I recently discovered an amazing kushikatsu shop in Juuso (十三) in Osaka. The name of the shop is 珍寿 (chinjyuu) , and the owner has been working kushikatsu for 55 years. He started when he was 17 years-old, right out of junior high school and he never went to high school. He later met his wife, and they have been making kushikatsu ever since.The current shop is extremely small. I counted eight or nine chairs around an extremely small counter. Very homey. Smoking and eating kushikatsu for 55 years… He even lived through the war… I think this guy may be immortal!
He proudly told us that in his day, you had to live with the kushikatsu master you were learning under. He would wake up, clean the shop, cook some kushikatsu, clean up again, and sleep at night, all in the same building. He has been working in his current place in Juuso for about 8 years, and before that he worked in various places around Osaka, including the Hankyu Department Store. He says that most all of the people making kushikatsu at the restaurants in Hankyu were his students (弟子) at one point.
You may notice that he is wearing a beret. He showed us an old black and white picture of himself in a cooking studio wearing the beret as well. He says it’s his trademark and he wears it because he is making “art food.” The couple has been featured on television countless times.
He was quick to point out that his kushikatsu is cooking (料理), unlike the kushikatsu in other places such as Shinsekai, where it is considered just a side dish (おかず). He told us that in Juuso you can tell which shops are cooking shops (料理) and which just serve side dishes (おかず) by the material used for the curtain (のれん) hanging out in front of the shop. The cooking shops have hemp curtains, and the others have cotton curtains. The cooking shops, like his, are much more expensive, but have higher quality food. Sure enough, his stuff was delicious!
When you enter this shop, you don’t order anything except a drink. This can be a little tricky because the grandmother who takes the orders is extremely forgetful… We ordered the same drinks a few times. It was funny. Once you sit down the couple starts cooking your kushikatsu one by one in a predetermined order. They place them on your dish as they are done. When you’re full, you tell them to stop, and you pay for what you’ve eaten. They say that if you come on an empty stomach, you can easily do a full round.
The sauce that the skewer (the kushi) is pointing to as they set down your food indicates which sauce you are supposed to use with which kushikatsu. The server was quick to point out that two of the sauces are blends of more than 20 different flavors. Even the salt uses 5 different types of salt.
For dessert we had ice cream kushikatsu with strawberries inside. It was amazing. Imagine a strawberry on a skewer, covered in ice cream, and then covered again by the breaded fry stuff that is on kushikatsu. You have to bite into it quickly, or you’ll burn your tongue on the hot oil before the ice cream has a chance to cool the outside. Also, if you wait too long, the ice cream on the inside will melt! It was delicious. So if you’ve never experienced one of Japan’s tastiest treats, give kushikatsu a try.
Story by Harvey Beasley
From J SELECT Magazine, June 2008