Village Yokocho: Really Japanese-uh

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Okonomiyaki

Since my trip to Japan last year, I’ve been trying to recreate the experience. I keep my eye out for Hello Kitty emblazoned items and T-shirts with nonsensical sayings, I hang out at Takashimaya admiring the gorgeous packaging (but never actually buying the super-expensive items), and I assume that whatever men are reading on the subway is pornography (haha, just kidding).

But I’ve had less luck finding food that lives up to the Tokyo version. It seems every time I walk into a typical sushi place, it’s run by Chinese people, which isn’t a bad thing but doesn’t exactly make for authentic Japanese food. This weekend, however, I finally found a place that was the real deal.

Village Yokocho seems to be just one of two places in New York that serves okonomiyaki (the other being Otafuku, which is take-out only). This popular dish is often referred to as “Japanese pizza” but to me is more like a Chinese scallion pancake or Korean pajeon. Standard okonomiyaki has cabbage and pork, but you can get all sorts of variations – kimchee, seafood with mayo, even cheese.

I had it twice In Japan, where you cook the pancakes yourself, like Korean barbecue – which, incidentally Village Yokocho also offers – mixing the batter and frying it on a grill on the table. This fun, do-it-yourself aspect is missing at the East Village eatery, but that’s all.

Walking into Village Yokocho – sandwiched between the Sunrise Mart and the bar, Angel’s Share – I felt like I had stepped into a yakitori-ya in Roppongi. Perhaps it was the cozy quarters, the lively atmosphere, or the fact that almost everyone who worked there seemed to actually be Japanese.

We got there at 7 and after a short wait were seated in the back at one of the large tables normally reserved for Korean barbecue. (Getting there fairly early is key if you don’t want to wait. When we left at 9, the line was out the door and down the cold and narrow staircase.)

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Eschewing the typical rolls, udons, and tempuras, we went for the unique stuff, what they were calling Japanese “tapas.” Among the many dishes we tried were deep fried baby sardines, pumpkin with ground beef, broiled salted clams, baked batter octopus balls, and tuna sashimi.

Everything was tasty except that the tuna sashimi came with this weird yam sauce. Upon ordering it, our waiter warned that we might think the dish strange, that women especially are turned off by the sauce. We had no idea what he meant and defiantly ordered the dish anyway. Then when we saw the sauce we knew what he meant.

White. Runny. Creamy. ‘Nuff said.

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The pieces de resistance were two kinds of okonomiyaki, one more traditional with meat, shrimp, and cabbage, which was quite good but came at the end, when I was already stuffed, and the other with scallion, ground chicken, cheese, and ketchup. It tasted like, as one of my dining companions so aptly put it, a Big Mac. I think it was the cheese and ketchup that did it.

My favorites were the stewed pumpkin with ground beef, the octopus balls (not actual body parts by the way, but mashed up octopus in batter), and the yakitori, grilled chicken parts on a stick and essential bar food in Japan which I never got to try. Plus the prices are reasonable, everything we ordered under $10 each.

Being in Village Yokocho made me miss Tokyo, which is ridiculous since I was there for less than a week, but now I know where to go to get my fix. Now if only I could find a pachinko hall.

Village Yokocho
8 Stuyvesant St (Cross Street: Third Avenue)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 598-3041

1 Comment so far

  1. Blaine Zuver (unregistered) on January 30th, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

    Reposting from last September –

    Try Kenko – Japanese truck stop food. Fried frog on a stick, grilled quail, bull penis, turkey testicles – nothing over $8, most things $3 or 4. On North side of St.Marks closer to 3rd.



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