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

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Yunnan Cuisine @ Kakyoubei, Tokyo

We were in Akihabara Electric Town on Sunday for some lunch and printer shopping - at the time, we were blissfully unaware of the stabbing incident that had happened in Akihabara shortly before our visit. Thankfully we are not a case of being at the wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time.

So we were in the area to try out a Chinese restaurant that was highly recommended to us. One of Rob's Japanese colleagues has been enthusiastically recommending great places to eat in Tokyo and so far we haven't been disappointed with his reccommendations. Kakyoubei specialises in Yunnan cuisine, which in his opinion is one of the best Chinese restaurant around and is very reasonably priced. According to him, it's improbable that we'd have to pay more than 3500yen per person, "or your stomach will explode in happiness" - his words! Great for us, because we've been searching during our two years in Japan for tasty authentically prepared Chinese cuisine in Japan that doesn't cost a bomb. It is located next to the Akihabara electronic district in an area that could easily pass off as a mini-Chinatown - there were countless Chinese restaurants, and there were quite a lot of Chinese people milling about on the streets (I could hear passing pedestrians talking some form of Chinese dialect).

From what I could tell, there were quite a few offal dishes offered at this place. I actually quite like eating Chinese offal dishes, but Rob absolutely detests them. Unfortunately, there wasn't any English menu available, so I was working very hard using what little kanji knowledge I have to decipher the menu items to ensure I do not accidentally order an offal dish. Thank goodness for accompanying photos on the menu, which alerted which were offal dishes, discernible mostly from how I remember what they look like. I am not very familiar with Yunnan cuisine, so I wasn't really sure what would be good to order. Fortunately for us, one of the menu pages was titled (in Japanese) "This month's recommended original cooking" which gave us a good idea of popular Yunnan-style dishes. There was also a lunch menu which listed maybe six or seven set courses that you can choose for around 800yen, and the lunch course included the featured dish as well as soup, rice, vegetables and dessert.

I ordered the second most popular item on the menu, a pork dish called 千張肉 (1280yen) which I translate as One Thousand Pork (any help here from those with Chinese/Japanese abilities?). It's made with fatty pork belly sliced and placed over a mound of sansai (wild vegetables). This was delicious, but we stayed relatively healthy and did what most Chinese wouldn't do: discard the fat. I loved the vegetable underneath the pork - it tasted familiar like I've eaten it many times before in Chinese dishes yet I can't remember when and where and how. Perhaps it's one of those ubiquitous vegetables found in many various dishes as an accompaniment rather than a feature.

The 'One Thousand Pork' as it was served, and close-up of what's underneath:

Mapo Tofu was on the menu, which Rob told me he's never had before. It's such a common Chinese dish that I felt inclined to order it for Rob's sake. I ordered the lunch set (780yen) but you can also order mapo tofu on its own (880yen). It was made with kinu (silk) tofu, which I thought was a bit unusual because usually the firm tofu is preferred for mapo tofu, perhaps because they disintegrated too readily into little pieces during the cooking process. However, the silken tofu cubes in this dish held their shape very well, and I do prefer silken tofu over the firm ones anyway. I didn't think the dish was spicy enough, and the amount of oil in the dish was on the excessive side, yet we enjoyed it well enough. The serving was rather large, and I was surprised when we finished the plate - I would have a lot of trouble finishing this as a set meal on my own. It doesn't contain any meat so it'd be a good vegetarian option.

The final dish we ordered was 老婆洋芋 (980yen) which translates literally to Old Grandma's Western Potatoes - once again, I'm certain my translation is erroneous so I'd be grateful for any help! It's basically fried potatoes, and it was really scrumptious! Completely carbs and fat, it's probably not a very healthy balanced dish to have on its own as a meal, but there's no denying the fact that it was delicious!

Mapo Tofu Lunch Set, and the 'OId Grandma's Western Potatoes':

These dishes really filled us up, but we paid less than 3000yen for everything. The food was pretty good, definitely authentically prepared and not at all Japanised (I also heard the staff and chef conversing in some Chinese dialect, not one I recognise though). The only negative point I would give this restaurant is the unhealthy amount of oil used in the dishes! However, this ranks as one of the better Chinese meals we've had in Japan, and definitely the cheapest!

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