Every year, we head to Sensoji Temple for the Sanja Matsuri festival, the largest festival in Tokyo. There’s music, floats carried by locals, and a bunch of other religious stuff that goes over my head. There’s lots of food stalls – crab on a stick, karrage, okonomiyaki, chicken skin gyoza, takoyaki, yakisoba, and ice-cream. However, I prefer to eat at the makeshift restaurants bordering the festival.
Last year, we found a restaurant on the corner with outside seating. We sat down to drink beer and eat gyoza. I remember there were a group of tough-looking, hard-drinking Japanese men sitting by me. They stood up and started slapping each other around. One of them elbowed me in the head and didn’t apologize. For this post, I have to play Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio.
We returned again this year and I tried to get the attention of the server. I thought the server was ignoring us and my suspicions were confirmed by the same group of toughs from the previous year and other less muscled customers. We were bestowed with the dirtiest of looks. This was a first. Usually when it’s a locals only place, the server is polite but says very firmly that there’s no room. This time around, I could feel the menacing hostility, not so much the staff who just avoided eye contact but the customers.
This turned out to be a blessing. We wandered around and saw this tiny little bar with a few seats on the outside. We could see kids, parents and an older generation sitting inside. We stood outside and debated if we dare enter. A male customer waved us in and told us to sit down. A server came over and when she learned we couldn’t read or speak Japanese, pleasantly handed me an English menu. See how much head is on that beer? The Japanese like having lots of foam in their beer, as it shows how fresh it is.
We chatted with the friendly fellow who invited us in and kanpaied him a few times. He was tipsy and wanted to know if we liked Japan. He kept touching his heart and welcoming us to Japan and the festival.
The best thing on the menu was the cheapest – chicken thigh and chicken skin. The yakitori was grilled on a tiny grill by the window. The taste of the charcoal on the meat was tantalizing. The chicken was beautifully grilled and delicious. I can’t believe it was only 100 Yen.
We started off with the set price menu – 1000 Yen for a drink and a few skewers. We ordered several more because it was so tasty.
I ordered prawn (300 Yen), squid (200 Yen) and more chicken skewers but with salt instead of sauce. That was a mistake. I much prefer the sauce version. I don’t know what they put into their sauce but it was the best thing I’ve ever tried, a balance of sweet and salty.
I ate the prawn whole. The prawn and squid were juicy. After we couldn’t eat anymore, we wished the gentleman goodbye and thanked him for his hospitality. L said it was too bad we would not be back because he had no idea how to find this gem again. I took a picture and told him we’re coming back in 2019. Lucky for him, he’s married to a restaurant savant. This was one of the best places we ate at in Tokyo.
I love Japan but sometimes I get exhausted by the rejection of locals. I get tourists are annoying and time consuming. So it was comforting when we meet a random stranger that made us feel welcomed.