Everyone was crying! Tears were literally streaming down the faces of the three businessmen at the table behind us as well as the woman who was sitting at the counter to my left. The izakaya owner’s wife was crying; her daughter was mopping away her own tears, and my two companions and I could hardly talk. The only thing that distinguished this scene from a sad movie or tragic event was the fact that we were also convulsed in laughter.
This was my sixth visit to Tsuzuku, a tiny 14-seat izakaya, located on a side street in one of the residential areas of Tokyo near the Ushigome Yanagicho Metro station.
In a lot of ways it is typical of an old-style izakaya, or restaurant/bar. In fact the name izakaya is derived from “i” meaning ‘to stay’ and “sakaya” meaning ‘sake shop’. Izakayas were originally way-stations for people to relax and enjoy a cup, or more, of sake. Today, most izakayas serve food - either a general menu of seafood and yakitori (grilled meat, fish or vegetables on a skewer) or they specialize in one type of food.
Tsuzuku is a seafood izakaya and finding fresher, better prepared seafood would be a challenge.
Tonight we savoured the assorted sashimi (raw seafood), enjoyed the ‘okara’ (a traditional dish made from soy beans) and indulged in the delicate flavour of ‘sake no harasu yaki’ (the fatty parts of grilled salmon). We tried ‘harmonica’, grilled back-fin of tuna – crispy and tasty. And then, as the sobbing reached a crescendo, we decided to try the house specialty, ‘Wasabi Meshi’.
This delicious treat consists of a bowl of steamed rice in which a lot (and I mean, a lot) of freshly grated wasabi root is mixed. Wasabi is often likened to horseradish. It is pungently hot.
The owner’s wife was crying because she was grilling the food. It was cold outside so the vents were closed and the smoky cloud arising from the grill was reaching cumulus proportions.
The daughter was crying because she was energetically grating the wasabi root to add to the rice and, just like peeling onions, the wasabi ‘fumes’ filled the air. The businessmen behind me were the first to taste the Wasabi Meshi. They immediately put down their chopsticks to wipe away the tears and the sweat rolling down their faces. When we looked at them, they burst out in laughter, which set the tone for the rest of the patrons, including the woman at the counter to my left, who was having difficulty seeing, because her eyes were so red from the rice dish. And my companions and I joined in the party - mostly because the rice is incredibly tasty, and if you can get through the first few bites, things begin to calm down a bit.
After my first tearful venture into the rice, the owner’s daughter told me to eat it with nori (seaweed) to absorb some of the heat. I delicately plucked some seaweed from a plastic container with my chopsticks and was quickly reprimanded with “No no! Take a handful like this” as she took a fistful of shredded seaweed and threw it on top of my rice. Of course more laughter ensued.
Then the owner’s wife started to hand out bananas, which also tend to mellow the piquant bite of the wasabi. So now we are all crying, laughing and eating bananas in a seafood izakaya. Ahhhtravel memories!
Tsuzuku is one of my favourite Izakayas. Great atmosphere, consistently excellent, fresh seafood, and super friendly owners and clients.
Roughly $60.00 US per person with lots of Kioizumi, a delicious sake from Niigata Prefecture.