&: Chukadon

It’s a sign of confidence that this bowl does not reveal to quick inspection that it contains half of a hardboiled egg and a slice of exquisitely soft chashu. There are only vegetables, glowing with the perfect amount of potato starch. It was good. It was surprisingly good.

I haven't eaten chukadon for years. The last time was when I still had a job and it would appear sometimes in the company cafeteria. It was fancier but less colorful. It didn't have a hidden slice of chashu, either.

It is said that chukadon was invented not too far from where I’m writing this. It was created at a shop in Asakusa that is more famous for a style of soy sauce ramen. It was probably in the Taisho or early Showa. I'm sure the shop where I ate this chukadon has its fair share of obscure innovations attributed to it. Most Chinese restaurants in the area do.

The shop where I ate that chukadon is not far from Yanaka Ginza, a shopping street in the Yanesen neighborhood that is famous for its attractive gentrification. There are no kissaten left there, as far as I can tell, but mostly shops selling tat and cat-related pastries. The last bath house was turned into an art gallery. It’s nice to walk through, though.

Yanaka Ginza’s gentrification should have been visited on many other traditional arcades around East Tokyo. It could have saved Irohakai, which, when every vital store had closed, had its roof ripped off and cars run through it. The bath house on Joyful Minowa is still operating, but it’s more likely to be turned into an apartment block or a Maruetsu Petit than an art gallery.

The Chinese restaurant where I ate my chukadon is closer to Yanaka Cemetery than the shopping street. When I ate there on a quiet weekday, there were three other customers. They ordered ramen. The TV was playing the noon singing competition (I don’t know the name of it, but it’s the one where amateur singers get the chance to perform for a minute or so, then have their performance judged, with a sequence of bells letting them know their score). The married couple that run it are elderly. The shop will likely close soon after one of them passes away or becomes unable to work. It’s like many businesses in East Tokyo.

The indigenization of Chinese cuisine in Japan is interesting, although I have nothing original to say about it. Chukadon is not a foreign food, exactly, even though it was invented at a shop run by people originally from Guangdong. Nobody would say that chukadon was Chinese. But, then again, nobody would say chop suey was Chinese, would they? They were probably both invented by people from Taishan, if I had to bet money on it. But, like I said, I have nothing interesting to say about this. It is worth mentioning that unlike the chop suey Chinese shops I grew up, the people running a restaurant selling chukadon are very unlikely to be ethnically Chinese—and if they are, their connections to the Motherland are limited. The same is true here. The couple running it are both originally from the Northeast. They both came to Tokyo in the 1960s.

I left the restaurant and walked back home through Uguisudani (I believe the bridge from Ueno Sakuragi to Negishi and Uguisudani is called Kaneiji Rikkyo Bridge, if you want to be specific).

Like all red light districts in Japan, wherever you go, Uguisudani is home to a few great Chinese restaurants. Here, unlike the one where I ate my chukadon, they are run by people from the Motherland, usually with a menu—except for the lunch specials—only in Chinese. They reflect the backgrounds of the Chinese women that work in the sex industry.

In Uguisudani, there is a shop that sells daroumian. I was too full to eat there, but I detoured out of my way to walk by and make sure that it was still in business.

I noticed that a Vietnamese grocery store had opened up nearby.