The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Monjayaki on Monja Street, Tsukishima (Tokyo)

In preparation for our little one's arrival in a couple of months' time, we've been searching for a bigger apartment to upgrade to. Apartments in Tokyo are notoriously tiny (as is the 1 bedroom apartment we're currently in), and it is no easy feat trying to get a good balance between size of the apartment and rental cost. One of the areas we've been interested in is Tsukishima, which is about a 20minute walk from our current location, and close to Rob's new office location in Shiodome. Everytime I mention to a Japanese that we've been looking around the Tsukishima area to rent, the first thing they'd say in response would be some reference to monjayaki. Monjayaki is a Kanto specialty that is similar to the hugely popular okonomiyaki, but with a more liquid batter. To give an idea of how similar yet how different the two types are: if okonomiyaki is a pizza-like pancake, then monjayaki is a soup-like pancake, both cooked on the teppan (hotplate).

Apparently Tsukishima is famous for monjayaki (often touted as the home and origin of monjayaki), just like how Osaka is the best place to eat okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Yet unlike how okonomiyaki is widely available in other areas of Japan (and even outside of Japan), from what I can gather, monjayaki is mostly found only in and around Tokyo. We were in the Tsukishima area last weekend after looking at some potential rental apartments so we decided to give the lesser known cousin of okonomiyaki a try for our lunch. After some leisure wandering around, we found ourselves on Monja Street where there are dozens of monjayaki restaurants to choose from. Our selection criteria was simple: to look for a crowded place which would at least ensure of its popularity and hopefully good monjayaki. As it was only 11am in the morning, our search in the warm humid weather was thankfully quite short since there were only a handful of eateries ready for customers at the time. All of the monjayaki restaurants also serve a good variety of okonomiyaki to cater for the majority of the population who probably prefers okonomiyaki. We settled on a small place called Juju which was almost full with patrons even at this early hour.

After I'd informed Rob of the more liquid texture of monjayaki compared to okonomiyaki (and after seeing it for himself in the restaurant), Rob wasn't too keen on it, so we ordered both monjayaki and okonomiyaki. Since I've previously given a pictorial on how to cook okonomiyaki by yourself at a restaurant, I only took a few shots of Rob cooking his choice of Hotate & Kani Okonomiyaki (scallop and crab) [~1200yen].

The okonomiyaki was nice, but not the best we've had. Having eaten okonomiyaki in several Japanese cities (and a town) including Kanazawa, Suzu, Osaka, the hiroshima-yaki in Hiroshima, and now in Tokyo, I still think that our experience in Osaka rates the best (we liked this okonomiyaki place in Osaka so much that we re-visited this place on at least one other occasion).

Now for the monjayaki. There are many types available, including mentaiko (spicy cod roe) with cheese and mochi (glutinous rice cakes), various mixtures of seafood, and even kare (Japanese curry) with four different combinations. I chose the Seafood Gratin with tako (octopus), hotate (scallop) and nama ika (squid) [~1200yen]. Having never cooked this before, we enlisted the help of one of the waitstaff to demonstrate how to cook monjayaki.

The bowl containing the ingredients for Seafood Gratin Monjayaki; tipping the solid contents of the bowl onto the hot teppan:

Chopping the ingredients up with the metal spatula while stir-frying; making a ring in preparation for the next step:

Tipping the liquid remainder of the bowl's contents into the middle of the ring in two parts; then stirfrying everything together to combine the liquid and solid masses:

Spreading out the liquidy batter into a relatively thin layer; and the finished product!

So how was it? I loved it! Sure, it doesn't look that great (nor very appetising) but I enjoyed the flavour and texture of the dish, and I especially I liked the slightly burnt cheese crust that forms at the bottom. Rob said he still preferred the okonomiyaki which is understandable. I would love to try the other combinations (I heard that adding mochi gives it a lovely chewy texture), and I may have plenty of opportunities to when we move in the area!

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