Tokyo, the Capital of Eating Out
In Tokyo it is very difficult to starve. Even if you don’t have much money in your pocket you can feed yourself with a 100-yen coin in convenience stores. If you have a 500-yen coin to spend, you will have great many choices of restaurants, sometimes giving you the change back. According to the statistics of 2011, the number of ‘food service facilities’ in Tokyo is about 90,000!
As in the previous articles, Sushi, Tempura, Soba and Unagi have been four major dishes that the people of Tokyo love to eat outside their home since Edo period.
I found that ‘food service industry’ started in Japan in 1657 in Edo/Tokyo. In front of Honryuin, Matsuchiyama-Shoden temple (本龍院 待乳山聖天), the first restaurant was established, where Nara-Chameshi (奈良茶飯) was served.
What is Nara-Chameshi? Nara (奈良) is Nara, the older capital of Japan than Kyoto where there are many historical places you must see. Cha (茶) is tea and Meshi (飯) is rice. So, Nara-Chameshi should be Nara style rice cooked with Japanese tea. According to the official site of ‘Jidaigeki-channel‘, a Satellite TV channel specialized in Japanese Jidaigeki films (Jidaigeki are historical plays, in which actors and actresses perform in historical costumes. It can be called as drama of Samurai’s), Nara-Chameshi was something like…
Have a look at this picture of Nara-Chameshi in the site of Jidaigeki Channel.
Did you see it? Looked yummy, didn’t it? Though I imagine that it was a little bit too difficult for many of you to understand what was written. It was a very interesting recipe of Nara-Chameshi. Today I will e-mail them to ask for the approval for sharing this recipe in English in my site. Be patient and be happy with an easy explanation of mine till I get their approval.
Nara-Chameshi is some kind of Risotto of mixed grains, mochigome glutinous rice, dried chestnuts, soybeans, azuki beans, awa foxtail millet made with water, sake, dashi soup and sencha tea, which priests and monks of Todai-ji temple and Kofuku-ji temple in Nara used to it.
As I wrote in the previous article, ‘A Fortune Kitty, A Cat That You Should Express More Respect For!’, the city of Edo was characterized by such frequent great fires that there is a saying 『喧嘩と火事は江戸の華』(Fires and quarrels are the flowers of Edo.). For the reconstruction many workers from outside gathered and for them the necessity of food service arouse.
In fact, the Nara-Chameshi restaurant was established three years later than the Great Fire of Meireki in 1657, which burnt and destroyed 60-70% of Edo and more than 10,000 people lost their lives. It is said that it took only two years for the reconstruction. So, we can imagine how much it was the demand of workers in Edo at that time and I found that around 60% of the residents of Edo were single males who had to feed themselves outside their home. In the early 19 century, there were more than 6,000 restaurants including the stalls of Soba, Sushi, and tempura!
I found a great information on the internet regarding restaurants in Edo period in the essay of Takashi Waguri in Nikkei Trendy Net.
He wrote about the Gourmet Guide Book like Michelin Guide which existed in Edo period. 183 restaurants were listed up in 1859. He was amazed with the numbers of restaurants listed up comparing those listed up in Michelin Guide Tokyo 2008 version (150 restaurants) and 2009 (173 restaurants).
Here is a Gourmet Guide of Edo in 1859.
However, less than 40 restaurants out of these 183 are still in existence. I’m a little proud that the restaurant that my maternal ancestor started is on this list and now it is owned by my uncle. The ownership has been succeeded to the eldest sons and he is the seventh generation. But the eldest son did not always want to be a cook. For example, my great grand father, Takesaburo, was a very good cook and dedicated his life to cooking. He did not travel any further than Hakone saying that fish would go bad while he was away. After the World War II he cooked something like Gyūdon and sold near Tokyo Station to earn money to reconstruct his restaurant. He was a good cook with a good reputation but he was not good at training his son, my grand father, who hesitated to become a cook but became a singer! Even though he was not a cook he was epicurean and left me many knowledge on food and culture.
In Japan, there are 670,000 food service facilities (in 2009). It seems many but lately, there is a decreasing trend of the numbers. The number of restaurants was at its peak in 1991 during ‘Bubble Economy’ with 846,000. In fact, it declined around 20% in 18 years. Society changes and people change with the flow of time. Then the demand of people changes. It is very difficult to stay the same.
I love Japanese culture and tradition. That can be something what my great grand parents left me. Although Tokyo and Japan keeps changing, I would like to keep something alive even in modified conditions. Maybe that is one of the reasons why I’m writing this blog!
TOURIST SITE INFORMATION of MATSUCHIYAMA-SHODEN TEMPLE
There is not Nara-Chameshi restaurant any more but why don’t you make a visit at Matsuchiyama-shoden temple, whose origin can date back to 563?
Access: Very close to Imado jinja shrine of Fortune Kitty
Keep going on the road of right side of beautifully reconstructed building of Asakusa station of Tobu line for about ten minutes.
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