A friend of my mom’s recommended a pub in Osaka for us to visit. It was Mejiya in Tennoji. He drew us a map and sent us a picture of the entrance so that we would be sure to find it. This turned out to be a very good thing because without them we would never have known that the pub even existed. We arrived around one o’clock in the afternoon. The room was dim and narrow with a dark wooden bar, a row of wooden tables, and s small cloud of cigarette smoke hanging in the air. There were patrons scattered along the bar, mostly older men, and everyone was drinking beer or sake and eating lunch. We sat at the near corner of the bar, just in front of a tray of tofu, cooking gently in a metal pan. The man behind the bar seemed surprised that we spoke no Japanese and had wandered into his place. He did not speak English, the menus posted on the wall were in Japanese and there were no pictures anywhere to be found. Fortunately the man sitting beside Alex was very friendly. Although he didn’t speak much English he helped us figure out what to order. The only thing we remembered that we had been told to order was the shumai, which we did, Alex ordered a beer and we settled in to see what would happen.
Most of the men had bowls of tofu in front of them, along with a few small plates with shumai and various fried offerings. We quickly ordered a bowl of tofu to share. The tofu was heated in water, gently drained and topped with a delicate dashi. A few slices of green onion and a small piece of yuzu zest perfumed the broth and accented the very delicate, silky tofu. The blend of tastes and textures in what appeared to be such a simple dish were amazing. The tofu gently breaking into pieces while still retaining some of it’s shape and texture beneath the rough, disposable chopsticks is a clear sense memory and a new benchmark for texture that will be with me from now on. The broth was extremely aromatic and the flavors were nicely balanced with the bright citrus flavors of the yuzu balancing the subtle sweetness of the dashi. It was Japanese comfort food of the highest order.
I was equally moved by the shumai we ate. The skins were made with dried bean curd skin—yuba. The texture of the yuba steamed pork dumplings was really amazing. The flavor of the pork seeped into the bean curd and the shumai became a unified whole. The first bite was scaldingly hot and we quickly learned patience, given a bit of time the dumplings were warm, and juicy, rich with the flavor of pork and minced onion. A dollop of spicy mustard and a dip into the soy sauce completed these incredibly tender porky packets.
We had only one bowl of the tofu and a couple of orders of the shumai. I could have eaten ten more of each. We had a few other items but those were the standouts. Thankfully we left before I could get out of control ordering more dishes and changing the experience from one of pleasure and lingering desire to one of gluttony and excess. I believe that this switch is something that has slowly come to fruition during the last few weeks for a variety of reasons. It’s a welcome change in my psyche. The emergence of new experiences and the recollection of memories associated with food are essential to the reception and subsequent success of any dish. In this instance of dining in a local pub, we had no expectations, just open minds and hungry bellies. We were extremely fortunate to walk away with incredible memories and new touchstones for our own cooking.