It Ain’t Sainthood But Its Something: Head to Tail Eating At Motsuyaki Den

It Ain’t Sainthood But Its Something: Head to Tail Eating At Motsuyaki Den

Ever tried raw tongue?  Ever gobbled up uncooked harami (skirt steak)?  I have!  Sounds gross.  Tastes delicious! I would have never known had I not been brought to Motsuyaki Den in Naka-Meguro.  Motsu means entrails, offal, the left-over bits; yaki means grilled.  Like its name, Den is unadorned.  No tables. Linoleum counter. Rock and roll posters. Baseball on the television. The grill is up front, a ventilation hood barely containing the fragrant smoke of grilling meat.  Prices are dirt cheap.

Den specializes in head-to-tail eating, specifically of high-quality, sweet Japanese pork.  Every bit of the pig is used, broken down into anatomical divisions so detailed that every variation between even the most minute cuts are highlighted. Back muscle of tongue?  They got it, and it is revelatory — packed with flavor and a slight chewiness.  Uterus?  Yup! Ears? Cheeks? Check one, check two. Everything at Den is grilled and seasoned perfectly, served with a vaguely spicy red paste seemingly made of pickled ginger, miso and some other good things.  Beyond the wonders of the grill,  Den also serves a luscious stew of soft bone pork where the collagen has melted into pure velvet; that same soft bone is also served, in a much more crunchy, textural fashion sliced thin with sesame oil and scallions.  The above-mentioned tongue and harami sashimi are snappingly fresh, clean and sprightly — served with yuzu paste, the two dishes have a vibrancy of flavor that banishes any fear or squeamishness about eating raw meat.

Once a sleepy suburb of Shibuya, Naka-Meguro has become extremely hip and increasingly international.  It is the headquarters for a variety of cutting edge brands and businesses. Bespoke barber-shops and cool-ass clothing stores nestle shoulder to shoulder with old school coffee shops and 100 yen discount shops.  Incredible dining is everywhere from the delicious smoked BBQ of Hatos Bar to Serinkan’s genre-defining pizza to Onada Shoten, the zenith of Hurumon art.   Seemingly Den is the dining place of choice for the employees of all those shops.  Stay for an hour and the crowd will rotate through the coolest hip hop kids to off-work chefs to salarymen to construction workers to willowy fashion models — all will order lemon sours (Den makes theirs with fresh lemon and Italian Torani lemon syrup served over ice with a bottle of super-carbonated soda water).  The doors open at 2 pm.  By 5 pm some of the more obscure cuts of meat are sold out.

I know that it can sound gross (especially to vegetarians) to talk about eating tongue muscles, pig uterus, pork face, intestines and colons.  Hell, throw in chomping down of crunchy bits of cartilage and chewy tendons.  And yeah, raw meat can cause queasiness. However, it is time we get over this. Waste is a huge, global issue — food waste, energy waste, the enormous amounts of waste caused by the fashion industry in making cheap, shitty clothing.  It is a long way from becoming a saint, but if you are going to eat meat — essentially becoming complicit in an industry based on wholesale slaughter, pain and environmental destruction — you better learn to respect what you are eating.  That means getting down and dirty, expanding your palate and treasuring all aspects of an animal that died to feed your hunger. The Plains Indians of old, took a buffalo and broke it down in such a way that sinews were used for bow strings, stomachs for carrying water, bones for weapons and tools. I alas, live a modern life, in a modern city, so I cannot (thankfully!) spend my days hunting wild pigs and making the tools of my day-to-day life out of their carcasses.  I can, however, eat at Motsuyaki Den and know, in some obscure and microscopic way, that I am making the tiniest adjustment to an out-of-balance world by whole-heartedly enjoying each and every bite of perfectly grilled teppo or, as translated with no eye towards marketing, pork rectum.

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