[As with all of our posts, please click on any image for an enlarged view]
Komagata Dozeu (Shibuya location)
4F Renga Building
1-5-9 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11:30am-10:30pm; Sun/Hol, 11:30am-9:30pm
Earlier this year where I live, a celebration was held to mark the 150 years that have passed since the founding of what is now the province of British Columbia. 1858, that sounds like a long time ago. But contrasting that to a restaurant that I visited that has been operating for over 207 years now and still thriving, well that really makes for a time warp. Komagata Dozeu has been in business since the Edo Period of Japan in the traditional “downtown” of Tokyo called Asakusa (obviously benefiting from its prime location on the way to Sensoji Temple), even appearing in a food guide chronicling the city’s best offerings that was published in 1848 (yes, that’s 52 years before the first Michelin guide came out). Currently, the head chef is in the sixth generation of the family.
It has also opened up a sister outlet (that holds only about a fifth of the customers at their main branch) in the more populous district of Shibuya, and out of sheer convenience, this is the location that I visited on this night with a pair of good friends. So what does Dozeu serve? Simply put, their main offering is Dojo fish, otherwise known as Japanese Loach. Historically, this breed of fish was abundant in rice field patties and rivers throughout Japan and other parts of Asia, though since about the middle of the last century, getting ample supplies of fresh live Dojo became difficult. Regions in Japan such as Oita and Fukushima where fresh clean water and natural grass surroundings are the perfect breeding ground.
One of my friends who grew up in northern Japan, noted that as a child he remembered playing around and fishing for Dojo in the rivers near his home. He had an image of it being a slightly dirty fish since it lived in rivers. But Dozeu takes pride in the preparation of the ingredients and using only the best quality, and upon his first taste, he exclaimed how impressed he was by the lack of “fishiness” or “griminess” (for lack of a better word) of the fish. We had ordered their most popular offering, the Dozeu Nabe (1,650 yen), which came out on a shallow hotplate with the Dojo fish simmering in a light fish broth, heated underneath by hot charcoal. A separate rectangular wooden tray was also brought to the table that was filled with sliced onions which were to be put on top of the hotplate after the fish had been cooked for a while. By being slowly cooked, the fine bones of the fish become very soft and edible, as well the meat itself is loaded with collagen, making each bite very soft and very much eel-like in texture. The nutritional benefits of all this calcium and iron is a key selling point, as well as the collagen which they say is good for your skin.
Interesting to note, the second generation chef decided to add to the family’s menu by bringing about what in present day is a controversial food source, that being kujira (whale meat). I won’t get into the ecological or political debate about this, as this is not the main purpose of this blog entry. The slice of whale meat came out in a similar hotplate though this time was already topped with longer slices of onions. It was my first time having kujira like this, I felt it was kind of chewy in texture and hadn’t absorbed the broth flavor as much as the Dojo had. But I had to try it, mainly for the tradition and the cultural history of this food ingredient at Dozeu.
On the menu, Dozeu offers up other styles of both the Dojo fish and whale – grilled, fried, raw, etc. as well as other dishes such as chawanmushi, soups, etc. They also have an short but solid list of beer and Nihonshu. It’s said the fifth generation chef took it upon himself to seek out the best Nihonshu from around the country that goes well with his food, and decided upon one from Kyoto called Furisode, which has both sweet and dry properties that matches with the slight bitterness of the Dojo. As this was just the first stop on our dining night, we opted for the huge mugs of Asahi Super Dry.