Battered Tempura in the Big Black House

Tempura and sauce at Daikokuya in Tokyo

Trip Taken: 2007

Daikokuya translated literally means ‘Big Black House’. I have no idea what that kind of meaning there is behind the name, but I do know that this restaurant served the most expensive tempura meal I have ever had. They say that it is in this restaurant that you will be treated to a great tempura meal. I went here with my friend Adam and this is my account of that meal.

Before I even set foot in Japan, I had a few types of food I wanted to try during my time here. Sushi, ramen, okonomiyaki, and much more were on my list. Of course, I also wanted to try tempura. Tempura in Japan is more highly regarded here in Japan than in the US. By how much, I’m not sure but I would can’t imagine restaurants dedicated strictly to tempura in the US like they have in Japan.

In my guidebook, Daikokuya was listed in the area where our hostel was. We asked the front desk for directions to Daikokuya. The receptionist was happy to tell us where it was but also pointed a much cheaper, almost equally as good tempura restaurant in the same area. I felt that he was trying to steer us away from a tourist trap. I opted to stick with Daikokuya because of the guidebook mention, but in retrospect the advice “Do what the locals do.” is the best advice for a reason.

Daikokuya is just a little bit beyond the Asakusa temple and pretty easy to spot. There were quite a few people waiting and we joined them for about twenty minutes before our name was called.

The meal

Adam ordered the most expensive set meal while I ordered the one below it. 4200 yen and 3200 yen respectively. It was a vacation and I was convinced to give myself a few luxury splurges. Nine times out of ten, I will sleep on the floor in exchange for a gourmet meal.

Adam had about eight courses while I had about four. Many of the course included pickled vegetables, mushroom platters, tofu, and various other dishes. I think Adam had an extra pickled vegetable dish, a seafood soup, and a weird gelatin dish that was purple in color. We both didn’t speak a lick of Japanese, so it felt the waitress was yelling instructions on how to eat the food. There was a lot of gestures during our meal. The waitress was especially short with Adam because he had more courses than I did and his dishes just kept coming. The table next to us found it comical as well. It took a lot to hold in my laughter at this old, short Japanese waitress with gray hair that kept on lecturing my dining buddy.

The main tempura course came and I couldn’t wait to dig into it. The batter was lightly crisp and not a crunch like a fried chicken would be. There were mushrooms, shrimp, pumpkin, bell peppers, and other various vegetables. Adam’s meal seemed to have more tempura. I guess to make up the price difference.

It was a filling meal that ended with fresh fruit. What really struck me were the amazing grapes. I never had grapes so sweet before. The Japanese sure do know how to pick food. We left the restaurant full and slightly embarrassed. I’m not sure it was the mind-blowing meal I had expected but it definitely gave me a good starting point to what is considered good tempura.

Parting Words

Unless you have loads of money to burn or a tempura enthusiast, I would try a different tempura restaurant. While it does have of oodles of atmosphere and a very spirited wait staff, it is far more expensive than I would pay normally for a vacation meal. Next time, I would just stick to the hostel’s suggestion of the cheap alternative.

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About the Author

John is always trying to find his way back to the road. He has an affinity for Germany due to his three years studying German at Cal, and a year working as an intern in the Stuttgart area. He also likes chocolate cake and good cheese.