Food: Asia and japan and Travels12 Nov 2010 08:26 am

So things will be a bit out of order here, but I want to post about Kyoto and Osaka before I forget about them in my super busy November.

Getting to Osaka was relatively easy, door to door. We left our apartment on Okinawa at about 10:30 in the morning, walked to the bus stop, rode that to the monorail which got us to the airport, passed through some of the most pleasurable airport security I have ever gone through (you can carry liquids, do not remove your shoes and can go through as late as up to 20 minutes before your flight) and then were onwards to Kobe. From there it was a train ride to Osaka. I think it took about 5 hours to travel door to door, which is not bad, considering mainland Japan is a completely different world from Okinawa. (Some would say the other way around, but obviously my viewpoint is a bit skewed.)

Daimaru Department Store (Osaka Station) Madness

What’s that? Looks easy? ROOKIE. You try to pick something when you’re hungry, and there are fresh smells, hot foods and flavours all around you.

Upon arriving we suffered through the mindboggling mess that is the Japanese department store food hall and ended up getting some delicious rice and pork to snack on.

After some light shopping in the evening, Mike declared he was hungry. We did not have any place in particular in mind (which can lead to disasterous results in a city as food rich as Osaka – you are crippled by choice!), but after smelling a yakitori joint, we decided to give a chicken place I found online a whirl.

The name uzuraya (うずらや) translates loosely to “Quail House” in English…I think. I still use a complicated combination of dictionary, Google Translate and sounding out things to figure out the names of places. I saw it listed on a Japanese food site (as one of the top 5000 restaurants in Osaka!) and thought Mike would like it, as they were known for wild game bird.

With my confidence in confusing Japanese metropolises falsely buoyed by owning a smartphone with GPS, we set off on a train for Uzuraya. Part way there, I started to get the dreaded low battery warning. Although we were most of the way to the restaurant, the hardest part was still to come; navigating scary snaking streets and this was the worst time for my phone to fail. So close, but so far!

I guess after living on Okinawa for a few months I had forgotten what larger cities were like in Japan; confusing alley streets with stacked buildings and seven or more floors of restaurants. It seemed everything was against us as we raced down back streets, following the little green arrow on my phone hoping to find the restaurant before my phone died.

Looking back, it seems easy to get there again. Especially armed with a full size Google map and sense of direction. But things were tense there for a bit as we crossed and recrossed the same street four times.

Eventually, however, we found the tiny restaurant. I always find it awkward to enter restaurants here. You often open the door into the unknown. What will it be this time? Packed hovel? Empty hall?  Private parties where it seems like the needle scratches off the record as everyone turns to stare at you..?

At Uzuraya, we did not have that problem as we were not quite sure where to enter. There was an open door to someone in a kitchen, a very small cubby hole door (seriously about 4 feet tall) and then a full sized but seemingly sealed door. As we waited a waitress came out into the street we were standing on and went to the kitchen. I went up to her and asked her if it was okay for two people. On a Saturday night at prime eating hour (10pm) I was really worried they would be packed. But she asked if upstairs was okay, and I nodded yes, desperate to eat whatever delicious smell I was inhaling.

Just above the kegs, the little 4 foot high half door. The person in the photo is heading up the ladder stairs to the attic.

I then processed what she said. Seemed Mike did too; “There is an upstairs?” he asked. And yes, there was. A very steep ladder stairway gave way to an attic of an upstairs where about 8 people at four tables were drinking beer and wine, cooking in the hot room. We took the last twotop, Mike awkwardly getting his long legs under neath him.

Someone online described this as “charming.” I would describe it as “fire trap.”

The waitress was extraordinarily kind and brought the menu boards over to us. She assumed we could read Japanese, as everyone does here. I am never sure who is more dissapointed when I reveal the truth; me or them.

In very broken English she explained they were a chicken restaurant (which we knew) and asked if “my choice” was okay. Omakase chicken? YES! My only concern is that she would baby us and not give us the crazy, good stuff.

She then walked (well, crawled almost owing to lack of headroom) away and came back almost immediately to ask if “raw” was okay. And yes, it sure was. We did not battle a dead cell phone and climb up into a death trap just to eat boring yakitori.

And so began the night I ate raw chicken.

For about 10,000Yen we were brought out a succession of several courses of poultry, ranging from completely raw (also known as torisashi) to kinda raw (toriwasa) to full on grilled, traditional yakitori. It was all amazing.

