Discover more from Tokyo Calling
Curry hunting in Jinbocho
Or to be or not to be (a gourmet)
Dear readers, today I was walking around Jinbocho, Tokyo’s secondhand bookstore Mecca, and I was reminded of all the times I ate curry and rice there. I don’t know how many curry shops are there, but they say you can’t call yourself a curry lover unless you have tried a few of those Jinbocho joints. So here’s my take on the Curry Connection.
Food writing is not easy. You have to be knowledgeable and back up your opinions with solid arguments. And you have to do your own homework, of course. In other words, not everybody can be a serious restaurant reviewer. Me, I know my limits (basically, I can only say “good” or “no good”) so I’ve only tried it a few times. For my money, the best food writer in Tokyo is Robbie Swinnerton. Unfortunately, his stories for The Japan Times (like mine) are hidden behind a paywall. But you can read a few of them before you are asked to pay.
No problem, I hear you say, there’s plenty of free websites. Yeah. Maybe. But can you trust them? I dunno.
Take Jinbocho’s fabled curry restaurants. Whenever I read a story like “the best five curry places in Jinbocho” I grimace. Some Japanese-language magazines, like Sanpo no Tetsujn (Walk Master or Expert) entrust an editorial team with the task of covering each and every place. That does not necessarily mean they get it right, but at least they try.
On the contrary, English-language pieces are written by just one person. Now, considering how little freelance writers are paid in Japan, I doubt the poor peon checked all the places he wrote about because if he has done so, the money he gets from the magazine or website hardly covers the expenses he had to bear.
One more thing: the same places are mentioned, again and again, in every article and review. Are they really the best, la creme de la creme, or is it just a case of lazy writers with little money who keep
stealing repeating the same information they can easily find online, for free, without having to actually try that stuff that they don’t like anyway?
My wife and I, on the other hand, love curry: Indian curry, Japanese curry, European-style curry (or so they call it in Japan… never understood what it means) and over the years, we have tried many of those restaurants.
Our verdict? Most of them are way overrated.
They are not bad, but my wife’s home-made curry is better. She can beat those cooks with one arm tied behind her back. Easily.
Bondi, for instance, is so popular there are always long lines waiting to be fed.
We went. We ate. We were thoroughly unimpressed.
It was average and overpriced. First and last time we go.
Then there was the small restaurant (another long waiting line) with the pissed-off lady who served her customers like she was doing us a favor.
Better than Bondi, but still a little underwhelming.
I forgot the name of the place. No problem because I’m not going a second time.
To make a long story short, we haven’t checked out all the places yet (there’s a promising South Indian diner we are eager to try next time) but so far, the best place I’ve been to is hidden in a backstreet and is never mentioned by the English media.
Take a load of this:
It looks rather gross, innit?
It’s cheap, filling and lip-smackinly good.
Manten is a greasy spoon of sorts. It’s basic, ordinary, unrefined, and splendidly uncool. The long lines in front of Manten are not made of fad-hunters and fake gourmets but, more simply, people who work in the area.
You get curry and pork cutlet, curry and croquettes (my favorite), curry and sausages… You get the drift.
I said “the people” who work in the neighborhood, but I should have said “the guys.” Because come on, very few ladies would want to come to a place like the one pictured above. It’s definitely not a date spot. I haven’t even taken my wife there.
It’s just a counter sitting maybe nine or ten people. As soon as you sit down, they get your order and put a small cup of cold coffee and a glass of water (with a spoon inside) in front of you.
The two guys in the middle dance around mixing the curry, checking the rice, and serving the hungry customers. When they lift the lid of the curry pot, you can see the spicy magma trying to surge up like a piping-hot dark-brown tsunami.
When the time comes, one of the guys takes an oblong dish, lays a bed of rice at the bottom, pours a mountain of curry (full of minced meat) on it, then - in my case - adds the croquettes AND adds more curry on top of them.
By now, I’m drooling all over the place. My eyes start to water, my liver is crying.
This is serious eating. This curry just kills you. Wanna have another look?
As Tokyo Calling is about to reach 300 subscribers, I’m launching a new paid subscription / donation campaign. All proceeds will be reinvested in yet more curry research.
Tokyo Calling is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.