At Shinjuku, we headed to an old area called Omoide Yokocho. Although armed with a map, it was tricky to locate it. Just asked a few locals and we were there. It is a network of alleyways behind the main drag and under the rail tracks. Omoide Yokocho means Memory Lane. Other names associated with this old world neighbourhood include Piss Alley and Yakitori Alley. Walking through the narrow pedestrian only lanes, we passed a colourful collection of neon signage advertising each shop’s specialities. These small eateries specialised in “yakitori”, “ramen”, “soba” and seafood. Beer, sake and other drinks usually accompany these diners. “Izakaya” is a pub like establishment and is iconic in Japan. It basically caters for the average salary man. It is a strange mix of this small old Japan surrounded by towering skyscrapers. We arrived here for lunch. Perhaps it is much more vibrant after sundown with lights from the neon signage and lanterns shining brightly. Hopefully, these small number of eateries will continue to provide hearty comfort food to many more locals and travellers alike.
The “izakaya” we went had one long bench table and three small sitting tables which could accommodate about fifteen people. The atmosphere, with bright red lanterns at the entrance, endurable smoke levels and the cosy feeling of the interior all added an appeal. Colourful posters of dishes and prices hung almost everywhere possible. The staff, although could hardly speak English, were helpful. Using pictures, pointing out to other patrons’ dishes and with words like – “no butaniku”, “no- gyuniku”, “toriniku”, “bejitarian”, “sakana”, all helped to break the ice. Sometimes we got it wrong. We ordered the safe option – sushi, some fish which later turned out to be squid, “yakitori” chicken – which came with a range of meat, liver, fat and gizzard. As an accompaniment, vegetable tempuras were served. “Izakaya ” establishments are great as we get a mixture of dishes. Plus, the people are generally easy- going.
“Izakaya’” like this one offer some cheap eats with a variety of choices. There is one almost everywhere around the city. Just look out for the red lantern outside an establishment. Night time is much more vibrant and therefore means, as the establishments are small with limited seating, it can get filled up quickly.