First up was a very simple but delicious plate of raw cabbage leaves with miso dressing. When you eat as much protein as one does here, you are happy to see any greens. Atleast I am.

Then, they plunged in headlong to “the five students,” or raw chicken, five ways. We were to start with the liver, sitting at the 9 o’clock position there, by dipping it in the sesame oil preparation. Soy sauce came with the other four items, starting clockwise with the heart, next to the liver.  The little beige mountain is some part of the neck, I am still unsure what part. It was rich and buttery, but full on chicken flavour.

Next, the stomach; kind of crunchy, kind of squeaky and very delectable; possibly my favourite. We ended with the breast.

I am not sure what I expected when it came to the breast, but it was the most undeniably chicken of the items we ate. The other offal and organs I could pretend were just something, anything else other than what was surely salmonella poisoned chicken. I had visions of spending the next two days fighting over our hotel toilet with Mike, and a ruined vacation I had looked forward to for over a month. But, all that worrying for nothing.

Someone afterwards asked me if the breast was slimy. Good question, since nearly every supermarket chicken breast I have ever touched has been slimy, wet and squishy. It was not slimy. Or mushy. Or slippery. It was like a fine piece of fish actually. Meaty, but melty and very delicate flavour.

A bit of bite giving way to tender… well, chicken. It tasted like chicken, okay?

These were pickled gizzards; very crunchy, kind of spongy and a delicate pickled flavour. Shocking, right?

We do not really know what this was. The waitress, who as I mentioned was very hospitable and patient, tried to use her phone to translate some things, but she drew a blank with this. “No english name,” she said. I thought maybe it was a kind of seaweed. Instead she came over and showed us the raw leaves a few minutes after delivering the plate. The leaves were large and green. And leafy. My botany has really shrunk to nothing these days. I apologize.

They were quite extraordinary though, so I wish I knew what they were. Very clean vegetal flavour, with a soft boiled texture that almost immediately became crunchy in your mouth. Crazy, right?

Then delicious toriwase; chicken tataki. Lightly seared. This was the right amount of salt, fat, savoury and rare. At a Mexican restaurant in Edmonton I sent chicken like this back once, and never ate there again.

From top, grilled turnips, very baby corn (or shishito peppers?) and grilled chicken butts, or bonjiri.

Grilled kabocha/pumpkin.

Grilled quail legs

We were just trying to translate how to ask for quail when she delivered the plate. Perfect timing!

“No guest, relax,” said the waitress and Mike unfurled his limbs. As you can see, it was a tight fit up in the attic.

Tsukune, or grilled chicken kebabs. These were exquisite; the panko bread coating really took them to new heights. How will we ever eat at our local yakitori joint again? (Just kidding, Tenma is amazing.)

Pan fried kidneys. That one without coating really creeped me out. I think Mike made me eat it, but I was well into my third beer by then and feeling dizzy from the heat of the attic and the protein, so I can barely remember.

Pick dem bones.

The decor might be best described as “My grandmother’s house” x “Japanese truck stop”

If you find yourself in the neighbourhood, look for the white lantern.

Bonus! On the way to the train station, we saw the (rare in Okinawa) beer vending machine. They seemed slightly more common in Kyoto and Osaka, but we still thought it was pretty cool.

Any safety concerns I had flew out the window when I got back to the hotel and could finally charge my phone up and read about raw chicken. The chicken used for these dishes is typically a special breed that does not carry salmonella. It is prepared carefully, safely and is very very fresh. We suffered no ill effects and ate like kings the rest of our trip.

Would I do it again? Definitely. There are many things we did not get to try on the menu, like Iberian pork ribs, eggs, raw meatballs and duck. The only warning I have is to make sure your smartphone’s battery is well charged before plunging into the back streets of Osaka.

our spread, with several beers, was just under 10,000 Yen.

Uzuraya / Quail House
Chicken Sashimi (Toriwasa) and Yakitori

Near Noe station on the Keihan Train Line

17:00 – 02:00
Closed Sundays and the first and third Mondays of the month.

2 Responses to “chicken sashimi at uzuraya, osaka”

  1. on 12 Nov 2010 at 11:30 am The Celiac Husband

    I am impressed. That is going native.
    Excellent images. They bring over the mood very well.

  2. on 12 Nov 2010 at 11:44 pm Chris

    Awesome!!!! I’ve been looking forward to something like this since I saw Bourdain conquer raw chicken a few seasons back.