Escape busy Waseda Dori and discover one of Kagurazaka’s best kept secrets.
Getting there is half the fun. Across from Zenkokuji Temple in the center of Kagurazaka, between a fire escape and a clothing store, there’s a claustrophobic alleyway just wide enough for a person to squeeze through. Walk twenty meters along this narrow path and you’ll come to Teppei, a bar which combines serious drinks with obanzai style cooking.
The interior is attractive wood panel affair, and while somewhat cluttered, it wouldn’t be out of place in small-town Kyushu. A wooden counter runs the length of the downstairs area. Directly opposite, shelves lined with some two hundred bottles of shochu. Take a seat at the bar and not only can you nod to your drink of choice, but you can look on as the staff work the charcoal grill in the kitchen. Behind the barstools there’s also a raised tatami section with shoes-off table seating for about a further dozen or so.
It’s a safe guess that for many customers, Teppei is all about the shochu. Devotees of Kyushu’s famous spirit will have no trouble locating familiar favorites – all of the top Kyushu distilleries are represented. Those seeking something sweeter will no doubt be happy with a three page umeshu selection. Elsewhere, there are beers, four types of sake and five types of chuhai on offer. Oh, and let’s not forget Teppei’s range of seasonal sours (right now it’s sudachi, yuzu and daidai from Tokushima, squeezed by hand and served with honey). Suffice to say, the bar is well stocked.
But what elevates Teppei above most of Tokyo’s other shochu bars – in fact, Tokyo’s bars in general – are its vegetable-oriented otsumami. Yes, meat on a stick may be Tokyo’s go-to bar snack, but there’s a lot to be said for pickles, fried vegetables and salads when you need something to cut through all that alcohol. Few bars take their finger food as seriously as this one, and if you’ve dropped by for a drink rather than a full-blown meal, there’s plenty to choose from. Teppei specializes in sun-dried fish, some of the more eye-catching items being the anago, nodokuro, kinki and sardine nukazuke. Then there’s the yasaiyaki (grilled vegetables) which customers select from a basket of fresh vegetables brought right to your table.
On the night we visited, still recovering from a lengthy lunch, we’d planned for nothing more than a quick drink. All that changed when we saw what our neighbors at the bar were eating. We promptly ordered the chopped cucumber with homemade rayu, followed by the spring cabbage seasoned with jako (dried baby sardines) and sesame seeds. Both were excellent, the rayu lending the cucumber dish plenty of flavor and the ‘salad’ the kind of dish you can imagine your Kyushu grandmother preparing alongside family meals.
The bar does have its flaws – our barman radiated ‘new guy’ and more than once had to be directed to a particular bottle on the shelves. Then again, it’s probably not everyday some Australian comes in and starts ordering off menu. A slight lack of space between the bar stools and the tatami area was our only other gripe.
Teppei offers excellent food, a lengthy drinks menu and plenty of atmosphere. Those who prefer their bars neither rowdy nor restrained will find much to like in Teppei’s brand of stiff drinks and unpretentious cooking.
Directions: From Kagurazaka station (Tozai line) follow Waseda Dori down toward Iidabashi station. When you reach Zenkokuji Temple turn left at the tiny alley hedged between the wine bar and the clothing store. Teppei is 20 meters ahead, on the left just before the T.U.C window.
4-2-30 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku
17.30 – 23.00 (L.O.)
Again with the nampla!
This week, a variation on the classic Thai glass-noodle salad (yum woon sen). This dish works well as a kind of otsumami (small dish to accompany alcohol) – the zest of the lemon juice and the spice of the peppers loose nothing after a few glasses of beer or shochu.
This particular recipe uses ingredients which are readily available in Japan. For a more authentic Thai flavor, exchange limes for lemons and add extra peppers. Also, in Thailand the coriander root is used to give the sauce even greater flavor. If you want to try this, use a mortar and pestle to crush a coriander root together with the chopped red pepper, then add fish sauce, sugar and lemon/lime juice.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 50 g cellophane noodles (bean threads)
- 100 – 120 g cabbage
- 60 – 70 g celery (including leaves)
- 50 g red onion
- 100 g shrimp
- 100 g ground pork
- 10 – 15 g coriander
- 3 table spoons of Thai fish sauce
- 1 and 1/2 tea spoons of sugar
- 3 – 4 tablespoons of lemon juice (1/2 a lemon)
- 1 – 2 red peppers
Cut the cabbage into thin strips and the red onion into thin slices. Next, slice the celery stems diagonally and the leaves into large pieces.
