August 14, 2007

Tokyo Trip: The best tempura I've ever had

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Went to lunch at Hayashi, a tiny tempura shop opposite Mitsukoshi in Nihonbashi. It's a family-run business and only has a tiny counter to seat about 6-7 customers. It's almost too cute.

The tempura is deep fried in a bowl of oil over very low heat. The batter is soft and remains so due to the very low temperature of the oil, unlike most of the crispy/crunchy batter we find elsewhere. It tastes wonderfully tender.

We go through the usual list of ingredients...shrimp, eggplant, seaweed, green peppers, asparagus, different types of fish...the difference is that often a single ingredient was tasted two different ways - with the usual oroshi (おろし) and also simply with a dab of salt.  The sea eel (穴子) was especially juicy and tender.

The one ingredient which was really unique was the cuttlefish. It was cut into a block and wrapped with a single shiso (紫蘇) leaf. But it was the thickness of the flesh that amazed me. The flesh was about 2.5cm or 1 inch thick. It was a bit chewy as you'd expect, but at the same time very juicy and tender, unlike any cuttlefish I've tasted. You'd have to wonder how big the cuttlefish would have to be to have this kind of thickness in the flesh...

At the end of the meal was the customary bowl of rice with pickled veggies. The little twist was the a powder that you sprinkle over the rice, which was made from tofu and was meant to taste like mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐). Apparently this was invented by the owner's father and passed down to him.

The bill came to an amazing JPY 17,000. Is it excessive? It certainly was the best tempura I have ever had, and I'm glad I got to taste some of the offerings. But at this price, I would probably prefer sushi or teppanyaki.

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