When the opportunity to recreate a mouthwatering manga meal comes up, we’re not going to turn it down.

Ameya Yokocho, a network of shopping streets near Ueno Station, is one of the most colorful places for bargain hunting in Tokyo, with shops offering all sorts of clothing and foodstuff at rock-bottom prices. But while Ameya Yokocho is on the up and up these days, back in the 1940s it was known as one of the city’s postwar black markets.

So really, it makes sense that Ameya Yokocho is where we bought a jet-black chicken.

Our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa spotted this fearsome foul on a shopping run in Ameya Yokocho. At first he wasn’t sure what it was, but the dark mass in a store’s glass-fronted freezer beckoned to him. As he got closer, he could see that it was some sort of meat, but he couldn’t tell what creature it came from until he read the label and saw the characters 烏骨鶏.

Pronounced ukkokei in Japanese, the same characters are read as wu gu ji in Chinese and refer to the Silkie, also known as the Chinese silk chicken, a breed of chicken with unusually soft and fine feathers that look almost like fur. However, what really makes the Silkie unique is that the bird’s melanin is found deep beneath the skin’s surface, making its meat black or dark gray.

▼ The darkest chicken since convenience store Lawson’s Black Hole-flavored Karaage-kun

Seiji had never seen a Silkie in person, but he distinctly remembers that in competitive cooking anime/manga Chuka Ichiban the main character Mao cooks one to win a culinary tournament. Between that endorsement and the whole bird costing just 1,500 yen (US$14), Seiji decided to buy it and recreate the manga meal.

In the story, Mao stuffs the chicken with rice and seasonings, then stews it in rice wine. Because of the small size of his Silkie, though, Seiji instead decided to slice the chicken and cook it in his rice cooker along with the grains.

However, he ran into a problem almost immediately.

The most complicated meat prep work Seiji has ever done is tearing the plastic wrap off of a pack of chicken thighs from his local supermarket. His first instinct was to just grab a knife and start slicing the Silkie like it was a cake, but cakes don’t have bones.

Making poor progress, Seiji whipped out his phone and pulled up a couple “how to carve a chicken” videos on YouTube for reference. His bird had been frozen with its legs folded forward in order to take up less space in the freezer, though, so the video examples weren’t an exact match for what he was working with. Ultimately, he decided to cover for his lack of technique by applying extra brute strength, making cuts wherever he could force the knife to chop through.

▼ The intimidating color gave the talons a particularly menacing aura.

His inelegant methods probably dulled his kitchen knife’s edge, but eventually Seiji had cut the chicken into pieces small enough to fit in his rice cooker. In addition to the meat, rice, and necessary amount of water, he also added two tablespoons of sake.

In Seiji’s manga inspiration, Mao also stuffs the chicken with seasonings. Seiji had bought some green onions for that purpose, but by this point his rice cooker was already looking pretty full. Trusting that the sake and natural flavors of the unnatural-looking chicken would be enough, he closed the lid and hit the start button.

45 minutes later, the cooking process was done. Seiji cautiously opened up the lid…

…and was greeted by an inky darkness that reminded him of the Oreo rice we made a while back.

The rice hadn’t become completely recolored, but it was definitely a darker shade of gray from the almost-radiant white it normally would be.

Now time for the moment of truth, Seiji dished up, took a bite, and

…was shocked by how ordinary it tasted.

Sure, it was nice-tasting chicken and all, but his prediction that eating such an ominous-looking fowl would give him a shockingly stimulating flavor, and perhaps also the power to raise an army of the dead through dark magic, turned out to be incorrect. If anything, the results were pretty plain on the palate, though after adding a dash of salt the dish suddenly started to really please his taste buds.

In retrospect, Seiji’s enthusiasm for animation might have overly boosted his expectations, and he also admits that things might have gone better had he followed Mao’s example more closely. Still, it’s not like it tasted bad, and if you’re looking for a way to give your cooking some unforgettable visual impact, this is about as impactful as you can get without using edible bamboo worms and crickets.

Images ©SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]

Follow Casey on Twitter, where he highly recommends Chuka Ichiban’s Maki Oguro opening theme “Sora.”

[ Read in Japanese ]