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Captured by Clams : ABUSAN & KAISEN @Koenji

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

Only ten minutes away from the bustling district of Shinjuku, KOENJI town calms you down as you come across local residents and just-moved-in students fresh from their hometowns. This is a lively area where small grocery stores and daily product shops line up on festive streets stretching radially from the station. You'll notice there are hundreds of small izakayas.

I was here to look for my favourite dish: SHELLFISH. Shellfish is definitely the king of Izakaya food which goes best with the taste of sake.

I went through the arcade of "Koenji 'Junjou' Pure-heart Street" and went past dozens of shops and restaurants. I was on the hunt for a specialty shellfish Izakaya but I couldn't find it. When I stopped walking and looked around carefully, I noticed a narrow alley around the corner of a shop.

It was a dead end passage where I could see shops' backdoors and randomly parked bikes. Then I found a standing sign and a 'Chochin' Japanese lantern beyond the bikes, where was the small front door of Izakaya "ABUSAN".

Abusan was such a tiny shack of only eight seats over the counter. So small that customers were pressed together shoulder to shoulder. The small interior was mostly taken up by a yard-long display case filled with a variety of clams.

Customers can order their favourite shellfish dishes from the menu, or just point at live clams in the case and ask how to cook them. I asked the master to pick the best clams for sashimi, then he selected four types of shellfish which have totally different tastes. I also ordered a huge clam to bake, which came to my table with hot steamed umami juice.

The small hall was filled with the steam of baked clams, aroma of boiled sake and lively chatting between the master and customers.

My heart was totally captured.

Another day, I was exploring another street looking for my taste in izakayas. My attention was caught by the sight of large water tanks set along the street. In each tank, there were dozens of shellfish. It was another specialty shellfish izakaya "KAISEN" (FYI, "Kai" means shellfish.)

My first dish at Kaisen was three types of baked clams. It was a totally unique experience for me. From left in the photo, pastel coloured 'Appa' Noble scallop, red foot 'Sudare' Grooved paphia, and white shell 'Sara' Northern great tellin. They are rarely seen in the market and I've never tried them before, but actually they were all very tasty.

My second dish, fresh oysters, was the special of the day. Branded oysters "Karen" from Konagai, Nagasaki Pref. were voted No.1 at the national contest among 2,000 brands from all over Japan. In Ariake Gulf, each seed was individually caged and nurtured. They were the silkiest and milkiest oysters that I've ever had.

Each time customers place an order, the staff go out of the entrance to get live clams from water tanks. It was a funny scene and it proved that every clam was absolutely fresh.

As a shellfish lover, visiting Koenji town and these two specialty izakayas was an exciting experience for me. Yet there are hundreds more to explore at Koenji. So why not peek in next door?

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