When going out to izakaya I always take some ヘパリーゼ Hepalize to prevent a hangover the next morning. Usually in the tablet form. But, today I forgot to bring some Hepalize pills with me from home so stopped by a convenience store and picked up this liquid form. It worked like a charm. We had lots of shōchū, but feeling great the next morning.
ポテトサラダ Potato salad is a very popular dish at izakaya. It is often made with copious amounts of mayonnaise, boiled carrots, and sliced ham. But this version was very different. I couldn’t sense any mayonnaise. Instead, it was loosened up with possibly some dash and mixed with some sautéed onions that gave it a bit of sweetness. And, there were crunchy pieces of fried onions, reminding me of the French’s fried onions found on top of the green beans and cream of mushroom dish we often see at Thanksgiving.
Bettako is an izakaya that specializes in shōchū. Shōchū is the distilled spirit, native to Japan, that is made with a variety of base ingredients. The good stuff, honkaku shōchū, is only distilled once. As a result, it maintains the aroma and flavor of the base ingredient, like sweet potatoes or barley. It is also usually only about 25 degrees in alcohol, and is often watered down, bringing it down to about 15 degrees. So, it’s similar to what you’ll find in a glass of wine. Shōchū is very food friendly, and can be served hot or cold.
Bettako is unique that most of the shōchū here is served maewari. Maewari is where the shochu is watered down ahead of time, usually 24 hours or so ahead of time. It’s a great method that allows for the shōchū to mellow out and makes it much softer on the palate. I trained as a “shōchū advisor” and have studied this in class, but rarely do you come across a restaurant that actually serves it like this in Tokyo. I am sure in the Kyushu region, where shochu is the prominent drink, that it is much more available. The maewari shōchū was a revelation. Much softer and gentle on the palate. I will start doing this at home. Simply add water to the shōchū to taste, usually about 6 parts water to 4 parts shōchū, but it’s up to you. Also keep in mind if you will be serving it on the rocks as it will dilute even more.
The first shōchū of the evening is Ichiban Shizuku, a sweet potato shōchū (imo jōchū) from Kagoshima. It is surprisingly smooth and ever so sweet from the sweet potatoes. Even those in the party who were not big shōchū drinkers found it palatable. The magic of maewari.
馬刺 Basic, horse sashimi, is a specialty of Kumamoto prefecture. Kumamoto is also famous for shōchū. The lean meat is meaty and chewy. It is served with some sliced onions and grated garlic. It’s garnished with fresh sanshō berries, which make your tongue tingle. Best of all, it is served with soy sauce from Kagoshima. The soy sauce in Kyushu is very sweet. Kyushu is where both Kumamoto and Kagoshima is.
牛タン Gyutan, beef tongue, is simply seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled. On the left side is the back part of the tongue and on the right is the front of the tongue. At Bettako it is served with some kabosu (a tart citrus) that is squeezed over the meat. The back of the tongue was softer than the meaty front part.
The second shochu was a barley (mugi jōchū) Gojinka Tenjo. It is from Oshima, a small island south of Tokyo, that is actually a part of Tokyo. Very different from the sweet potato shōchū, it has tones that are similar to whisky, drier and a bit more of an attack on the palate.
The sashimi course today is hamachi yellowtail. It’s a great presentation as the chef serves both the back (far left) and the belly (far right). As can be expected, the belly is a bit more fattier and richer. The chopped hamachi in front was simply seasoned with some sesame seeds and thinly sliced Japanese leeks.
Jun Kuro (pure black) Satsuma no Kaori (aroma of sweet potatoes) shōchū was next. I really love these sweet potato shōchū. Sweet potato shōchū usually goes very well with seafood, which many izakaya dishes are made out of.
The shōchū was served in a jyōka. Is this not the greatest pot you’ve ever seen for serving? A spout on both sides. Our friend, Mizutani-san, who is a food editor and who has an amazing depth of knowledge, says that this vessel makes it easy for anyone to pour from. So, no matter which side of the table you are sitting on, you could pick up the jyōka and serve from it. You gotta love the person who thought of this design. Brilliant.
Tsubugai (whelk) is a shellfish with a rich texture. Here it is served as sashimi with some grated daikon, myōga, and green onions. One of the chefs at our table pointed this dish and said, “atarimae“. While outside of Japan, this would be a dish you may come across at a fine-dining establishment, in Japan it goest without saying, such delicious food like this would be found in an izakaya like this.
Interior shot. Look at how little room there is behind the counter seats to exit the restaurant. You could never get away with this in New York City.
My favorite dish of the night was this pork sauteed with fresh kikuragé (wood ear) mushrooms, okahijiki – literally “hijiki of the hills” which adds a great texture, leeks, rayu chili oil and a bit of salt. Most of the time we only find dried kikuragé mushrooms in the market. The fresh kikuragé are in season at the moment. The contrast of the different textures, the bit of spiciness, and the umami from the pork brought this dish together.
Here is shōchū with soy milk. I’ve tried this in the past and liked it when the soy milk was paired with a sesame shōchū. Tonight it was a sweet potato shōchū.
Finally, Gyokurō, a sweet potato shōchū made with white kōji, which makes it a light and delicate shōchū. A great shōchū to end the evening on.
Here is part of our group posing with the owner, Kanemoto-san. Kanemoto-san is famous in Tokyo for his selection of shōchū and for his great izakaya, Bettako. Kanemoto-san is also a big rugby fan which explains the rugby posters on the wall.The rest of our gang outside of Bettako. Bettako is a short walk from the station. It’s very popular so reservations are recommended.
Toshima-ku, Higashi-Ikebukuro 1-42-17, Hasegawa Building