People don’t believe me when I say “it will take a lifetime to eat through just my neighborhood in Tokyo” but Tokyo is really, that dense. Which is why “what are your Tokyo recommendations?” is the question I dread most; there are too many choices.
On the other hand, the density is exactly why I love Tokyo so much. Every day, I make a new discovery.
I was walking through a part of my neighborhood I rarely go to. A friend and I were heading to a place we frequent, when this old school restaurant front caught my eye. Mid conversation I stopped my tracks, interrupted and blurted: “oh, wow. What’s this.” Something about the plastic curtains, decrepit benches, hand written signs made my food radar go off: I think this place may be special.
I looked at my friend, he looked back at me and we both said, yes. We are definitely eating here instead.
We pull back the heavy plastic curtains walk into the space and my mouth dropped.
The interior looked like we stepped back into the 1960’s of Japan: the Showa period. Mini unstable stools placed around teensy round tables crammed the small dining room. Broken down booths lined the walls. The decor – if you can even call it that – was like a history buff dream: tons of retro posters and photos.
There were tables available but I’m one of those weirdos who prefer counter seats, as I love watching the chefs cook so we beeline over to the six seater counter and ask if we may sit. The workers are young, cheerful and fun – reminiscent of the Tsukiji-like vibe – where patrons are treated like friends. Oh god, I love this place already.
I look at the menu and fall even more in love. This is a gyoza (Japanese pot stickers) place. But not just any gyoza. It’s street food gyoza from the Kouchi prefecture, cooked and prepared in its unique way. For the record, I’ve never heard of or had Kouchi gyoza until this night.
Which explains why the interior is retro and has this street food vibe to it.
We start our meal with their house made super creamy tofu. So delicious, it didn’t even need soy sauce. We ordered a few more items (nira tama — nira is a type of scallion and this dish you mix with just egg yolk — oden, kamaboko, etc.) but I don’t want to take away from the highlight of the meal.
Behold, the most beautiful gyoza. EVER.
The gyoza guy – I was mesmerized by his hand motions. I love making gyoza too but there is always something new I pick up from the masters. Amazing.
So what makes Kouchi gyoza special is the way it is prepared. It’s steamed first, then deep fried. The textures are magical. The skin of these gyozas are so super thin and the filling is robust. When I eat gyoza not cooked at home, the filling is finely minced more often than not… which is why I rarely eat gyoza in restaurants. I’m not a fan of mushy filling. But this place, the filling is perfectly ground and I can actually taste and feel every ingredient in my mouth. These gyozas are so delicious, my friend and I ate about six servings (LOL).
If you are in Tokyo, this place is a must try.
Kouchi Meibutsu Yatai Gyoza Ebisu Yasubei
Copy and paste address into Google Maps and look for the red lantern and plastic curtains. The lines get long and nasty, so if you don’t speak Japanese have the hotel concierge make reservations (they accept them!) Counter reservations are accepted too.