, I know I did it on purpose.
Highlight: Sushi in Tokyo is superb even if you are on a budget.
Lowlight: Passing for a local sucks if you can’t speak the language.