Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho, or Piss Alley, in Shinjuku, Tokyo, is a narrow series of pedestrian streets full of tiny izakayas (taverns). Having stayed in Shinjuku on my first visit to Tokyo, I had no idea this place existed – and less than 5 minutes walk from my hotel. Few of the izakayas have tables with most content to have patrons sit on stools along the bar, which serves as both a bar and an open kitchen. Even fewer of these places have doors. The first we visited had no door at all. The second improvised with a sheet of plastic to keep out the cold (this was early January). Each izakaya has its own menu, its own style, and its own personality. None are large enough to have their own restrooms so patrons use a public toilet tucked between buildings.

omoide yokocho

We were fortunate enough to visit with Yoko & Washi from UmamiMart. Believe me, it’s great to visit with Japanese food blogger (Yoko) and a certified shochu adviser (Washi). We wandered around taking in the sights before settling on a tiny yakitori place for our first stop.

1st izakaya

The main floor consisted of a bar with embedded grill and perhaps 6 stools. Upstairs there were 4 tables and about 16 stools. This sounds relatively large, but we had to move to let other patrons reach the table behind ours. I’m guessing the place was 8 or 9 feet wide at most, at least upstairs. It was here we discovered Katsu, an absolutely delicious imo shochu, which I’d return to time and time again throughout the trip. As usual with sweet potato shochues, Katsu went very well with grilled meats.

katsu imo shochu

As with any night out at an izakaya, and especially someplace like Omoide Yokocho, there is no reason to stay at a single place for very long. Therefore, we soon wandered back to another place that we’d passed earlier that had been absolutely packed. At first the chef attempted to turn us away, claiming he was out of skewers, but when he heard we’d come from the U.S. he asked us to sit down. He apologized, because many of his most popular items were out, but he’d see if he could put a meal together for us. Did he ever.

2nd izakaya

This former java programmer who took over his family’s business (they’ve been open for 65 years in the same location) marinates his skewers in a large pot of broth before tossing them on the grill, which is crusted with decades of crusty carbon from all that cooking. One of the treats of this dinner was drinking the broth itself with some yuzu pepper and chopper spring onions. This may have been the best meal we had in Tokyo despite the humble surroundings. The marinated skewers were unlike anything we’d had before. I expect I’ll return here each time I go back to Tokyo.

skewer shochu

The only shochu, unfortunately, was a korui (triple distilled) sugar cane shochu that tasted more like a cheap vodka than the rich, delicious flavor we are used to from the honkaku (single distilled) sweet potato shochus that go so well with grilled meats. I suppose no place can be perfect, but I’ll bring my own shochu next time I visit and perhaps convince the owner he should consider something with a more interesting flavor.

Sadly, the trains only run until a little after midnight so we did not have time to visit a 3rd izakaya, but that just means there will be more to explore for the first time next time we wander over to Omoide Yokocho from the hustle and bustle of Shinjuku Station.




One Response to “Omoide Yokocho”
  1. I like how everyone is smoking like a motherfucker in Tokyo.

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