May 13, 2013

Eat sukiyaki at a classy traditional restaurant: Ningyocho Imahan

Do you like seafood? Can you eat raw fish? If the answer is yes, you will be able to fully enjoy the stay in Japan. But what if you don't like seafood so much? Are there anything else to eat here?

Don't worry. Japanese meat is not bad at all either. Try gyudon (beef bowl) for quick lunch at chain restaurants such as Yoshinoya, Matsuya, Sukiya, and I'm sure you'll be satisfied with the quality for the price. At Yoshinoya, for example, one regular-sized beef bowl is only 280 yen! 

Those chain stores are, however, not the best place for taking your friends or family on special occasions. If you'd like to eat quality meat in better atmosphere,  I'd like to recommend you sukiyaki restaurants. 

Sukiyaki -- it is not the title of Japanese old song. (Actually, I have no idea why this song is called Sukiyaki in the U.S.) It is a Japanese dish consisting of thin sliced beef, vegetables, tofu and other ingredients, cooked in a shallow iron pan with soy-based sauce. 

Normally we eat the simmered food, dipping in raw beaten eggs. You don't have to worry about the food poisoning caused by raw eggs, because in Japan hens are being fed antibiotics against salmonella. If you feel grossed out at the idea of eating raw eggs or the eggs from antibiotic-fed hens, you don't have to eat them, but I believe it is much better WITH raw eggs.

Sukiyaki was invented at the end of the Edo Period, or in the mid-19th century, when Japan was forced to open its doors to the outside world. Before foreign culture was introduced, eating four-legged animals had been very rare due to the Buddhist precept, but sukiyaki soon became popular among Japanese and many restaurants were opened one after another. 

Last weekend my husband and I had lunch at Ningyocho Imahan, one of the most well-known and oldest sukiyaki restaurant in Tokyo. (It was established in 1895.) 

 When we arrived there around 1 p.m., there were only a few groups waiting before us, but they told us that we might have to wait for over an hour. We decided to wait because it was pouring rain outside and we didn't feel like looking for a different restaurant. Frankly, the receptionists were not very friendly, but don't give up here. The time we actually waited was about 30 minutes, and other staff are very nice and friendly. 

If you don't want to wait, it is possible to make a reservation for lunch with the condition that you order a menu item of more than 4,725 yen per person. 

What we ate was Sukiyaki Gozen of 2,625 yen, which include sukiyaki, white rice, soup and some pickles. (You can ask for as much rice as you want.) The photos shown below are uncooked ingredients for two persons.  Look at this beautiful marbled beef! They say they buy the best meat on the market everyday, and this came from Shizuoka Prefecture. 

A friendly kimono-clad lady prepared sukiyaki for us at the table. She was very friendly. She says she is happy about having many foreign clients.

There are many other sukiyaki places in town and I'm not saying Imahan is the best. If you have no idea where to eat, however, it is not a bad choice. It is famous, and you'll be satisfied with the classy traditional atmosphere as well as its food.

Ningyocho Imahan: 2-9-12 Nihonbashi Ningyocho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo; tel: 03-3666-7006
Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m., closed New Year's Day only.

It has about 10 brunches in major departments and shopping malls in Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Fukuoka. For more details about the locations and prices, check their English website.

Today's useful expression: おちゃ ください。 Ocha kudasai. (Tea please!)
At Japanese restaurants, tea is free of charge. Don't hesitate to ask for it.

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