How to keep a poker face

When navigating the stranger side of Japanese cuisine, one must try to maintain an air of ‘I’m not at all bothered by this raw, moving thing on my plate’

How to keep a poker face

So you’ve had a great holiday in Japan. You’ve seen the sights, made a few Japanese friends, and eaten foods like ramen, gyoza and the ubiquitous curry rice, all of which have generally agreed with you. Now, on the last night before heading home, your new friends want to take you out for... raw horse. Here are our tips for surviving (and enjoying!) some of Japan’s oddest delicacies.


Natto, or fermented soybeans, are frequently employed to test foreigners’ mettle – the stringy, slimy goop between the beans and the pungent odour are enough to turn off even the most intrepid palate (Japanese included). But get past that and natto is a cheap, protein-packed meal that contains nattokinase, an enzyme (which, incidentally, you can buy in pill form) that’s effective against heart disease and Alzheimer’s. For a truly immersive natto experience (the odour hits you like a wave as you enter) check out Sendaiya where they serve natto-infused soba, udon, taco rice and even doughnuts.
Sendaiya: 2-27-8 Kitazawa, Setagayaya. 03 3481 2611. Click here for full review and map.


Japan has less disinclination than the West when it comes to eating raw foods – sushi is the most common example, but raw eggs are also aplenty, as is raw meat. Japan also serves up two animals the West generally considers more friend than food: horse and whale (it should be noted, though, that the whaling industry is now a loss-making venture due to low demand). If you’re invited for a sampling of either of these beasts and your hesitation stems from the raw factor rather thanthemoralimplications,there’s good news: raw isn’t your only option. Dojokko specialises in whale meat, and aside from sashimi they also offer a fried version that brings the meat closer to that old phrase, ‘Tastes just like chicken.’ If you do go the raw route, though, the meat comes with a pretty delicious, slightly tangy sauce. Horse meat comes in all forms, the most well-known being basashi, thin sashimi strips served with soy sauce (basashi ice cream is also a thing, apparently). But in addition to the raw stuff – which is pretty good – Itchome Ichibanchi in tourist-packed Asakusa serves up a stew you’d be hard-pressed to guess is horse- based. Which, we suppose, is how Ikea got away with it.
Dojokko: 1-17-6 Machiya, Arakawa. 03 3895 0003. Click here for map.
Itchome Ichibanchi: 1-1-13 Nishi- Asakusa, Taito. Click here for map.


Inago (grasshopper) used to appear more frequently in the Japanese diet than it does now, but it’s still available – we found 100g of the critters for about ¥500 at Yasuiya. The scary part definitely comes from holding one of these crispy guys in front of your face – once you’re chomping on it, the sweet sauce means you might as well be eating chips. Just don’t get a leg stuck in your teeth.
Yasuiya: 1-15-14 Minami-Senju, Arakawa. Click here for map.


Want to one-up your iron-gutted Japanese buddies? Take a trip to Asadachi in Shinjuku’s Piss Alley. Sounding appetising already, isn’t it? At this hole- in-the-wall spot – whose name, by the way, translates as ‘morning wood’ – they serve up such delights as grilled salamander, snake liquor, and raw pig penis. Itadakimasu.
Asadachi: 1-2-14 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku. Click here for full review and map.


Seriously though, if you have a real objection to eating what’s on your plate, just let your dinner taunters know. There are very few Japanese people who would be anything but understanding if you (politely!) refuse a dish.

This article appears in issue 2 of Time Out Tokyo magazine, out now.

Words by Matt Schley
Illustration by Bunny Bissoux
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


Add your comment

Copyright © 2014 Time Out Tokyo