2014年9月号 Vol.04
妄想版 英国人フードジャーナリスト マイケル・ブースさん 日本橋を食べる
English
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TEXT:Michael Booth 訳:寺西のぶ子

You know the cliché character of the female librarian in those Hollywood movies? For years I thought Nihombashi was staid and boring like her. An efficient kind of place for commerce and business, not much to distract a food lover like me.

As it happens, one of my favourite hotels in the world, the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, is in Nihombashi but until recently, whenever I stayed there, I would always head away, elsewhere, /anywhere/ else in the Japanese capital - to the more obviously dazzling parts of town like Shinjuku or Ginza, or the quieter ‘cultural’ districts, like Kagurazaka.

But then, that inevitable moment finally came: Nihombashi took off her glasses and shook down her hair… and I realised she was sophisticated and fascinating, packed with intriguing experiences and undiscovered corners.

This happened in February 2014, when, once again staying at the MO, I took up the kind offer of a tour of the area in the company of a charming guide, who was introduced to me by the hotel..

With her leading the way, this grid of offices transformed before my eyes. The tour became a living lesson in the history of Japan’s arts, crafts and, most excitingly of all from my point of view, food traditions. Here in these quiet, apparently anonymous streets, were companies and shops that had been plying their trade for hundreds of years - making fans, paper products, and kimonos but also nori, katsuobushi and hanpen.

I kicked myself for being distracted by the gaudy temptations of other parts of town. As a foreigner in Nihombashi you savour that rare sense that you alone have discovered its charms because, though it is in reality the historic heart of the city, few tourists spend much time here; it lets you feel as though you have stumbled by accident upon, say, that great tempura place, Yama-no-Ue, or the most delicious oden at Otako Honten, or a great soba restaurant like Tengame Soba (a plate of chilled buckwheat noodles is always my first meal when I land in Japan).

  • "TEMPURA YAMANOUE" Tempura course 3,996yen
  • "Otako Honten" Toumeshi 390yen Oden
  • "Tengame Soba" Kake Soba 250yen
"Yoshino Sushi Honten" Nigiri Sushi

Most thrilling of all, for this Western food fan, was the realisation that I was standing at the historic epicentre of the mightiest of all Japan’s food exports: edo-mae sushi.

Nihombashi is where edo-mae sushi, arguably the world’s favourite fast food (in London and New York, more people eat sushi than sandwiches for lunch) was invented in the 19th century: in and around Uogashi, the city’s main fish market which once stood here close to the walls of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s long-gone Edo Castle (the fish sellers relocating to Tsukiji following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923). Remarkably, there are still sushi restaurants in Nihombashi which can trace their history back to that century, like Yoshino Sushi Honten, which was founded in 1879 and is now run by fifth generation owner, Masatoshi Yoshino. To reach back across the centuries to experience the /genesis/ of something so influential: that’s the kind of experience that grips me as a food writer.

"NINBEN's Nihonbashi Dashi bar" Katsuobushi Dashi 1cup 100yen

But Edo-mae sushi is a relatively modern form of Japanese cuisine compared to those offered by other Nihombashi companies. On a more recent visit to Tokyo, in May, I was accompanied by a film crew from Fuji TV’s Shin Houdou 2000 on a visit to Ninben’s wonderful dashi bar.

My first thought as I walked through the door, caught a whiff of that incomparable aroma in the air and, as usual when I get close to high quality dashi, the hairs on my arm stood on end: why on earth has no one thought of this before? A tasting bar for dashi? Genius!

As innovative as their bar is, Ninben is yet another properly ancient Nihombashi institution: it has been making katsuobushi for over three centuries. At the dashi bar you can sample the very essence, the fundamental building block, of Japanese cuisine: this ingenious, addictive, umami-packed infusion of dried, smoked, fermented and shaved bonito fillets and dried konbu seaweed. Once you taste it, the flavour of proper, fresh-made dashi stays with you forever. If I could buy the global franchise for Ninben’s dashi bar, I thought to myself as I slurped dashi with a little soy added, I could make a FORTUNE!

"yamamoto-noriten" nori

Another deceptively simple, ancient local food product is found at Yamamoto Noriten, founded in 1849. Nori is a quintessentially Japanese product but less obviously Japanese to my eyes, is Eitaro Sohonpo, an exquisite candy store founded more than a century and a half ago and selling kintsuba - boiled sweets, as we call them in England - with various flavours which were - to me - wildly exotic.

While Eitaro Sohonpo’s products would at least be recognisable to most of my compatriots, those on sale at two other Nihombashi institutions - Itakuraya and Kanmo - would most certainly not be. Kanmo’s hanpen (fish cakes) and kamaboko (fish paste) are fascinatingly, deliciously alien to Western eyes. And I love the gorgeous wagashi and ningyo-yaki on sale at Itakuraya, the latter with their cheery faces, so beautifully crafted, it’s almost a shame to bite into them. Almost.

  • "Eitaro Sohonpo" Meidai Kintsuba 1peace 195yen
  • "Nihonbashi Kanmo" Tetori Hanpen 422yen
  • "Ningyoyaki ITAKURAYA" Ningyoyaki Shichifukujin (5peace) 500yen

Nihombashi is the Tokyo secret I most want to share with the world right now. I am already looking forward to my next visit to Japan, to exploring its streets for more ‘undiscovered’ jewels, more glimpses of centuries past.

ニホンバシーモ 2014年9月号 vol.04