A surprising taste of history in Tokyo.
Our reporter Seiji Nakazawa was detective dramas that people watch for power recently, so when he was in the Tachikawa district of Tokyo one evening to see a friend’s band live, the hum of cars on unfamiliar streets made him feel like he was in a police drama.
He hadn’t been to Tachikawa for a while, and since he was hungry for soba, Seiji decided to walk around looking for a place to eat before the band’s performance. Then an old man appeared before him and said:Hey, are you looking for something?“
Seiji looked up and saw that the man was wearing a chef’s uniform. It seemed like a chance meeting, so Seiji told him:I am looking for a soba restaurant“, and the chef replied, “Is not it the place you are looking for?“
Looking behind the man, Seiji could see that they were at a restaurant called Takaotei. As the restaurant was a bit far from the station, there was a car park in front of the restaurant which gave it a charming suburban feel in the heart of the city.
It looked like a great place to eat, so Seiji followed the man inside, feeling like a young punk recruited into a yakuza gang. Taking his place in the cozy restaurant, he waited with bated breath for the big boss to come out of the kitchen with blinds and instructions to commit unimaginable crimes.
However, no great chef ever came – instead, a chef showed up and introduced him to the restaurant with a menu.
Seiji has really been watching too many crime dramas lately, so he vowed to stop living the script in his head and enjoy his meal instead.
Browsing through the dishes on offer, Seiji saw a variety of soba options, with prices starting at 600 yen (US$4.31) and going up to 1,000 yen for curry udon, 1,100 yen for soba with duck meat and broth, and 1,600 yen for noodles with tempura.
One thing that stood out from the noodle options on the menu was the katsudon which after reading the fine print was actually served to…
▼ Tachikawa Police Interrogation Room
Blinking his eyes, Seiji felt like he was being pulled back into his imaginary crime drama, and instinctively got up and ran over to the chef to talk to him about it.
The chef’s name was Shingo Takahashi, and when Seiji breathlessly asked him to explain the story behind the katsudon, he calmly told our reporter that he was delivering it to the interrogation rooms at the Tachikawa Police Station.
Takahashi: “In the old days, the Keio store on the main road was the police station in Tachikawa. When I was getting delivery orders from there, I was asked to deliver it to “Interrogation Room No. xx”. The ground floor was for police and government affairs, the second floor for investigations, the third floor for public safety, and the fourth floor for communications.”
▼ Site of the former police headquarters today.
Seiji: What was it like delivering there?
Takahashi: “In the Investigation Department, there were five interrogation rooms on the second floor, so I took the order to the interrogation room with the number that corresponded to the number given to me over the phone. I was also told a number like “200” so when I got there I told the guard “this is number 200” and the guard paid me. There people use numbers when ordering because it would be bad if anyone knew their names.
Having before ate katsudon in the staff canteen at the Japanese police station in Fukuoka– yes, he’s a big fan of police dramas – Seiji learned that from the officers there interrogators are no longer allowed to eat katsudon. This is to protect the rights of the suspect, as buying a suspect katsudon may be “solicited to confess”.
▼ Yes, katsudon is so good that it has the power to get people to testify, false or otherwise.
Chef Takahashi said that he last delivered katsudon to police interrogation rooms more than 30 years ago, and Seiji concluded that at the time, the no-katsudon rules protecting suspects probably did not apply.
According to Takahashi, the taste of the katsudon he served back then had not changed for yearsso when you eat it, you’ll get a taste of history… and a taste of what the suspects ate in the interrogation rooms.
The pork in this katsudon bowl was thick and meaty, and the sauce was thick and cloudy, adding flavor to the rice underneath without causing the grains to split. The onion, egg and fried exterior came together beautifully and you could tell it was done by an experienced hand.
▼ Delicious katsudon.
The restaurant has been in business for 93 years, which proves how good it is, and now officially in the hands of third generation Takahashi, who helps keep everything together with his father.
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— 中澤星児(ロケットニュース24) (@sorekara_jona) November 4, 2022
So the next time you’re in Tachikawa and looking for a place to eat, you can stop by Takaotei for katsudon. It’s a dish so good it would warm the hearts of even the hardest criminals… and even would-be simpletons like Seiji.
Takaotei / 高尾亭
Address: Tokyo-to, Tachikawa-shi, Nishiki-cho 5-5-31
Open: 11:00-15:00, 17:00-20:00 (Mon-Sat and holidays)
Closed: Sundays, New Year’s holidays