Book a seat at a Tokyo landmark since 1960 called Ippoh if you would like to work out what a fifth-generation tempura master can do with a pot of bubbling safflower oil. Tonight, I’ve brought two friends who’ve never seen the show, although I’ve been coming here for a decade. Masaru Seki transforms common ingredients—an egg yolk, shishitos, prawns—into deep-fried golden nuggets, as we watch from across the counter.
There’s a silent conversation underway, though Masaru-san seldom speaks. He’s watching us while we watch him.
Forty-five minutes in comes the unlikely finale. On the fluffy staff of life Into the pot goes a grilled cheese sandwich. A sweet and impossibly weightless and crackling wedge of umami comes out. It’s so good we laugh aloud.
It was only after ten days of eating my way through Tokyo that I noticed I hadn’t once sat at a correct table with acrylic and bar stools. Being served something delicious across a countertop, I balanced on a bar seat, instead.
As they embraced it long before the remainder folks, and they’ve inarguably perfected the shape, the Japanese may now not own counter dining. Emerged in 19th-century Osaka, mainly at casual everyday spots, is the counter/open-kitchen arrangement—often referred to as *kappo-*style dining.
A Day in Tokyo
Especially pragmatic is kappo today: Few restaurants have the square footage for tables and chairs and a separate kitchen within the land of capsule hotels and minivan-size apartments. Typically value more highly to put the cooks upfront and insight, behind a bar, even restaurateurs who can afford a Western-style architectural plan.
First, walk into any Tokyo restaurant and half the clientele will likely be eating alone as dining solo carries none of the stigma that it does within the U.S. Although (perhaps thankfully) not such a lot for groups, Counter seating is good for parties of 1 or two. Second, in Japan, cooking is about the method of the maximum amount because of the product. With all eyes on him, it becomes a performance deserving a correct stage for the chef. Even high-end places have little within the way of decor to distract from the most event, watching a chef work is central to enjoying the meal for the customer.
The experience isn’t purely visual, either. “There are meals that are meant to be listened to, not just seen, smelled, and tasted. At a tempura shop, the sizzle of oil telltales. At a counter, those sounds heighten your experience,” says a Tokyo-based chef and author named Yukari Sakamoto.
Straight from their welcoming shout of “Irasshaimase!,” the cooks are the main attraction.
In Japan, this interaction really may be a dialogue, whether or not neither of you speaks the identical language. As a sushi chef prepares your nigiri, sizing up your mouth and shaping the rice into an ideal bite, you’ll notice him glancing your way.
Dining as theater? this can be dining as a backstage pass. There’s a refreshing, almost disarming intimacy to all or any of this, which feels out of character yet somehow quintessentially Japanese, in a very culture known for its polish and where the “real” thing often seems hidden behind a scrim, perfectionism.