Enjoy Japan’s finest breed of chicken, cooked just right in Ningyocho


Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on May 2009

Marie Wanibe

Marie Wanibe

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” That age-old question can probably be answered by someone at restaurant Tamahide—they’ve been dealing with chickens and eggs for 250 years.

This Ningyocho eatery specializes in oyakodon, the “parent and child” dish of simmered chicken, eggs and onion crowning a bowl of rice. Such comfort food is served in countless joints across the city, but what makes Tamahide’s so special is the meat. They use tokyo shamo—a long, lean and very delicious breed of chicken unique to Japan, with dark meat that’s almost beef-like in flavor and texture.

The best introduction to Tamahide is lunch. Don’t mind the long line snaking around the corner of the white stucco building. Hungry patrons start queuing before the opening time of 11:30am, but service is quick and efficient, and you won’t have to wait long. The cheapest lunch, a basic oyakodon, is only ¥800, and with dinner courses starting at ¥5,800, the locals know it’s a bargain.

I prefer the gokujo version (¥1,500), which includes extra slices of mune (breast meat), and momo (thigh), plus a sensuous extra-large raw egg yolk that, when burst, slithers and glides down between the moist grains of plump rice. The lunch also includes a jigger of chicken broth for what ails you, and a small saucer of homemade pickles.

Ningycho is one of Tokyo’s most traditional neighborhoods, and that atmosphere is reflected at Tamahide. You take off your shoes at the entrance. Pleasant young women in kimono and tabi take the orders and serve. The first floor is a large open tatami room with strategically placed screens and comfortable wells for your legs. During lunch, it’s not unusual to share a table.

The second floor has private rooms for large groups, and the third floor is an ingenious warren of curved-wall cubicles arranged so that you don’t see any other tables.

Dinners are mostly multi-dish shamo sukiyaki courses that can run as high as ¥15,000 per person, but now it’s possible to forego a course menu and order Tamahide’s special 250-year anniversary sukiyaki oyakodon (¥2,500). Served in a red lacquer bowl, this deluxe version of the lunchtime dish is generously layered with overlapping slices of succulent breast and thigh meat.

Several à la carte dishes are also available. One that shouldn’t be missed is the usuzukuri (¥1,500), thin slices of momo and geléed chicken served with spring onions and a dollop of fiery red pepper grated and ready to ignite the ponzu sauce. Another is the yawarakani tebasaki, a shamo wing simmered so that if you nudge it with your chopsticks, the meat separates effortlessly from the bone (¥1,300).

Tamahide would be a fantastic start or end point for an afternoon exploring Ningyocho.tic performances on Sundays; and cooking lessons every Tuesday afternoon.