Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Knuckle Sandwich - Hold the Bread

I've eaten duck tongues, frog legs, chicken feet, chopped livers and lacy tripe. I've nibbled on a whole guinea pig and accidentally sampled various guts and limbs, animal species unknown, in one particularly deep bowl of murky soup in Peru - which I swear were not listed on the menu. But knuckles? Knuckles I've never tried.

Correction. I had never tried. Until the other night. I might never have tried them if my lovely new friend, and coworker, Megumi hadn't translated the entire menu for me at a loud and smokey yakitori joint. Yakitori is basically chunks of meat grilled on skewers. Beer is a must, and you order skewer by skewer, nibbling on edamame or bacon wrapped asparagus while waiting for the next batch to arrive. It's like street food, without the street. The kitchen lives in the center of the small restaurant, completely surrounded by a counter where people pull up a stool and holler out their orders to the bustling cooks.

I absolutely loved this place. It was cramped, and a little grimy, with a friendly staff who was quick to slam down a fresh, cold beer after you'd drained your last. I am particularly fond of eating bit by bit, making the meal last all night if you'd like, and eating until you're just full enough.

So, back to the knuckles. They're not nearly as funky as you might suspect. If you'd please refer to the photo, they are smack dab in the middle, right there with the charred tips. I hate to say it, but they tasted like chicken! Really dry chicken and cartilage. I was not impressed. But the rest was quite tasty! From left to right we ate: octopus, chicken and scallions, knuckles and liver. I gobbled up a couple of intestines-on-a-stick, which I found to be surprisingly delicious. There was a chicken stick completely coated in salty, neon orange, fish eggs and some tender and flavorful chicken meatballs soaking up a slightly sweet sauce.

It was a blast of beast, a stark contrast to my nearly meat-free Japanese diet. All week long it's fish, noodles, vegetables, fruit, eggs, rice and tofu - but this particular Saturday night we feast on meat!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Tea and Fantasy

While walking the long way home from work, I have passed a particularly adorable little cafe on a hip little side street. I found it to be so adorable that I was compelled to take it's photo, but never had the opportunity to go inside.

But today, after a late last night involving many beers and half a pack of fags, I awoke late in the afternoon to the sound of raindrops body-slamming against the pavement. I put my ear to the window and overheard a couple obese rain drops boasting: "Seattle?!? Pfffffft. Seattle thinks it knows what rain is. We'll show Seattle rain! Come on boys, let's rally!" Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam!

Seeing as I couldn't do much outside, I decided this was the perfect day to visit the adorable cafe. I pulled on my wellies, grabbed a book and ducked out into the wet dusk. But as I opened the door to Parlour Kofuku, I felt a tad nervous. I was fairly certain the shopkeeper wouldn't speak English and the handwritten menu was completely in Japanese. Actually, that's not entirely true. PK's menu adheres to the same frustrating and obnoxious format as many other menus I've seen in Japan: the words "menu" "drink" and "food" are in English, but the items following, the important part, is all in Japanese. What is the point of this? Yes! I know you serve food! Yes! I know this is a menu! It's such a tease! I'd rather the whole dang thing be unreadable to me. Sigh. Rant over.

So I walked into the empty cafe and felt immediately at home. As it often does, my mind flashed into fantasy mode. I imagined myself as a beloved regular customer, one who sometimes stays after closing to gossip with the pretty young owner at the communal Scandinavian wood table, sipping tea from handmade ceramic cups. Local artists living in the neighborhood would knock on the heavy wooden door, hands flecked with paint, and pop in to invite us up to their lofts for shabu shabu. We'd sit around the steaming communal pot, barefoot on the tatami floor, laughing and listening to French lounge pop. In the time it took to walk the four steps from door to table, I had created myself a perfect little Japanese life.

I shook myself out of the fantasy just in time for the proprietress to come over and hand me a menu. I pretended to read the foreign characters for a few seconds, and then sheepishly admitted I couldn't speak Japanese. She replied in Japanese. I said "Tea?" She gestured for me to follow her to the counter where she opened a tin of loose leaf English Breakfast laced with bits of orange peel. She held it under my nose and I performed an obligatory sniff. She looked expectant and hopeful but, frankly, I didn't move to Asia so I could have a cuppa. If I want something British I will karaoke to the Spice Girls.

"Do you have anything else?" I asked, hoping she might understand. She did.
"Japanese tea?"
"Yes! Yes! Japanese tea! Arigato gozaimasu!"

I sat back down in my vintage chair, surveyed the dainty pots of succulents and leafy plants lining the window sills, and decided this was exactly how I'd like my imaginary cafe to look. The old pink and gray tiled floor, the white Spanish-style plaster walls, the simple bouquet of tiny pink and white flowers on the table. It was Japan meets Europe. Simple, clean and warm.

Moments later my tea arrived in a small ceramic pot, atop a wooden platform. Beside it was my cup and a tiny plate stacked with four crouton-looking squares. Slightly sweet, from what tasted like a sting of molasses, they went nicely with my earthy, toasted rice tea. This happens to be my favorite kind of Japanese tea. Yay!

I sipped slowly, knowing I couldn't easily ask for more water if I wanted it, and wished I'd dragged my lazy touchus out of the apartment sooner. The cafe would close in one hour and so far not a single artist had popped in with a dinner invitation or even a freshly baked matcha pound cake to share. I flipped my trusty phrase book to "C," got the owner's attention, used my arms to gesture around the cafe, and said "Kawaii!" Japanese for "cute." She grinned and replied in Japanese. Now I may not speak Japanese but I'm pretty sure she was inviting me to stay after for a chat. I could almost smell the shabu shabu.