I can’t see a thing.
There’s clouds of smoke billowing in every direction. People rushing by me with growling bellies or expensive cameras; and everywhere I turn I smell the essence of Japan.
It’s night time in Tokyo Omoide Yokocho (more commonly known as Piss Alley or Memory Lane), and the place is starting to fill. Every shop is wafting a different delicious smell from their open BBQ’s down the narrow and crowded alley that’s usually filled with locals and tourists from every country. It has its roots in the black market which sprang up in post-war Japan in the late 1940s. It was more famously known as Piss Alley, probably as back in the old days at makeshift black market tent bars, there were no proper toilets, and drunken people just pissed around.
While the entire place actually burnt down in 1999 and was remade into the alley of today, all the decor and the general vibe was deliberately made to feel authentic to the post-war era. I think this would be an awesome setting for a Kung Fu movie of sorts. There’s just something about it; from the old looking decor, the crazy amount of smoke coming from the open flames, the shoulder-to-shoulder people sitting on tiny chairs in tiny restaurants, the lights, the sounds, the smells. Oh god, the smells.
It's chaos. But i love it.
在日本旅行时，我都会去居酒屋喝杯小酒吃串烧，感受一下日本的居酒屋悠哉气氛。沿着东京新宿站西口陆桥，与高楼大厦形成对比，充满昭和复古氛围的长屋，就是Omoide Yokocho （回忆横丁）。横丁在日语里是胡同、小巷的意思，思い出横丁 翻译过来就是“充满回忆的小路”，是不是光听名字就有一种很文艺很浪漫的感觉呢？然而这里之所以出名倒不是文艺，恰恰相反，是因为在这里可以体验到繁华东京最接地气的市井美食。从远处看也非常醒目的个性招牌，是这里的特色之一。回忆横丁都是满满居酒屋店家，共有80几间的餐厅。每家都是小小的，人们肩并肩地坐在吧枱前。当中有17间是串烧店，烟雾弥漫，非常热闹。虽然环境简陋但是价格相对外面的居酒屋要便宜许多，可以算是迷你版和低配版的深夜食堂了。
Impossible to find, this alley is dark, dank, borderline creepy and absolutely fabulous. Just steps away from the bright neon lights and the bustling Shinjuku, Piss Alley is an oddly quiet place with virtually no sign of hustle and bustle. The only thing you find down this alley are bars. Lots of bars. Very, very small bars. The bars seemed to be almost stacked on top of each other with what seemed like 2 feet of alley space. Each bar has only 4-6 stools and when someone in the back wanted to get out of the restaurant, all the other people sitting had to stand up and scoot in.
It makes for a great experience. Pull up an empty chair in any of the restaurants and you’ll instantly be greeted by a cheerful Japanese person more than happy to supply you with a hearty meal and a tall drink. Once you’ve bathed in the experience for a while, pull out your camera and start documenting the experience.
The lights, the lanterns, the colours – the Piss Alley is a cultural visual assault on the senses that’s nothing like how the rest of Tokyo looks like today.
The Piss Alley is actually a Yakitori haven. The beautiful aroma of fire roasting yakitori skewers filled the air in the tiny yakitori-ya restaurant like a smoking meat sauna.
The menu was simple, and they even had an English version (which really helped in the ordering process). You could either order each stick of yakitori a la carte, or the special mixed plate.
I ordered two special mixed plates, one with sauce and one dry version. The mix of chicken and pork were cooked fresh and served immediately. The mixed skewers of meat and vegetables were seared over flames, and the plate was then covered in a thick sauce which was like a sweet and tangy teriyaki sauce.
Each stick of meat looked beautiful, and I couldn’t wait to dig in. The dry plate of yakitori was the same mixture of meat skewers, but instead of being glazed in sauce, each skewer was just salted and dry seasoned (though I think it may have been pre-marinated in the first place). Again, each skewer of meat was nicely grilled and roasted over a high flame for a slight char on the exterior.
What I really loved about the yakitori that I ate on Piss Alley was that it was scorched over a hot flame so it had some wonderful crunch and charred flavor to it, yet at the same time it was only cooked until just done, and not a second longer, keeping the meat juicy.
Dining at Piss Alley is not for everyone. If you like perfectly clean and quiet restaurants, formal, polite service, and non-smoking establishments, you’ll be out of luck here. This is where you come to experience izakaya dining at its most raucous and informal. This is an evening or nighttime experience. Squeeze yourself into a tiny, smoky, counter seating-only bar with years of accumulated soot and grease on its walls. Order a beer and some grilled meat skewers, and talk to the folks next to you. It’ll be a night to remember.