Piss Alley

I’m back in Tokyo and ready to explore Shinjuku. I head to a place on my list known colloquially as Piss Alley, so-called because people used to relieve themselves outside the cramped stalls lining the alley. The piss is gone (I think!), but the izakaya cramped in the narrow space remain. Skewers sizzle on the grills while salarymen and foreigners alike chatter and laugh at crowded bars. The air is thick with smoke from smouldering charcoal and cigarettes, obscuring the background clean Tokyo; a secluded, enchanting world. Locals and tourists, shoulder to shoulder, shuffle slowly past each other. the vendors, knowing their prospective customers, have signboards and menus in English, yet the prices are somehow less gouging than those at Yurakucho.

There are plenty of things to eat, but after walking up and down the alley, I settled on a stall selling vegetarian soba. People sat at a rectangular bar, with a small crowd standing patiently behind, waiting to assume a seat when someone got up.

The rest of their bowls were some combination of warm soba noodles with half- boiled egg and fried ingredients, usually vegetable tempura. When it was my turn to order, I decided to go with the cold soba option, the Hiyashi Ten-Tama Soba (420 yen), which came with vegetable tempura and a half-boiled egg. The gravy pools at the bottom, away from the veg tempura on top so the batter doesn’t get soggy. The runny soft-boiled egg, when burst, adds a light, slippery texture to the noodles. There’s also a bit of wasabi at the side to add a bit of sharpness. This cold version is a refreshing alternative to rest of the yakitori available in the alley. And at 420 yen, it is really worth it for a good bowl of tempura soba.

Of course, I was still going to check out the yakitori in the alley. I hunted for a good deal, and came across a place where you could get a set of 5 skewers for 500 yen. Their English menu made it very easy to order. The Sapporo draft was also cheap at 450 yen. The skewers were definitely not made with the same finesse as the ones at Yakitori Tarokichi, but in this smoky world, I was happy with my beer and barbecue.

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