Karaage is a Japanese cooking technique in which various foods, but most often chicken is deep fried. The process begins with the meat or vegetable being marinated in a mix of soy sauce, garlic, and/or ginger. Once saturated, it is then lightly coated with a mix of seasoned wheat flour or potato starch. The battered piece is then deep fried in a light oil. The preparation is very similar to the that of tempura.
My partner had visited once before. He came with a group of friends, so guaranteed the food was good and that there would be stuff that he would actually eat.
I knew I liked the atmosphere as soon as we walked in. Not only did my partner’s friend open the door to invite us in, but the rest of the staff were as excited to host us as well. This was a busy restaurant filled with happy people, flowing drinks, and the smell of delicious chicken.
I liked their quirky cartoon chicken logo. He dawned their awning and made an appearance on every menu’s front. He was a plucky character with a black and white hood and a red tie to match his red crown. He had with him other chicken, each dressed as comical. One was in a turban, another had flames shooting out of its mouth and an Elvis inspired hairstyle, one wore a leaf on his head, another cosplayed a tomato, and the last as a block of cheese. I think they were meant to represent different nationalities. India with the turban and lamp in hand; and Italian with the green, white and red bow tie drinking a glass of red wine?
The uplifting environment was the perfect setting for a night out. A night of dinner, drinking, and laughter. A true bar setting with smoking and loud talking, even on this Tuesday night. The place was decorated with large novelty sized beer bottles and filled with rowdy business men on the prowl. A few surrounded us. Tonight they were letting loose by yelling loudly and cheersing several rounds. One such man even had to be led out by his friend hand in hand.
Then there were the breaks in eating to engage in jovial shouting, done to celebrate the arrival of a new mug to drink out of. The staff would chant, the customers would cheer, then with wide smiles the one getting the drink would chug. Our friend offered us the option to have such a chant preformed for us, to encourage our drinking, but I was too embarrassed to and didn’t want to attract the extra attention as a foreigner. Though it was later offered again, so that I could film it, this I accepted and did. Check out my Instagram @magmei to see the video, it’s quite the experience, and especially enjoyable a few drinks in.
Your comfort and convenience was considered here. Our miniature booth had an outlet to charge your phones at, hangers and hooks to drape your coat on, and comfy cushiony seats for prolonged sitting. Even the washrooms was well stocked, all the hygiene essentials needed; including the usual mouthwash and tooth picks, and bandaids and female hygiene napkins as well. And thankfully there was a descent ventilation system in place to help clear the smoke from those who were smoking indoors. A commonplace sight at many restaurants in Japan, smoking in doors. Something Canada abolished many years ago. I wonder if employees get hazard pay in Japan, for having to breath in second hand smoke all day?
Positive terms are shouted out for ordering this, their largest mug of beer. A heavy stein, that required two hands to start. For men you are deemed handsome and manly, and for women beautiful and awesome inside and out. I was game.
The meal begins with a complimentary bowl of hard lettuce dressed in a sweet sesame oil vinaigrette. By itself there wasn’t much flavour, it was even on the plain side, but as a side with all the fried chicken to come, it was a great asset. It offered palette cleansing and allowed me to keep on eating.
Sweet potato fries, mentioned on the menu with honey mayonnaise, but we choose just to have it salted over the curry or a spicy seasoning. The fries were not the orange yam we anticipated, but regular potato ones dust with chives. Maybe there was confusion on the order? They were crispy on the outside and especially at the ends, and starchy and chewy in the middle. Once again, these too proved to be a helpful break from bites of fried chicken.
“Karaage”, Japanese fried chicken with your choice of parts: thigh with or without bone, gizzards, soft chicken bone, wing tip, neck. Or you can try a bit of each with the sampler pack of three. Not that any is needed, but available topping choices included an impressive ten. Some with leeks, others with tomato chilli powder, yuzu pepper, and even a peanut dressing, just to name a few. We let our friend host us, trusting in his judgment to bring back the best three. Given his proficiency in English he was able to return with a full order and to explain it all to us in detail. What parts each was and how they would taste. And then the sauces they came with for added flavour by discretion. Meat from the back of the neck, the thigh, and some with cartilage. As mentioned they already came heavily seasoned but if you should wish additional bottles of sauces were available for self use. Chili powder, a mild sweet soya sauce, a salt and pepper mix, and Japanese mayonnaise. I used the latter with fries and some over my battered chicken.
But if you didn’t want your chicken fried you can have it baked instead. Though not that any less oil would be used. This is called, “Honetsukidori”, baked chicken thigh with bone. We had the “hinadori”, baked “succulent” chicken which uses a younger bird; instead of the “oyadori”, a baked “tender”chicken that uses an older fowl. It was brought to our table whole, in bone, but we were given the option of having it cut into bite sized, sharable pieces. Our server did this at the bar with towel in one hand and kitchen scissors in the other. Like the fried chicken the baked too came with add ons for additional and unnecessary flavour. Black pepper paste, curry powder, cheese, chilli and tomato powder, and a super spicy powder. And once again we forfeited the use of any.
“Succulent” was the right term used for this chicken. (We were given the English menu.) This tender and dripping with juice chicken leg was peppery and loaded with a roasted garlic flavour. Our host offered us rice balls with this dish. To do it like the locals, you keep the chicken dripping and use it to dip rice or a rice ball into. As delicious as this sounded and as great as rice would have been with this dish, I couldn’t fit any more into my growing belly after the big beer and all the fried chicken before. Shame cause that sauce was amazing and it was now going to waste. I would have loved to bottle it up as a dressing for future meals. It was very greasy though, but the flavour was unreal.
Definitely need a side to break the oil overload of both the fried and baked chicken. As mentioned both our salad and the potato helped. But if you need more of a palate changer go for one of their many sides, with just as much variety. Edamame, sliced onion and tomato, potato salad, fried spaghetti, mixed or celery pickles, cream cheese as is, or cream cheese over toasted French bread with a maple dip. Just to name a few. And if you need a base with your chicken try the rice balls, curry and rice, ramen, or just some simple soup. But for something more filling look to their “oven-roasted” section. Under it was deep fried tofu, fluffy omelet, baked smoked cheese, ground sausage, and vegetarian steak with yam and tofu, etc. And finally, not that you would have room for it, but there is even dessert. A cooling sherbet or cold ice cream, and even a frozen cheese cake. The temperature choice made sense after all the hot fried foods and how warm the restaurant was kept.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Who doesn’t like fried chicken? It’s an internationally known and world wide appreciated food type. And this isn’t your colonel’s secret recipe chicken, if possible this was some of the fanciest fried chicken I have ever had, with a taste incomparable to any another. We left bellies full and smelling like fried chicken, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I will have to figure out what kind of oil they cool with. With all that we ate and all the oil we ingested, I am surprised that I don’t feel more weighed down and guilt ridden. In fact only minutes after finishing we stopping at a vending machine for miniature drinks. And if that isn’t a good enough reason to visit, “Gaburichicken” in Takadonobaba is also the favourite hang out of all the time attack race car drivers in Japan. Don’t deny your cravings.