Chop the coriander stems finely and cut the leaves into large pieces.
Place all of the vegetables into a large salad bowl, roughly 25 cm in diameter.
Wash the shrimp carefully and boil them. When cooked, drain and cool so that the shells can be removed.
Pour 2 cups of water into a small pan and bring it to the boil. Next, put the ground pork into the pan and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes, stirring so as to break it up.
Before cooking the cellophane noodles, prepare the salad dressing. Remove the stalk and seeds from the red pepper and cut into 5 mm pieces. Place these in a small bowl.
Add fish sauce, sugar and mix together with the peppers. Finally, add lemon juice and mix together roughly.
Place a pan with 4 -5 cups of water onto a high heat. Once it has come to the boil, place the cellophane noodles into the pan and cook for about 3 minutes. Once cooked, drain the noodles and cut them into lengths of about 10 cm. Place in the salad bowl.
While the cellophane noodles are still warm, pour the dressing over the ingredients and mix together by hand. Serve with a garnish of coriander leaves.
Vibrant color, crispy texture.
In many ways, this pepper and anchovy dish is the perfect otsumami (tapas-style dish). For starters there’s its vivid color – bold red, yellow and green. Then there’s the texture – the slightly crispy anchovies balancing the sauteed peppers. Finally, there’s the flavor of the mentsuyu (a dashi-based sauce usually used for soba and udon noodles).
Ingredients (serves 2 people)
- 200g green pepper (4-5 green peppers)
- 50g red pepper (1/2 a red pepper)
- 50g yellow pepper (1/2 a yellow pepper)
- 20g dried young anchovies
- 2 tablespoons of sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons of mentsuyu
Pour 2 tablespoons of sesame oil into a frying pan and place on a low heat. Add the dried young anchovies and slowly saute them for 3-4 minutes, so that they become crispy.
Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds, then slice them into strips. When the anchovies become crispy, add the peppers to the pan and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes over a high heat.
Finally, add two tablespoons of mentsuyu and coat the peppers. If you live in Japan, you should be able to find this at any supermarket or convenience store.
If you live overseas and have trouble finding the sauce, however, add the following to the fry pan:
- 2 tablespoons of dashi soup (or water)
- 1 tablespoon of sake
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of mirin
It’s also worth noting that were you to make 2-3 times the sauce, you would have the perfect soup for soba or udon noodles.
This wonderfully fresh pickled ‘salad’ makes an excellent winter side-dish. I like to serve this together with any kind of nabe (Japanese hotpot) or beside salmon or mackerel, the yuzu-flavored pickles helping to balance the oiliness of the fish. It also makes excellent otsumami (Japanese tapas) served alongside beer, shochu or sake.
This particular recipe calls for Chinese cabbage, but you can also use a mixture of Chinese cabbage and the regular variety.
Ingredients (serves 8 as a side dish)
- 300g Chinese cabbage (3-4 leaves)
- 80-100g cucumber
- 150-200g kabu turnip (with stem and leaves still attached)
- 1/2 a yuzu, sliced into strips
- One 10cm by 10cm piece of kombu (kelp)
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt
- 1 teaspoon of kobu-cha (kelp tea)
- 1 dried red pepper
First cut the Chinese cabbage into large pieces. The leaves should be roughly 3-4 cm in size, while the hard white stem section should be sliced into pieces 5-7cm in width, following the grain.
Next, slice the cucumber into pieces 2-3mm thick.
Cut the stem from the top of the turnip, leaving about 1cm. Boil the stems in a pan of water for about 10 seconds, then place them into a dish of cold water. Quickly wash them and squeeze any moisture out. Cut the stems into sections 3-4cm in length.
Now, wash the turnip, using a toothpick to clean the remaining stem section. Peel the turnip, being careful to leave the remaining stem in place. Finally, slice the turnip into 1mm thick pieces, again following the grain.
Prepare the kombu by cutting it into 2-3mm pieces using a pair of kitchen scissors.
Finally, slice the red pepper into two halves and discard the seeds inside.
Seal all the ingredients in a double plastic bag, making sure there’s still some air trapped inside. Now shake the bag, so that all is mixed well.
Squeeze the plastic bag so as to let all the air out. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours (or even overnight) before serving.
A note about serving asazuke
It is important that when you serve the dish, you drain any excess water by using both hands and squeezing the vegetables. Asazuke should not be served swimming in liquid.