Review: Daikonman, Shimokitazawa / だいこんまん、下北沢

Okonomiyaki being fried on the griddle along the counter
Okonomiyaki being fried on the griddle along the counter

You may have noticed that I am no longer in London. Yet, location aside, my mission remains the same: find the best eateries around! And so…

Konnichiwa, Tokyo! Here I come!

I’ve been manically busy the past week in my quest to find an apartment. Many Daiwa Scholars (the scholarship programme I’m on) recommended Shimokitazawa as an area. It’s a bit like a mini-Harajuku to the west of Tokyo, popular with young people, full of trendy stores and restaurants, and with a vibrant nightlife scene. Given that I’m not much of a party person, I was definitely looking to live a little further away but within reasonable access – how can I resist the allure of an area of bounteous restaurants?

After a long day of viewing flats, I was very hungry and so was my poor Japanese ‘buddy’, who’d very kindly volunteered to assist me. We walked a few paces and she pointed at Daikonman. “Do you like okonomiyaki?”

Now, I love okonimiyaki but that’s not really because of the taste. Yes, they can be pretty good – they’re a form of Japanese pancake with cabbage and sometimes noodles, and meat or seafood or both thrown in. They’re topped with a sweet brown sauce, mayonnaise, and bonito flakes. It’s not a sophisticated dish. But that’s precisely it’s charm.

I love it because it is SO messy that it couldn’t be more different from the beautifully presented and carefully crafted dishes that are usually associated with Japanese cuisine. I mean, it looks like this:

My pork and prawn okonomiyaki
My pork and prawn okonomiyaki – so much gooey mess. YES!

Daikonman is an unusual place. For starters, I didn’t see any daikon (giant white radish) on the menu so don’t be fooled by its name. Secondly, I did see avocado on the menu, which I have not seen in any other okonomiyaki restaurant. I asked the chef about it and he simply said he thought it would taste delicious. Thirdly, the restaurant serves both Osaka-style (mixed ingredients) and Hiroshima-style (layered ingredients with noodles), which is very rare – most places specialise in one or the other. Plus Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is rare outside of Hiroshima, which is very sad as it’s my favourite.

Naturally, I ordered myself a pork and prawn Hiroshima-style and watched as it was layered up on the griddle that ran the length of the counter in front of me. The noodles were fried separately. Finally an egg was cracked onto the griddle to form a thin base onto which the rest of the ingredients are loaded. By this time, the smells were sending my salivary glands into overdrive and I couldn’t wait to tuck in.

Okonomiyaki can be a little bit heavy – fried pancake stodge with sweet sauce and mayonnaise is never going to be a delicate affair. But Daikonman have got it sussed – the perfect amount of ingredients to batter, a firm base, not too much sauce, tasty noodles. And all this for about 1000 yen. Who’s going to argue with that? We also had a tofu salad on the side with a light soy-sesame dressing. Salad dressings are genuinely one of the best things about Japan. I don’t joke when I say that you should fill your suitcase with it!

Tofu salad
Tofu salad

The guys in Daikonman were pretty friendly, allowing me to take photos and seeming pleased at my attempts to tell them how tasty it was in Japanese. It’s definitely worth a visit, even if you think okonmiyaki isn’t your thing. Be warned though – you will smell like okonomiyaki for the rest of the day.

I’ll be trying the avocado one and reporting back  – watch this space.

Where: 2-14-3 KitazawaSetagaya. Walk straight down the main shopping street on the south side of Shimokitazawa station.

Author: Phoebe Amoroso

Phoebe Amoroso is a Tokyo-based reporter, multimedia journalist and storyteller. Hailing from the UK, she moved to Japan in 2014 and has since been shouting about the country to all who will listen. She divides her time between covering breaking news and producing feature stories for TV; writing about everything from business and tech to food and travel; and guiding hungry visitors who want to sample the best of Japanese cuisine. When not working and/or eating, she can often be found running up a mountain or cycling by the sea.

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