Sunday, February 2, 2014

At My Uncle Shohei's Sake Dojo

With one-man sake dojo proprietor, suppon master, ramen master, and tampopo star Shohei Matsumoto. Background picture is his family's sake brewery in Kyoto.

The  night I arrived in Yokohama my friend surprised me by taking me straight to Shohei Matsumoto's izakaya or, more appropriately, "sake dojo." He knew I'm a big fan of Tampopo, and Matsumoto was the inspiration for the Shohei character in that ramen western made by the late Juzo Itami, who was an avid patron of Matsumoto's place.

Shohei's family has been sake brewers in Kyoto for centuries so, of course, Matsumoto is the house sake. We drank two big bottles of special Matsumoto sake, a one year-old and a fresh unpasteurized release. Best cure for jet lag! The two tasted different but both showed good depth and finish. I thought the fresh version would also be great served warm.

Shohei operates his sake dojo all by himself as there's no space for staff! The place is smaller than a typical American garage. The L-shaped counter-seating and two cramped tables could fit at the most a dozen Asian-sized clients.

Ah, Shohei's set of small plates, a sumptuous treat for a hungry traveler and, of course, perfect with the sake. Slices of karasumi--cured roe like botargo. Preserved seaweed. Suppon (fresh-water turtle) eggs and liver. Fresh ika livers. Fatty kamo (duck) breast. Wow, great start!

Best saba sashimi I've ever had. Tender, delicate, and sweet. With Champagne or sake, great drinking food.

Shohei's specialty, suppon. First up is the karaage. In the film Tampopo, that was actually him making quick work of the suppon with the knife. Crunchy, gelatinous, mild flavors marry well with the sake.

Suppon soup. I'm starting to feel warm now. Jet lag is gone or maybe just forgotten. A bit unctuous, rich and deeply flavored. I can't think of anything else to pair this with but sake.

Japanese drink culture is filled with fascinating flavor pairings. Here, tangy concentrated ume (plum) paste with a sip of sake. Balances like yin and yang or heaven and hell, incendiary on the palate.

More suppon. This is like congee, rice cooked with the broth and bits of suppon meat. Comfort food. Delicious! I'm getting really full, though.

Finally, Shohei's legendary chicken ramen, prepared with chicken and fish broth, the same one the shohei character in the film Tampopo prepared. Pure, clean flavors, without any fatty pork taste. I feel so lucky to slurp this.

One thing's for sure, Shohei has happy clients every night! We stayed there till around midnight closing time. I haven't slept for 24 hours. I hope to be back.

Shohei Matsumoto's Sake Dojo
Somewhere in Yokohama-shi

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