Sunday, September 07, 2008

Monja at the Ginza

Flashback to 1996.

You know how you sometimes get flashes of nostalgia?
I had just picked up my Japanese dictionary when out popped a photograph which I had all but forgotten about.
It was a group picture taken in 1996 at the Dai-ichi Ginza Hotel in Tokyo.
Well, this picture sure brought back some memories.

We were the official delegation sent by the Singapore government's then Trade Development Board (TDB) to showcase Singapore at the Japan Data Show, a major Japanese IT convention.

I was there to present a video conferencing system using PCs over the ISDN telephone connection. (The internet was too slow at that time to do real video conferencing)

There were 4 delegates, Raphael & Thomas (centre) and Winston (at right) accompanied by Karen Tan, the TDB officer. The gentlemen with the ribbons on their lapels were the commercial secretaries from the Singapore Embassy in Tokyo.

For most of us in the group, it was either the 1st or 2nd time in Tokyo. It was only my 2nd visit and at that time I could hardly manage more than a few simple phrases in Japanese. So imagine us trying to sell technical products in a country where the people hardly spoke English! Thank goodness we were assigned interpreters for the trade show.

The Japanese are very strict time keepers and the Data Show ended promptly each day at 5. This meant we actually had a lot of time visiting places in Tokyo after the show. One of the places we went to was the Ginza, where we had a most unusual dining experience.

Winston, who is an architect, was most interested in those pencil thin buildings all along the Ginza. Back in 1996, real estate in Ginza was priceless and every inch of space was utilised. This resulted in buildings hardly more than 15 to 20 feet across in width!

Curiosity led us up to some of these slim buildings, which we realised were not used only for offices but had boutiques, restaurants, pubs, bars, banks as well as apartments.

At one particular building, we were welcomed at the door somewhere on the 6th floor.
It turned out to be some sort of restaurant but none of us knew what kind of restaurant it was!
The staff did not speak English, none in our group of five could read the menu, there was no plastic food showcase to point at, so we all just tried our hilarious best.

Turned out that the restuarant specialised in, and served only MONJA.
What in the world is Monja??! Up to then, even we didn't know.
Monja as we slowly found out is a very fun food and should be eaten in groups.
It's the Tokyo version of Okonomiyaki ! (Get it now?). Well, sort of anyway.
Remember, this was when even okonomiyaki was still an unknown entity in Singapore, not like it is nowadays. But whereas, okonomiyaki is served more like a pizza or pancake, monjayaki certainly is not!

It's a 'what ever you wish, what ever way you want it' dish that you cook yourself on a hot plate griddle set in the table. You are given the basic ingredients, batter, fish, meat, lots of cabbage, other vegetables, and whatever else you want.
Mix it all up, pour in onto the hot plate, it let cook till a bit burnt and then using really tiny tiny spatulas cut off bits and eat straight off the griddle! A dash of mirin or soy sauce, or even mayonnaise, adds to the flavour.

There's no right or wrong way with Monjayaki. But it can be really delicious.
Best eaten with good company and beer.
Here's how it looks like.......
If you are ever in Tokyo, you must try this. Just remember to tell them you want to try real Tokyo monjayaki and not okonomiyaki which is actually from Osaka.

Ja neh.

No comments:

Post a Comment