Suzume no Oyado
Maruyamacho 9-3, Shibuya
Open from 5pm
We’ve all been there; an idea lodges itself within you, just a little side thought to start off with, and before you know it, that idea has taken on a life of its own and holds you hostage until you find a way to bring it to life, come hell or high water.
This category of ideas combined with my insurmountable stubbornness has been responsible for some of my bigger achievements in life, like self-publishing a cookbook, saving $10,000 in a year to use on travel while never missing a mortgage repayment, earning my taekwondo black belt, and having a new house built/getting engaged/getting married in the space of 12 months. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows though; that same volatile mix has also been the source of tears, heart break and a lot frustration on numerous occasions.
Anyway, it happened again while I was away; I had to find some good okonomiyaki in Tokyo.
Unbeknownst to me, okonomiyaki isn’t really a Tokyo thing; it’s a lot more popular in Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima. But I love the stuff, and Tokyo is a lot closer to Kyoto than Melbourne is, so I resolved to find a place that specialised in it. Easier said than done. After much Googling, one place kept popping up – Suzume no Oyado. And, unlike a lot of other places, it wasn’t far away from my Shinjuku hotel – located in Shibuya. My Googling said it opened at 11am, and I was already planning on revisiting Shibuya the next morning, so I added the address into my nifty little Tripomatic app and went to sleep, dreaming of Japanese pancakes…
The next day, after a good morning out, I eventually made my way in the direction of the promised land at around 12pm. For someone with no sense of direction at home, I navigated my way there like a pro, though some dicey looking back alleys and past a string of night/strip clubs. I made it to the front door, according to the blue dot, but couldn’t see anything that even remotely resembled an eatery. I was stuck between a high gate and a small, rundown apartment block. I walked to the end of the street and showed the address I had on my phone to a guy watering his garden – yup, back the way you came from, it’s right there!
On the next pass, I noticed a small, neatly typed sign in kanji (Japanese letting) with only a few numbers wedged in between – 17:00 (more kanji) 23:00. I garnered that meant Google had led me slightly astray and hoped that it would re-open at 5pm. I left disappointed by not deterred.
After a day of solo travel, my travel buddy and I decided to catch up for dinner. “I think I found an okonomiyaki place… we have to go through some dodgy-looking alleys and strip clubs to get there, but I reckon I can find it again. Keen?” My friends are idiots, and have blind faith in me when I say I know somewhere to eat, regardless of how dicey an area it may be in – off we went!
If the are looked a bit off during the day, it was text-book “what are you doing here?!” by night. And yet, the idea of getting okonomiyaki had me by the throat and wasn’t letting go. We pushed on, me leading like I knew what I was doing, my friend following only slightly apprehensively. Much to our relief, I actually found the place again without a problem, and this time, the gate had been slid open, lights on and red flag out. Thank goodness.
Through the giant red curtain we went, ending up in what looked like someone’s (immaculately beautiful) front yard on the other side. We made our way up the path and through the front door, into the most vibrant, red foyer. A lady rushed to meet us before we crossed the threshold; despite not sharing a common language with which to communicate, she very clearly indicated that we were to go no further until our shoes had been removed and placed into one of the lockers provided.
Once that formality was observed, we were led up a staircase into a beautiful dining room, laid out with tatami mats and floor cushions. My travel buddy, quite a tall guy by their standards, promptly smacked his head on a low roof beam, starting the evening with a light concussion. Bloody foreigners…
After lowering ourselves onto the floor and trying to fold our long legs under ourselves in a manner that would make a caravan of camels look graceful, our patient waitress handed over our menus. In Japanese. English? Her shaking head and pointing back to the menus we already held indicated not.
With no idea what the menus said, we waited a few minutes, then pressed the little bell on our table for service. The only part of the menu in English was the wine list, so I pointed to a glass of the house white; my friend used the one word he knew in Japanese, birru. And two okonomiyaki please, pork and prawn. We thought she understood, but it was anyone’s guess what we were going to get. She fired up the grill which took up most off the table and left us again.
A few minutes later we had a bowl each of prawns, and another bowl with everything else, including the batter and egg. Having watched the girls sitting nearby, we mixed of all up, threw it on the grill, and cooked up dinner!
While my favourite accompaniment, mayo, was missing, we had plenty of others to choose from – a rich BBQ sauce, bonito flakes (my other favourite), chili oil.., the works. And once they were cooked up and dressed, they were some of the best okonomiyaki we’d ever had!
After committing the embarrassing faux pas of putting our shoes back on outside of the designated area and apologising profusely on our way out, we agreed it was easily one of the best dining experiences either of us has had – the fun of DIY, the danger of essentially using a hot grill as your dinner table, the deliciousness of the food and the process of actually finding the place makes for one hell of a night!