We're mad with food and beer lust. We bravely skipped airport and train snacks to save our appetites for our favourite Japanese institution: the standup bar. We discover standup bars are hard to find in Shinjuku, they seem to be a dying breed.
But somehow Alison sniffs out the only one in our area. It's a beauty too.
This tiny standup bar is packed and very happy on a Friday night. The owners are warm and friendly. We use half of our four word Japanese vocabulary to order 'nama beeru' - draught beer. Japanese tap beer is sensational, we're yet to have a shabby one. It's poured straight out of the keg, no lines to get dirty, it would make at least half the pubs in Australian hang their heads in shame. Draught Sapporo is so dreamy creamy.
We order food by pointing at what other folks are eating, saying 'kore wa' and grinning like idiots. Our first mystery punt is a winner: fried fish cakes with finely chopped shallots and ginger, with a splash of soy joy.
It's such a simple dish but cooked so well. It highlights what is so wrong about izakaya style food in Australia: it's either elevated to a high art with matching price tag, or cheap but lazily cooked. This is food for the people, cheap but always prepared with care and attention to detail.
Another mystery punt: pickled vegetables with sesame oil and a hint of chili. Joy. A kind reader tells us this is called za-sai - pickled mustard plant stem, originating from Sichuan, China.
Shumai - a Japanese take on Chinese dumplings, stuffed with ebi (prawns) and most likely pork, with hot mustard on the side. Again, simple but perfectly prepared.
Edomame - on the house! We must be extra good looking tonight!
We finish off with some yakatori. On the left is a random but delicious part of a chicken. It's fatty, salty and crispy, a perfect beer snack. But the stars of the evening are those little beauties on the right: quail eggs wrapped in bacon with mild, flavoursome, de-seeded chilis sprinkled with pepper. Perfectly cooked and seasoned.
The bacon\quail egg number is the last thing we expected to be eating in Japan. It looked like it escaped from a 1970's Women's Weekly (pass the Jatz and Cabanossi will you Vera?).
This drives home the fact that even after two serious eating trips to Japan, countless Japanese restaurant meals and much home cooking exploration, we still really know bugger all about Japanese food. And this is a wonderful thing. Japanese food varies from region to region, suburb to suburb, house to house. Food evolves with time and availability, cuisines merge, tastes change. Also perceptions differ based on experience. If aliens landed in Tokyo they'd swear the Japanese national dishes were curry and pasta. It means our food journey is endless, we'll be writing this blog forever, and it's going to be a good holiday. Cheers.