A decent Japanese meal in Taipei doesn’t have to be chichi and expensive. Nippon Shokudo, hidden away in an alley within the Tonghua Street Night Market (通化街夜市), has long been a favorite among students and bloggers, as the food is simple, reasonably priced and soul-satisfying good.
The source of the restaurant’s mojo is Japanese owner and chef Ishii Mitsuharu (石井光晴), who is easy to spot in his white apron and headband. A short and stocky middle-aged man with closely cropped grey hair, Ishii constantly shuffles in and out of the kitchen, stirring, slicing and chopping all the while. When the restaurant isn’t busy, you might catch him standing by the sushi bar, humming along to Japanese oldies performed on NHK blaring on a flat-screen in the corner of the restaurant.
Nippon Shokudo feels like the equivalent of a casual family restaurant in Japan, with a menu to match. Staple dishes include rice bowl meals such as ten-don (天丼, in Mandarin, “tiandong”, NT$110), the tonkastsu (fried breaded pork cutlet) bowl (豬肉蓋飯, NT$150) and Japanese style curry (日式咖哩飯, NT$110).
One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, however, is more of a night market standard than a classic Japanese dish. The fried chicken chunks, served with rice and a small salad of shredded cabbage in a set menu (酥炸雞塊定食, NT$180), have garnered plenty of praise from bloggers for having the perfect combination of tenderness on the inside and crispness on the outside.
When I tried the dish, it fell a bit short on the latter — the batter coating lost its crunch quickly and got a little soggy. But the meat was indeed tender and not as greasy as what one finds at the run-of-the mill cafeteria or night market stand. But I liked it enough and would order it again.
Address:3, Ln 19, Tonghua St, Taipei City (台北市通化街19巷3號) Telephone: (02) 2700-9425
Open: 11:30am to 2:30pm, 5pm to 10pm, closed Mondays Average meal: NT$150 to NT$250
Details: Cash only; no service charge
Having read favorable online reviews of the stewed pig intestines set meal (NT$160, 燉煮豬腸定食), another popular choice, one of my dining companions ordered the dish and was glad she did. I had a taste and found the broth to be hearty and slightly spicy, flavored by the chunks of radish and the pungent flavor of the intestines.
Those less adventurous will find the barbecue set meal (燒肉定食, NT$260, with a choice of beef or pork) to be a fail-safe choice. The beef used by the restaurant isn’t of the highest quality, but an excellent teriyaki wine sauce, which had light sweet and sour notes, more than makes up for this shortcoming. The grilled mackerel set meal (鯖魚燒烤定食, NT$170) is also reliably good.
One minor quibble with the set meals: While the main dishes hit the spot, the side dishes are neglected as afterthoughts — the steamed egg is watery and tasteless, and the vegetables, usually a small portion of string beans or chopped greens, are also lacking in flavor.
Nippon Shokudo’s interior looks dated and run-down, as if it had been decades since they’ve renovated, but the space has a homey charm and is well-kept and tidy (I’ve never seen a broken-tiled floor that was so spotlessly clean). One wall is adorned with Japan-themed lanterns and fading posters, as well as menu items written on colored paper in Japanese, presumably for expats and homesick tourists. Atop the sushi bar sit stacks of plates and random knack-knacks, which somehow look both cluttered and organized at the same time.
But this won’t distract you from the standard sushi and sashimi platters, which cost between NT$150 to NT$600. The restaurant is stocked with beer and sake — tall bottles of Taiwan Beer are NT$80, Kirin NT$120, sake NT$120 per serving. Patrons are also welcome to bring their own, with corkage fees NT$350 for wine and NT$500 for whiskey.