Dear Food Diary:
5 years ago, when my girlfriend C and I came here, we stayed in Shinjuku, right by Memory Lane aka Piss Alley (or Yakitori Alley). The night we went to explore, we felt totally intimidated by the amount of salary men cramped into little stalls driking. Barely any women, specially alone. So we opted for a woman owned restaurant where we had whale and horse meat, feeling like we missed out on the real stuff.
This time around, I had StalkerBoy around, so I was determined to experience it like a local. Or, at least try.
We ended up having some great eel yakitori, got refused service at one spot and then consoled ourselves with crispy chicken skin. 2 out of 3, I guess it wasn’t so bad.
The green neon sign with Memory Lane in yellow shines bright at the entrance of this alley, also known as Piss Alley. Back in time, it was the shady alley where criminals would gather to get booze. Without any facilities, guess where the men went relieve themselves? Yup, hence the name.
These days, the old Tokyo feel and atmosphere remain as part of the charm for tourists. Local men still gather here for drinks after work, but with modern facilities aka public bathrooms, it is no longer “piss alley”. Some people call it Yakitori Alley instead, though that’s not necessarily true, since there’s quite variety of food choices. Seats are limited, I wouldn’t recommend a party of more than 2.
THE INFAMOUS ASADACHI
I believe the name translates to “morning wood”, you know, serving food that promise the boys enhancements. If pig testicles, beating frog’s heart, frog sashimi, grilled salamander and snake liquor are your kind of good eats, this is your place. I have my limits and will leave that to Andrew Zimmern (*warning* the links above can be disturbing, watch at your own discretion. I recommend keeping children, animal activists and sensitive grown men away).
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had live lobster sashimi, but somehow, there’s much more sympathy for frogs. Maybe because seeing their eyes blinking just takes it to a whole new level. I’ll stay with stir fried and fried frog, thank you very much.
I opted for the more tame stuff…
I lifted the curtains and the sweet lady said “eel only”. She looked a bit surprised when I said great! We’ll take it.
Dark beer at hand, we watched her do her thing along with the men all around. Yup, I was the only chick.
She proudly says they’ve been here in this spot for decades. Which means tons of regulars. The old man next to us, came in, said hello and without another word, she just handed him skewer after skewer. This is like his Cheers.
We watch her grilling different parts of the eel over charcoal and this sweet sauce. Grill, dip in sauce, patiently grill again. Back and forth several times.
Look at all that residue building up, the light fixture on top has accumulated just as much, almost looking like a dark sculpture.
Juicy and tender with a snap to it. Skin on, the magic is in the chard caramelized sweet sauce all around. A little burnt crunch and that grilled flavor. I’ve never had eel yakitori, really good stuff. I think I’ll want to go back before I leave.
I guess she meant collar? Anyways, it had tons of tiny bones. I like soft bone and cartilage on chicken, but this was different. Think big hard fish bones, only smaller. It was hard to pick them all out and even harder to chew/swallow. Didn’t like this one at all.
It all came to about $20.
The idea was to eat a couple skewers at several different places. And after the friendly service here, I was feeling good and ready for the next stop, BUT, that was shattered a couple steps down.
We saw these men eating from this tiny little hot pan. When 2 people left, I quickly went in. He asked if I spoke Japanese, I said no, and he replied “sorry, no japanese no”. Really? The first words out of my mouth were “Is this even legal!?” (the 2 men sitting there must of seen my face). I was quickly corrected by StakerBoy that we aren’t in Kansas anymore. So with my head down we walked away, not without snapping a photo of the “jerk”.
A couple steps down, we found another yakitori spot and the ladies smiled at us and gladly served us.
Chicken gizzard, soft bone, skin
These are my all time yakitori choices. Different textures that are so fun to eat. The charcoal grilling once again adds that nice flavor and chard edges. Love that. The chicken skin here has almost no fat attached, sure they are fatty in itself, but lean compared to the ones back home. Paper thin, slightly chewy and very very crispy. So much better than the ones back in NYC.