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HomeVideo“Hey, Japanese taxi driver! Take us to the best restaurant in Sendai!”

“Hey, Japanese taxi driver! Take us to the best restaurant in Sendai!”


Spur-of-the-moment adventure leads to a surprising meal and a driver that becomes a new friend.

For the past couple of years, we’ve been expanding our knowledge of locally loved restaurants by hopping in taxis around the country and asking the driver to take us to their favourite place to eat.

So far, these adventures have introduced us to great seafood in Hokkaido, local cuisine in Okinawa, and a traditional bubuzuke joint in Kyoto, and one thing these trips have in common is the exemplary service of the cab drivers, whose kindness has been just as impressive as the food.

Our latest journey, however, up in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, turned out to be even better than usual, as our reporter Ikuna Kamezawa got on so well with the driver they even swapped contact details.

The encounter began at Sendai Station, where Ikuna had wanted to try beef tongue, a famous specialty of the region. However, the famous “Gyutan Dori” (“Beef Tongue Street”) at the station, filled with restaurants serving the specialty, was so packed with visitors that she couldn’t get in to any of them.

▼ The restaurants, and their dishes, located on 牛たん通り (Gyutan Dori).

This sign outside one of the restaurants says, “This is not the end of the line”, indicating it’s so long it continues in another section.

Having seen long queues outside other restaurants near the station as well, Ikuna felt this was a perfect time to step into a cab for some assistance.

Being a Sunday, the area was busier than usual, so she was happy to find there were cabs at the taxi rank, and even happier when the cab driver she approached invited her in before she even opened her mouth, saying, “It’s crowded everywhere! Come on in!”

Heartened by the driver’s friendly nature, she decided to widen her culinary scope, asking him to take her to the best restaurant in town, regardless of whether or not it served beef tongue. He was very accommodating, asking what her budget for the fare was, and when she told him 2,000 yen (US$13.54), he drove around 20 minutes northwest of Sendai Station, charging her only 2,000 yen, despite the meter going slightly over.

During their chat on the way, the driver revealed his favourite gyutan restaurant was Tanya Zenjiro (marked with the fork and knife below), which was the one that had huge lines outside it at the station.

▼ Tanya Zenjiro has no branches outside the prefecture, making it particularly popular with visitors.

Ikuna would have to visit the popular beef tongue restaurant another day, though, because today she was being taken to a place that was even better, the driver’s recommended local, a place called Chuka Restaurant Toranoko.

Chuka restaurant means “Chinese restaurant”, while Toranoko means “Tiger Cub” or “Tiger Child“, as the restaurant refers to it in English.

According to the driver, this is a very popular restaurant known to all the locals, and before she went in, he told her, “I always order the hot and sour noodles (sura tanmen).”

When she stepped inside, she was lucky she arrived when she did as the place was almost full. Opening the menu, she could see the hot and sour noodles featured with a large photo and the words “Most Popular!” next to it, and although there were lots of other tasty looking dishes available, she couldn’t betray the kind driver and his recommendation, so she ordered the sura tanmen.

For 1,045 yen, this was a generously sized meal with loads of ingredients, including egg, wood ear mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, bamboo shoots, green onions, and tofu.

These were more ingredients than Ikuna was used to seeing in hot and sour noodles, so she was immediately impressed, and when she took her first sip of the broth, her taste buds danced in delight at the strong use of pepper.

Hot and sour noodles are generally characterised by the sourness of vinegar, but this dish had a strong peppery spiciness that came before the sourness. Ikuna is such a big fan of black pepper that she buys it by the kilo at a wholesale store, so this flavour profile almost moved her to tears.

The medium-thick noodles were a delicious partner for the thick and spicy soup, and when she tried everything together, it tasted different from any other hot and sour noodles she’d ever eaten. She felt like it might’ve been the shiitake mushrooms adding the unusual flavour element, but whatever it was, it was absolutely delicious and highly addictive.

Halfway through the meal, Ikuna added some generous dollops of black vinegar, since it was on her table for diners to adjust the taste to their liking, and it made everything even more delicious.

The hot meal brought out beads of sweat on Ikuna’s forehead, and after she’d slurped up the last of her delectable noodles and paid for the meal, she stepped outside, where the north wind of Sendai felt as soothing as a cold plunge after a sauna.

Having hit it off with the cab driver who brought her here, he’d kindly waited outside while she ate, so he could take her back to the station. This was a first for our “Hey, Japanese taxi driver!” series, because as nice as the other cab drivers have been, they hadn’t ever offered to wait around for us to finish eating.

And that’s not all — when Ikuna told him that she hadn’t done much sightseeing in Sendai, he took her on a detour to Osaki Hachimangu Shrine, a national treasure and one of Sendai’s most popular tourist spots.

This was more then Ikuna had ever expected — not only had she received a stellar lunch recommendation from this knowledgeable local, she’d also been treated to a stop at a famous shrine, and didn’t have to fret about public transport in the process.

It made Ikuna fall in love with Sendai and its people, and created an unforgettable experience that’s now forever burned in her heart and memory as one of the best journeys she’s ever been on. Plus, now that she’s made a friend in Sendai, she’ll always have more of a reason to visit than to try the local gyutan, and she might just have a dining partner to keep her company too.

Restaurant information
Chuuka Restaurant Toranoko / 中華れすとらん とらの子
Address: Miyagi-ken, Sendai-shi, Aoba-ku, Nakayama 5-19-13
宮城県仙台市青葉区中山5丁目19-13
Open: 11:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m.; 5:00 p.m.-9:30 p.m. (weekdays) / 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. (Saturdays and Sundays)
Website

Photos ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]





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