There wasn’t a line or anything. I asked the lady behind the counter for three pieces. The meat was just hot enough, with skin that was crazy flaky, and also extremely soft. Like, if you licked it, the batter would slide right off, but the crunch would remain intact. I went back up to the counter for four more pieces, and the woman behind the counter laughed. She said something I couldn’t follow, and I nodded along. Then she gave me a thumbs up. I gave her one, too.
You could probably eat karaage all day, most days, until you figured enough was enough; then, you could probably eat some more.
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It wasn’t a conscious decision to end up in parlors tucked in Ueno or Nakameguro, or a bar on the fringes of a protest in Kasumigaseki, or wandering in laps in search of a karaage stand in Tokyo Station. At one spot, tucked beside Shinjuku-Sanchome Station, a group of kids fucked up from midday drinking pointed out their favorites. I stepped into another place, off of a sidestreet in Meguro, after the chef behind the window beckoned me in (I’d already passed the window twice). He sliced samples of each piece, passing them in tongs over the bar.
Without fail, no matter which venue I tried, I found delicious karaage in all of them. But more than that, people who were willing to share things: their meal, their space, and that particular moment in time. No one had to do that. And certainly not for a foreigner, in a moment as disastrous as ours. But in a country where I wasn’t even the distant minority, that willingness to share fried chicken translated wholly across oceans.
I asked this guy if he ate karaage, and he looked at me like I was a fucking idiot. He put a hand on my shoulder. Everyone, he said, knows where to find karaage, even if they don’t eat it, because they probably know someone who does.