Before we begin, let us warn that this post contains some pictures that may be inappropriate for vegetarian readers (you know who you are). We have been anxious to try this unusual and exotic delicacy since hearing about it several years ago and have tried to hunt it down tirelessly on our last few visits to Japan without success. This time however, with much determination and some research, we were able to nail down Bakuro to quell our curiosity – for which we were glad.
Bakuro is located in the very lively and food-crazy district of Ebisu. If you are taking the subway, take exit 2, make a left and walk towards the Daimaru Peacock supermarket. Make a left just before the supermarket and another left immediately into a small side street, Bakuro is just up ahead. If you arrive by the JR line, take the West exit and cross the main intersection just past the police box towards the Daimaru Peacock supermarket and follow directions as above.
The restaurant is small, dark and very cramped, alluding to most of its charm. To get to the second floor, you have to climb up a flight of extremely narrow and steep stairs which can be quite an effort. It was a full house when we arrived and the atmosphere extremely convivial. Although this is a very local haunt, they do have an English menu, which is translated very loosely and quite an entertaining read by itself. By now, you must be wondering what exactly is the delicacy served here.
Otoshi is a starter, like an amuse bouche, often served at Japanese restaurants right after you sit down. Otoshi is not optional and each person in the party is typically charged ¥ 300-400 for it depending on establishment. Ours came with basashi (horse sashimi), onions and scallions, dressed lightly with ponzu sauce. The basashi was really delicious and had a nice chewy bite to it. Paired with the onions, scallions and citrus dressing, it made for a delightfully refreshing starter.
This was not on the menu but we caught sight of it being delivered to a table in the back and promptly called out ‘sumimasen’ to place an order. We are used to having cabbage at izakayas as a starter which we dip in miso paste. This one had a wonderful twist to it, as it came with minced horse dressed with miso paste – it was good – and we dare say the dark horse (pun not intended) of the evening. Such a simple dish but bursting with robust flavours and texture when paired with the cabbage. We would return for this dish alone.
Tasting portions of basashi are available in 3, 5 or 7 types. Our humble portion of 3, served with gorgeous freshly grated wasabi (from left to right), was hutaego sashi (duet of fat), karubi sashi (rib) and akami sashi (thigh). While the hutaego sashi was a little overwhelming for us being so fatty (and chewy), we thoroughly enjoyed the other two. Karubi was well-marbled and similar in texture to Wagyu beef while akamki was less fatty but very lean and easy on the palate. Basashi tastes similar to steak tartare (which I adore) except that it is slightly chewier and has a gamier, richer taste (in a good way).
If you are game for a wilder experience, koune (mane; apparently abundant in collagen and sold out for the night), kokoro (heart) and harami (diaphragm) sashi are also available.
Karaage, or worded in the English menu as ‘have burning hot deep-fried horseflesh’ (charming) was a slight hit-and-miss. While some pieces displayed flashes of brilliance being immensely tender finger-lickin’-good, some pieces were a tad over-fried and far too chewy (and impossible to eat with only chopsticks at our disposal). As a result of the inconsistent performance, this horse had to settle for second place in the race.
The gorgeous colour says it all. Seared to produce a wonderful smokey flavour while keeping the juices intact, our ‘mane’ affair was, again, a gamier rendition of a slab of steak, done rare. Served with a twist of lemon and dash of salt and wasabi, this dish took us home with a galloping finish.
After numerous courses served with horse meat, our final dish Ume Ochazuke (which is plum rice in soup, not to be confused with Uma a.k.a horse) came as a comforting and much needed reprieve from our high protein meal. This was an outstanding dish and an excellent way to end the meal.
Horsed-out for awhile, and running out of horsey jokes to crack, we carefully made our way down the flight of stairs feeling extremely pleased with our new discovery. So the next time you want to try something different and adventurous, do consider trotting down the beaten track with Bakuro, you will be assured of all that and more (you heard it, right from the horse’s mouth!). Alright, enough of horsing around, go.