All words: Riley Croghan
All photos: Stephanie Breijo
I miss Japan every day. I miss the sprawling future-cities, the KFC santas, the children who gawked in terrified awe at my height on the subway. More than anything, though, I miss the food. The traditional stuff, sure, though you can get a decent sashimi or tonkatsu at a few dozen different places in DC. What I really miss is the street food.
One way that Japan can be understood is as a machine that hungrily inhales Western ideas, churns them through the cultural equivalent of a bad google translation, and spits out a product that is a bit weirder, a lot better, and thoroughly Japanese. Brunch—which was only a nascent fad here when I last visited Japan—might still be working its way through the assimilation machine in Japan, but I’d bet good money that what comes out the other end will look exactly like the brunch course currently being offered upstairs at Daikaya.
My brunch partner/food soul mate Stephanie and I were invited this weekend to come sample the brunch menu being offered at the upstairs Izakaya portion of the restaurant. The current menu is divided about evenly: one half unique variations on traditional brunch fare, one half the sort of modern Japanese street food you can find on every corner in Japan but is painfully lacking in DC.
So there is, of course, the traditional brunch trinity: a bloody, a mimosa, a benedict. Daikaya’s Bloody Mari is a crazy, brown, brothy concoction made with a base of hondashi, a seafood stock that, together with a dash of salt makes the drink taste for all the world like a boozed up (and delicious) shio ramen broth. The taste is significantly removed from what you’d expect in a traditional bloody, but the salty, umami combo might be the best hair-of-the-dog hangover drink you could get your hands on.
There’s also the whimsical Dai Drop, a magically-fused sphere of orange juice and aperol served in a sparkling wine, appearing very much like a raw egg poured in a cocktail glass. Break the thin skin of the OJ sphere and you’ll wind up with a fairly recognizable mimosa.
Daikaya has its own nod to the traditional chocolate city chicken and waffle plate, although I can safely say their take on it—a red-bean paste filled waffle in the shape of a fish, with tempura-fried chicken—is likely unobtainable anywhere else.
There are a few more wonderful traditional breakfast plates done in a uniquely Japanese fashion. The croissant is served with a helping of uni (that is to say, sea urchin) butter; the poached egg comes with two crab korokke (a take on the Portuguese croquette that is ubiquitous in Japan).
Most exciting though, are the types of foods I thought would be relegated to just my dreams until my next trip to the east. The “hapa loco moco” might be the epitome of Japan-ized western food. It’s a hambagu—think a hamburger served in the style of the best Salisbury steak you ever had, with a dollop of worcherershire sauce for good measure—served on white rice, and topped with a fried egg. I don’t know what it is about the fried egg. You can find it in Japan on just about any western food—burgers, spaghetti, pizzas, you name it. The fact that fried eggs are neither a traditional Japanese staple, nor a typical ingredient in any of that western fare, is simply a wonderful little mystery, and one I didn’t realized I had missed so badly until I was finally eating it.
If you bring a friend who has been to Japan, or maybe one who just reads too much manga, fully expect that your conversation may turn into a “this one time, in Japan” style monologue. But that’s also the best compliment I can give the food: not just that it’s excellent, although it is, but that it fully captures the sort of wonderful but commonplace Japanese food that is almost impossible to get in America.
Now back to your regularly scheduled food porn:
Leading image via Riley Croghan, Mara in Michigan