Dachibin - Okinawan ****
Address - Tokyo-to, Suginami-ku, Koenji Kita 3-2-13
Opening hours - Every day from 17:00 to 5:00
Telephone - 03-3337-1352 or 03-3339-1565
Menu - In Japanese
Credit Cards - No
Something like ten years ago I spent ten days in Okinawa with some friends and was amazed to see how different it was from Japan. The climate is tropical, but that wasn't it. What I couldn't believe was that, although nominally part of Japan, in reality the place was a state within a state: no Japanese banks, no Japanese beer brands, no Japanese newspapers, nothing of what I was used to. I remember one day I asked for the Asahi Shinbun and the man at the kiosk looked at me as if I had asked for a dose of heroin. The most common type of convenience store was Spar, which I believe is a German chain, the only ice cream available was a local one called Blue Seal. Decades of American presence had also left their mark: A & W root beer, Mexican tacos and drive-in banks were common. A truly unusual and pleasant place, even with all its problems (airbases, choppers overhead, pollution ...).
Dachibin is an Okinawan Izakaya in Koenji, and in that sense it's different from other Okinawan venues, which are usually just small restaurants, but it's otherwise a good way to approach the culture of the Ryukyu Islands, if you have never been there. Dark, noisy, busy and cheerful, its food and drinks include, goya champuru, root beer, Blue Seal ice cream, soki soba, shikuwasa ,awamori and anything else typical of Okinawa. Many of these names will be new to many of you, but that's just a good reason to pay Dachibin a visit. If you don't read Japanese, bring a Japanese friend along: with all this exotic names, ordering wouldn't be simple even if you did.
The interior is nice, but not all that original: it's just that of a traditional Yakitori joint, with lots of sturdy wooden panels and paper lanterns. The staff, dressed in picturesque traditional Ryukyu costumes, are polite and efficient but informal and warm as it's the norm in an Izakaya.Also, since they are Okinawan, they sometimes take their time with your orders.
Also as at a Yakitori joint, you cannot book and the place is always packed with young folk having fun, so you will have to take your chances and hope you will get a seat.
If you do, make yourself at home, order a mug of Orion beeer, and read what's on offer. Closer to the Chinese than to the Japanese, Okinawan cuisine is as nice as it's interesting, and if you read Japanese you will have fun browsing the menu : there's soki soba, the old Okinawan mainstay, peanut tofu, pickled pig ears, fried garlic, fried rice with goya (an Okinawan bitter cucumber-like thing), five-year-old awamori liquor and much more. One last thing: you can stay only three hours, but that's normally enough: the incessant din of Izakayas makes me want to go after just two anyway.
web - www.dachibin.com