As tends to happen with tedious regularity in my day job as a high school teacher, when I get asked about famous food from my home country, as a proud Brit, I loudly declare: “Fish and chips, of course!” To which the generally unanimous response is a confused “Eeeehhhhh?” As a teacher it is my duty to enlighten the ignorant. “Well it’s fried potato with fish fried in batter.” Blank faces. “Umm, kind of like fish tempura.” “Jaaaaaa, oishi sou,” comes the placated response.
However, as with many of my endeavours to educate the Nagoyan youth, in this I am being somewhat misleading as I take the easy way out. You see, the heavy batter used in a good fish and chips isn’t quite comparable to tempura. And it is especially nothing like the light and crispy tempura to be found in Shimono Ishiki’s Misono Tendon restaurant in Fushimi.
There is a good chance that you’ve never heard of the small but bustling fishing village of Shimono Ishiki in Nakagawa; that’s because it no longer exists. Tragically it was washed away by a typhoon some years ago, however back when the owner of Misono Tendon was a child growing up there, it was famed for it’s superlative fresh fish.
It may be now long gone, but today it lives on in both name and dedication to purveying the freshest fish and seafood in the guise of the Shimono Ishiki seafood restaurant chain that five branches around Nagoya, plus a fishmonger in Nagoya’s Yanagibashi fish market. This latter establishment means that everything you are served at Misono Tendon, the latest addition to the Shimono Ishiki empire, is extremely fresh, and most importantly, comes directly from the Aichi area.
In fact it’s not just the seafood that comes from Aichi, but absolutely everything on the menu. Even the simplest of ingredients are locally sourced – from the Aichi no kaori (flavour of Aichi) rice to the soy sauce that comes from a 100 year old factory in Nakagawa-ku, near to where the owner grew up – and I don’t know whether this seeps into the flavour, but the tempura genuinely is a cut above.
Perhaps the most popular time for gaijin visiting Misono Tendon is lunch time when they do a variety of tendon (tempura rice bowls) that come with miso soup starting at a very reasonable ¥700 for the fried chicken rice bowl, and going up to a prawn kakiake (mixed tempura) mabushi set for a still very well priced ¥1180. The menu has pictures as well as English explanations and even instructions how to best enjoy your meal.
I turned up in the evening, but I was happy to learn from the quirky, funny chef Nitta-san (who I suspect has a much better English understanding that he was letting on) that, although they do an á la carte menu, the tendon was still available, so on his recommendation I went for the house special: the Misono Tendon.
This dish of Aichi no kaori rice is topped with various types of tempura: prawn, squid, conger eel, sweet potato, pumpkin, eggplant, chikuwa fishcake, and white fish (on my visit it was a fish called ‘kisu’, or sand border, but this changes depending on the season, thanks to their supplier being their own locally sourced fishmonger).
At first sight all that deep fried seafood looks a little on the heavy side – thoughts of flabby bellies from too many late night fish and chip suppers coming to mind – but in fact it couldn’t have been more different.
For starters the tempura itself was gentle and crisp which to my mind perfectly complemented the preposterously long king prawns that were as light and fluffy as a crustacean flavoured cloud.
Everything ran in a similar vein: the squid gently flavoured – not overly fishy – the conger eel was delicate and the pumpkin was so sweet that it should have come with a diabetes warning. Even the tempura chikuwa, those kind of artificial fishcake things that I usually wouldn’t taste with someone else’s’ tongue, was superb. And if I can compliment a chikuwa (perhaps my most hated of Japanese foods after the dreaded natto) it’s gotta be a pretty impressive dish.
I’m not sure what it is that makes everything so light and fresh. It could be that everything is locally sourced, or it could be the fact that the tempura is fried in a special oil that is rich in vitamin E that they claim actually reduces cholesterol. Either way it is a pretty impressive feat.
If you don’t want to go for one of the set tendons, their á la carte tempura menu allows you to pick and choose whatever you like (so if you don’t trust me on the chikuwa, you can choose to go without). On top of that there is a wide array of ‘otsumami’ beer food, which is actually laid out on the counter so that you can see exactly what you are getting before you try. Pretty much just like a proper fish and chip shop, when you think about it.
Misono Tendon are rightly proud of their fresh fish of superlative quality and keeping to the traditions of a long gone village. With just counter seating it isn’t the biggest of restaurants, and it isn’t somewhere you would take a large group of mates. But if you are with one or two friends, or even alone, it is a perfect place at which to sample some real Japanese food culture, and to get a genuine taste of Aichi.