When you move to a new country, particularly one that seems so otherworldly, you take for granted that you will find yourself doing things that are out of the ordinary: meeting strange people, visiting out-there places, teaching English despite a distinct lack of aptitude. Sometimes these unusual things can become so frequent, so commonplace, that they even start to seem normal. But then, sometimes you find yourself doing something so unexpected, so alien to you, that it takes you completely by surprise.
Today I find myself doing just that. Today I will *takes a deep breath and shakes head at the sheer incredulity of it all* be recommending tofu. Yeah, I know. Crazy, right?
Mameta Torizō, in Nadya Park beneath the Starbucks, is a bustling izakaya that specialises in Nagoyan food and, having lived in the city for some five years now, I am always on the lookout for good Nagoya meshi restaurants. When I find one the first thing I do is to order up some tebasaki spicy chicken wings to test its credentials, and I was pleased to find three kinds here on the menu: sweet, medium and spicy. Now, I like a meal with a bit of a kick (more on which later), so I plumped for the latter.
I have to say that they weren’t insanely spicy – they didn’t take my head off – but I reckon that means that they are probably perfect for those who don’t have my asbestos-coated tongue, however they were definitely peppery, and they managed to achieve that difficult feat of being both crispy and succulent, and they slipped off the bone like a Trump lie from the tongue. If I had any complaint it would just be that a portion comes with five wings, meaning that if you are dining with another, you run the risk of fighting over the last one. My recommendation: order two. Now, repeat after me: ‘tebasaki, ni ni mai’.
Another dish which springs to mind when you think ‘Nagoya’ is of course miso katsu, and when my waitress brought me mine, for a moment I wondered, so perfect was it in its portrayal of how miso katsu should look, if it was one of waxwork. But no, as I dug in my knife and fork, the crunch of perfectly crisped breadcrumbs signified that not only was there no wax, there was also no chance that the rich, gleaming miso sauce had been allowed to compromise the crispiness of the tender pork cutlet. It didn’t just look the part, it tasted like true Nagoya.
Being thoroughly impressed by those classic Nagoyan dishes, I decided to go a little off-piste and take a step into the unknown. As Mameta Torizō specialises in chicken, I decided to try another ‘tori’ dish and, thanks to the expert guidance of Tsutsumi-san, I decided to try something called hiyashi mushi dori with a negi sauce. Good choice: it was something of a winner, as the cold chicken lathered with a sweet onion sauce was unbelievably sumptuous, so much so that even the breast meat had the moist texture of the darker flesh.
Now, as well as chicken, another dish on which Mameta Torizō prides itself is its tofu and, as my girlfriend will vociferously attest, tofu isn’t really my thing. It’s not that I have anything against it, I don’t dislike it per se, it’s just that, to me, it’s neither here nor there. You see, I like strong flavoured food, something that swaggers into your mouth like it’s kicking in the doors of your tongue. Tofu, conversely, slips in apologetically, happy to slide down your gullet with barely a whispered ‘excuse me’. It is, in my opinion, the purist epitomical representation of ‘meh’ in a food form.
So, as Tsutsumi-san tried to push the white mush on me, he came up against some firm resistance. However, he was persistent, and as I was here to review, for you dear readers, I eventually allowed him to persuade me, to take one for the team.
The reason for Tsutsumi-san being so tenacious is that Mameta Torizō makes its own tofu in-house, and as such they offer four differing kinds: Shiozoen, a tofu that comes with a variety of salts and sesame oil; white tofu served with white soy milk; black tofu, topped with black soy milk; and a red tofu, which is a spicy, Chinese-style mapo tofu.
Of course I went for the spice, and I was more than a little surprised when the tofu came out in a steaming hot stone bowl. Tsutsumi-san poured the chilli-and-bean-based sauce over the tofu and as it began bubbling and cooking right before my eyes, its scent rushed up to meet my nose, and despite having already consumed three largeish dishes, my mouth watered once again. As soon as it was safe to do so, I dived in and found, to my utter amazement, that it was delicious. Gob-smackingly so! Yes, the sauce had that kick I so love, but most of all the tofu itself, while being light and fluffy, had a flavour of its own, something indescribable, for I have never come across anything quite like it.
I was so shocked that, after I had sent my girlfriend a video of myself eating it (she was pretty astonished by my enjoyment) I even went ahead and ordered a second portion of tofu, this time the shiozoen. This too was heavenly, even more amazingly as it had no chilli with which to mask the taste, yet still there it was, this flavoursome tofu, that was only enhanced by the various salts, my favourite of which being the ume plum shio.
And so, not only do I find myself, here today, telling you that you should rush out and eat some tofu, but also I ordered but two helpings of the stuff! Japan, eh? Such a crazy, crazy country!