If you love food, there’s perhaps no place better than Tokyo. Restaurants abound at every turn, and the international flavor of the metropolis means that, wherever you’re from, chances are you’ll find a taste of home nearby. Unless, like me, you’re from Alabama—authentic Southern food is one cuisine not easily obtained. Thankfully, we have Mississippi and Georgia natives LaTonya and David Whitaker to make sure those of us who hail from the Deep South can still get our fix.
The Whitakers have become a mainstay on the Tokyo food scene over the past decade thanks to their food service, Taste the Love (www.tastethelove.biz), which provides catering and cooking classes. LaTonya has even appeared on NHK, Nihon TV, and Fuji TV to introduce the nation to soul food. When Metropolis last talked to the Whitakers on the Metropolis On Air podcast, plans were in the works to make this great food available to everyone. At last, that time has come, with the opening of Soul Food House @ 148 in Azabu Juban.
Truth be told, I’ve been waiting for Soul Food House to open since I met the Whitakers. Their menu is like a walk through my childhood, and LaTonya and David can cook circles around anyone (sorry, Grandma). But what struck me more than the array of comfort foods was the warm atmosphere. Being around the husband-and-wife duo is like being back home. The bottles of Crystal hot sauce and Frank’s Red Hot on the counter helped, too.
Had I started off with anything other than the mac ‘n’ cheese, I’d have lost cred points with my friends back in Alabama. What was set in front of me wasn’t just any mac ‘n’ cheese, this was straight off the table of a Southern home, with large elbow macaroni, a firm and substantial consistency, and gobs of real cheese. It came in a Southern-sized portion—and all for just ¥780.
Next, I had my eye on the pulled pork, but seeing as Soul Food House’s clientele is 60 percent Japanese and 40 percent foreign—many of whom aren’t Southerners—I restrained myself so as to find out what the most popular menu items are. LaTonya pointed out the blackened salmon and waffle (¥1,780), Southern-fried catfish (¥2,080), and blackened shrimp tacos, which are served in a warm tortilla topped with avocado-honey-lime coleslaw (one for ¥700, two for ¥1,200, and three for ¥1,800).
Other favorites include the chicken and waffle topped with maple syrup (¥1,480) and the spicy gumbo (¥1,280), a combination of dark roux, rice, chicken, andouille sausage, and a crab-based stock. The mix of traditional Southern and soul food with Creole and Cajun—and even a smidgen of Tex-Mex—means there’s something on the menu for everyone. Vegans and vegetarians are also well-catered to, with dishes like the eggplant avocado sliders (small sandwiches) and spicy Buffalo cauliflower sliders (one for ¥700, two for ¥1,200, and three for ¥1,800).
One of the interesting challenges for the Whitakers is introducing Japanese patrons to the spiciness of Creole and Cajun food. If you’re from Louisiana, you might say, “Bring it on!” But if you’re not, a little moderation may be in order. At Soul Food House, you can customize the spice levels of the jambalaya, quesadillas, or any of the blackened dishes to your liking when ordering.
OK, back to pulled pork. This falls into the category of staple foods in the South, and something you’re not often going to find prepared properly in Tokyo. Soul Food House knows their way around a smoker, though, and the result is delectable. The pulled pork sliders, with their South Carolina-style BBQ sauce, were little bites of heaven. Wild horses couldn’t drag me away. If you’re having a first taste of the South, I recommend you start here.
To wash it all down authentically, go off-menu and ask them to make you some Southern-style sweet tea. If you prefer an alcoholic quencher, go for a taste of New Orleans with the passion fruit-and-bourbon Hurricane (¥900) or LaTonya’s original creation, Sri Lankan Rum Punch (¥900).
The upcoming holidays are a great time to visit as they have special menus planned for Thanksgiving (November 26) and Christmas (both December 24 and 25). They also have open-mic night every Thursday, so if you want to sing, tell jokes, or whatever … head on over!
In the end, it’s the sum of all the parts—catfish, BBQ, cornbread, gumbo, the coziness of a Southern home—that make Soul Food House a must-visit. You’ll even find Jonas, the Whitakers’ adorable little boy, entertaining guests and giving hugs—just like his mama! “When he’s not here, it’s a different atmosphere. He completes it,” says LaTonya. And it’s true.
Hospitality is the cornerstone of Southern culture, and Soul Food House is overflowing with it.
Soul Food House. Open Sun 11am-3pm, Wed-Sat 5-11pm; closed Mon-Tue. 6F Patio Azabu-Juban, 2-8-10 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku. Nearest station: Azabu-Jūban. Tel: 03-5765-2148. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. http://soulfoodhouse.com.