Matt Pre­ston:

When MasterChef goes on the road, the con­ver­sa­tion is all about where, and what, we are go­ing to eat

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS -

MasterChef judges go to Tokyo, eat ev­ery­thing

Be­hind the scenes, in the weeks lead­ing up to the MasterChef trip to Tokyo, one ques­tion con­sumed the judges. “Where should we eat?”

We’d been in Tokyo pre­cisely 17 min­utes be­fore we were around the cor­ner from our ho­tel hun­kered down in a great lit­tle ra­men bar called Shi­na­men Hashigo, or Hashigo for short. Ra­men was a high pri­or­ity as Gary (like most of Japan) is ob­sessed with this cheap and slurpy noo­dle soup. Even after the cool Afuri and the rich porky broth at the fa­mous Ip­pudo, the dark spicy ra­men here stood up as our favourite. But I did love the plas­tic wash­ing bas­ket they give you at Ip­pudo for your coats and bags, so they don’t sit on the floor.

Tokyo is a mecca for this sort of tiny eat­ing house where the bill is small, the food is tasty and they spe­cialise in one thing. Maisen, lo­cated in an old pub­lic bath­house in Shibuya, is a prime ex­am­ple.There’s an im­pres­sively ex­ten­sive menu of pork cuts, which can be ex­pertly cooked one of sev­eral ways. It’s all about the ex­cel­lent crumbed tonkatsu here.The golden, crisp but crumby crust hides a fat slab of loin or fil­let. It’s equally won­der­ful with a finely shred­ded but un­dressed salad of raw cab­bage or in a white bread sanger that is so fash­ion­able here in Aus­tralia at the mo­ment. In both cases, the fruity home­made bar­be­cue sauce ac­com­pa­ni­ment is a must.

For­get the saké. So much of Tokyo’s food is per­fect with beer and nowhere is this more ob­vi­ous than at the pump­ing Shirube in Shimok­i­tazawa. Pick your way past the sunken bar and kitchen, through a packed maze of din­ers sit­ting cross-legged on the wooden floor, to find a ta­ble. Our mob or­dered beer, fried shrimp, curly fries with sea­weed salt and whole fil­lets of mack­erel with mus­tard pick­led gin­ger that was blazed dra­mat­i­cally with a blow­torch at the ta­ble.This place is a rau­cous riot, to­tally delicious and an an­ti­dote to the tiny, stitched-up, fine din­ers that Tokyo is fa­mous for. If this is iza­kaya life, I like it!

Equally clas­sic and au­then­tic is Kanda Mat­suya.This soba noo­dle joint founded 130 years ago sells some of the best hand­made soba noo­dles in the world. Have them like we did – cold and plain with a sesame dip­ping sauce and a bot­tle of Sap­poro beer.

There were plenty of other Ja­panese clas­sics like tem­pura and gy­oza, or skew­ered sticky grilled eel and the sweet omelette from the stalls around Tokyo’s fa­mous Tsuk­iji fish mar­ket. The res­tau­rants serv­ing de­gus­ta­tion or other mod­ern fare were fan­tas­tic as well, es­pe­cially the im­mac­u­late Nari­sawa in Mi­nato.

But after three weeks, when we might have been get­ting a lit­tle bit over ra­men, we were only just get­ting started on the raw fish.

Even the ba­sic stuff you pick up from depart­ment stores is darned good – the rice ten­der and the fish im­pres­sively fresh – but it’s when you step up to a spe­cial­ist that things start to get in­ter­est­ing.The lit­tle sushi bar in the mall by our ho­tel, Sushi Ky­otatsu, not only served ex­cel­lent cuts of tuna but also in­ter­est­ing odd­i­ties like ice­fish, a tiny elver-like fish with a tex­ture akin to fishy jelly. (Hon­estly, they were way bet­ter than I make them sound.)

The pick of all the sushi places we went to how­ever was up in Shimok­i­tazawa. Chef Ko­dama-san, with whom we filmed Mon­day night’s chal­lenge, told us of his favourite sushi

restau­rant, snort­ing with de­ri­sion at the crazy prices de­manded by the top Ginza sushi tem­ples for these iconic bites that started out as street food sold from hand carts around old Edo (as Tokyo was called in the 17th-19th cen­turies).

Uoshin-Sushi was so good we went there twice. What makes the best sushi so mem­o­rable isn’t just the im­pec­ca­ble pro­duce that we rarely see in Aus­tralia, like black­throat sea perch, thread-sail file­fish or geo­duck clams. Or the care­fully cho­sen rice flavoured with lit­tle more than a cou­ple of vine­gars so the fish sings with its own sweet­ness. Or even the as­sured knife­work.

What makes it the best is the care taken with each morsel.Whether it is gurnard barely cured with kelp salt, bonito mar­i­nated in soy, yel­lowfin gen­tly blazed, fatty tuna from an un­usual place on the fish like the cheek or un­der the fin, or lean tuna cured briefly in soy and then dot­ted with yel­low mus­tard (the orig­i­nal heat source that dates back to when wasabi was too ex­pen­sive for those sushi street carts to use), ev­ery­thing is pre­pared with unique at­ten­tion to de­tail.

Each visit was one of those rare meals where your eyes roll with plea­sure and where we learned so much. See Matt’s ex­clu­sive Japan photo al­bum and more places the in­trepid trio vis­ited at delicious.com.au. MasterChef Tokyo week starts on Ten tonight, 7.30pm.

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