“Sukiyaki” may be a Kyu Sakamoto hit song in the West; but in Japan, sukiyaki is a dish of Japanese beef cooked with vegetables in a sweet-salty soy sauce, served with raw egg for dipping. There’s only one place to go to sample the best sukiyaki in Tokyo and that’s NIngyocho Imahan.
Imahan was established in 1895 as a Gyunabe (Sukiyaki) restaurant, specialises in Japanese black wagyu. Currently, Ningyocho Imahan serves sukiyaki すき焼, shabu-shabu しゃぶしゃぶ, and kaiseki, maintaining 12 restaurants, 10 meat shops, and 3 delicatessens, as well as a delivery service in Tokyo and its surrounding.
Ningyocho purchase their meat from all over Japan, selecting only the finest cattle for the season. They only use female cattle because they believe female cattle are softer and of better quality than male cattle. And unlike other wagyu specialty stores, they age their beef according to the stock. This is the experience and art that help to differentiate them from others.
The Charm of Sukiyaki すき焼
Sukiyaki became a part of Japanese cuisine towards the end of the Edo period in the 1860s and popularized during the subsequent Meiji period. There are various stories regarding the history of sukiyaki. The name “sukiyaki” comes from “suki” meaning spade, or even “sukimi” meaning thinly sliced meat, and “yaki” means grilled.
In the 1860s, western foreigners introduced new cooking styles as well as cows, milk, and eggs. Yokohama opened the first sukiyaki restaurant in 1862 with Kanto style sukiyaki which simmers the beef and vegetables in a stew of the sauce. In 1872, the Emperor celebrated the new year by eating meat. This popularized meat dishes among the Japanese people.
In its history and today, sukiyaki is a celebratory and communal meal shared with family and friends on special occasions. Sukiyaki is a nabemono, or Japanese hot pot, consisting of thinly sliced beef and vegetables cooked in soy sauce, sugar, and mirin in a shallow cast iron pot.
Appetiser Course 前菜
The appetiser course is feast for the eyes and features the season’s freshest ingredients.
Jew’s mallow and mountain yam mash, baby corn, shrimp
This is the one in the cocktail cup. Jew’s mallow tasted like a mint-balsam mix and is minced into the mountain yam and used as a dressing on the boiled baby corn and served a small prawn tail. Very pretty.
Somen noodles in jelly, okra, paprika, soy bonito soup, yuzu citron
If the first one is pretty, this one is prettier. Somen noodles, okra and all the other ingredients are expertly placed together bound together using the jelly. You get two pieces the size of mahjong tiles.
Ayu, miso with tade, sweet potato, eggplant, yanaka ginger
These were separate ingredients in the dish – I have no idea how the eggplant was cooked but it was not mushy but still very soft.
Roast beef nigiri sushi ローストビーフ握り寿司
The Hoshi Course came with a serving of roast beef nigiri sushi. Instead of calling it roasted, the external of the beef was just seared to lock in all the juices and flavour. The beef is almost raw inside. Nevertheless, the sushi was fantastic.
All course came with a single serve of sashimi consisting of two types of fish. It was only two regular pieces of sashimi further cut into halves so that it looked like it was more than ever. This is not the place for sashimi, so I shall not comment further.
Mini-shioyaki 50g steak 焚合
The Fuku Course came with a small little serving of grilled wagyu steak, just enough to whet your appetite. The steak simply melted in your mouth and needed nothing but a simple pinch of Himalayan salt.
For the uninitiated, it is really difficult to differentiate the different quality of wagyu beef. We ordered two different courses with different quality of beef – Fuku 月 (moon) Course with the high quality beef and Hoshi 星 (star) Course with top quality beef – so that we can compare the difference.
Japanese meals provide a complete balance as the vegetables are always paired with the beef of sukiyaki. Plus, all the vegetables are so high in fiber.
That first sizzle of the beef on the pan immediately brings anticipation to the meal and your first bite of that incredible beef. Kansai style first sears the beef and caramelizes it with the sugar crystal. That really brings out an intense, melt-in-your-mouth marbled beef experience
A beaten raw egg dip is served alongside the meal. Every bite of beef and vegetable is dipped into the egg like a sauce. After the first slice is cooked (you are given 2 slices for a total of 150g), the second slice and vegetables are then cooked. You can take your time eating. As you eat, the server will replenish your bowl with more meat and the vegetables.
If you are coming with a companion, you can order one of each grade to try. But when you are alone, I suggest that you try the top quality wagyu option if you have not tried it before. There are 3 pieces to an order of 150g. While the high quality wagyu is tasty and easier on your wallet, the top quality option will make this a meal to remember. But it could be very overwhelming, so I suggest that you share it among yourselves, around one piece each. Only when you compare, you will know the difference.
Rice Course お食事
The meal is completed with rice, pickles, and miso soup.
When I thought the meal was already over, my server came back with a bowl of eggs. The eggs were whisked and then cooked in the remaining sauce in the pan. Imagine the fluffiest egg mixed with sukiyaki sauce and all that wagyu beef fat – you can only finish one bowl, there’s no more.
And for dessert, a small crystal bowl of a cherry, a small slice of kiwi and orange topped with a clear jelly. The Japanese fruit growers have done a fantastic job, every bite was fantastic and memorable.
The service is impeccable in Imahan. My server gave me the best service – she cooked, explained, charged my phone, covered my bag, took my photo, waited patiently for me to take my photos. And she did everything with a smile. She was also a little bit OCD, moving each plate back to its original location after I pull them closer to me one by one for photos.
Ningyocho Imahan (Yurakucho) 人形町今半 有楽町店
〒100-0006 Tokyo, Chiyoda City, Yūrakuchō, 1 Chome−12−1
〒100-0006 東京都千代田区有楽町1-12-1 新有楽町ビル地下1F
Tel : (03)3216-4701
Date Visited : Jul 2017