After an epic okonomiyaki and akashiyaki lunch, my friends decided to go get ikura don, a bowl of rice with salmon eggs on top. So we walked through the streets of Osaka and ended up at Peri No Ikuradon, a restaurant located at the back of an unremarkable, somewhat dilapidated building corridor. If you don’t pay attention, you’d walk right by this restaurant, especially if you miss the small sign on the street proclaiming that “We eat ikuradon very much!”
That is, it’d be easy to miss if you were the first person there. By the time we arrived around 2PM, there were already 18 people ahead of us in line! We joined the queue and ended up waiting for an hour and a half! Turns out there are only nine seats inside Peri No Ikuradon and everybody takes their time savoring their food—as they should. I mean, look at this masterpiece:
When you take a seat, you have an option of getting several things: ikura don (100% ikura), uni don (100% uni), and uni ikura don (half of each). Wanting the best of both worlds, we each ordered the uni ikura don. To our surprise, the owner asked us “hard or soft?” Apparently ikura has different textures. I opted for hard.
Anyways, its clear that the owner makes these rice bowls hundreds of time each week; you can tell by the speed and efficiency by which he makes the dish. And yet, the process was still so elaborate and detailed that it quickly became clear that the owner takes pride in his handiwork and desires to make the best bowl possible for every single one of his guests.
The birth of uni ikura don.
After you've ordered your food, the owner starts the process of making the rice bowl by opening up the rice cooker and scooping rice into a bowl. For about five seconds, he quickly pats down the rice as if he were potting soil. Once rice reaches the right density, he transfers more rice from the cooker, and repeats the process two or three more times. The bowl is set on the counter and the owner grabs a plastic bottle filled with uni sauce, pouring its contents over the half of the rice that is to receive the uni. He then takes out a tray of uni, opens it, and uses a spatula to carefully place a quarter of the tray on the bed of rice. No joke… he is being very generous with the portions here. Next, he opens the lid of a metal container which contains ikura. He takes several ladlefuls of ikura and pouring them on the other side of the bowl in the most casual yet dramatic of ways. And finally, with a smile, he gives the bowl to you.
I know, at this point, you're probably saying, “Enough with the details! How did it taste?”
But I mean, this is the place that specializes in uni and ikura, two raw ingredients. People won't stand in line for over an hour for raw ingredients unless they were of the highest quality. And you bet it was. The uni was slightly firm, as it should be, and had the gentle taste of the sea. Amazing. And the ikura…these tiny balls of brine-y goodness would literally burst in your mouth in a flavor explosion. When you mix the uni and the ikura together… WOW.
However, there is an unsung hero throughout all this. The ikura and uni may be the sexy, food porn-y part of the dish but to me, the component that made this dish so special was the rice. Yes, your simple, humble rice. It was so good, cooked to the perfect texture and consistency. It acted as the gentle foil to the intense flavors of the uni and ikura. The quality of the rice here (and in Japan in general) was incredible. But it makes perfect sense. Since rice is a basic item eaten with almost every meal, making good rice is a way for a restaurant (or person) to showcase its attention to detail: if the rice is treated well, you know everything else will be too.
Well, the rice at Peri No Ikuradon was amazing and so was everything else. I'm not usually one to wait a long time in lines for food (and to be honest, I was kind of doubtful as I stood in line), but it really was something special and something you cannot find in the states. As of this writing, it has a 3.58 rating on Tabelog (Japan's version of Yelp). It may seem low, especially when you think about 5 star restaurants on Yelp, but the Japanese food rating seems to be much more picky and strict–anything over three is really good.
Anyways, as we left, we walked past a line of even more people waiting for their chance to enter. They all knew what was in store for them. And to be honest, I would join them again to have that uni ikura don bowl again.