Yes, even we wondered, “Why?”

There’s something special about an old, hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant that looks a little bit run-down. They look like they’ve weathered so much that their food just has to be good in order for them to have survived so long.

Koraku, an old Chinese restaurant located near Shin-Okachimachi Station on the Tsukubu Express Line in Tokyo, is just one such restaurant. It inspires intense cravings for chahan, which is what Chinese fried rice is called in Japanese, just by looking at it.

Seiji first learned about the restaurant when chatting with a man he met at a cafe in Osaka. Apparently, it’s been featured on the FujiTV show Tunnels no Minasan no Okage Deshita, on a segment called “Kitanaraunt & Kitanachelin” where they check out restaurants that look a little run-down on the outside but actually serve delicious food.

That claim was verified when Seiji visited the restaurant, where outside a “Kitanaraunt” 3-star certificate from 11 years ago stood proudly on display. (Seiji thought the show’s crew must be happy their show’s legacy lives on, even though it’s been off the air for four years already.)

But another signboard posted outside advertised something surprising: “Most popular dish: Half Nasi Goreng + Ramen Set 800 yen (US$5.54).” Wait, the most popular dish was nasi goreng–Indonesian fried rice–and not chahan!?

When Seiji went inside, he realized about half the patrons were eating the Nasi Goreng + Ramen Set. The other half were eating the Curry Rice + Ramen set. What kind of Chinese restaurant was this? A glance at the menu revealed dishes typical to Chinese restaurants in Japan like Liver and Garlic Chives Stir Fry (650 yen), Babaocai (Eight Treasure Vegetables [650 yen]), and Tenshindon (crab meat omelette over rice [750 yen]), so at least they served some dishes he expected, but it sure was unusual.

Well, there was no denying the popularity of the Nasi Goreng set, and Seiji had to wonder what it tasted like, so he went ahead and ordered it.

“Um….that looks like chahan!”

It tasted just like chahan too–enough that Seiji couldn’t remember if that’s what nasi goreng was supposed to taste like. Just in case, Seiji took another bite. Yes, even the ingredients–rice fried with eggs–were very chahan-like and had the same crumbly texture. It was a really good chahan, but Seiji couldn’t help but think it wasn’t quite nasi goreng.

In time, from the very depths of the chahan flavor came a prickly spicy taste. Spiciness is a major element of nasi goreng, so perhaps that’s where the Indonesian flare came in on this dish. Coupled with the taste of chahan, however, Seiji couldn’t think of it as anything but strange. It was, without a doubt, a chahan dish like no other.

The difference with this nasi goreng was like that between Indian curry and Japanese curry–that is to say, entirely different. But why did this restaurant create such an original nasi goreng dish? And why offer nasi goreng at a Chinese restaurant in the first place? Every bite produced more questions, so Seiji asked the owner, Mr. Kenkichi Kobayashi, to give him the scoop.

“Well, this was a long a time ago, but before I opened this shop, I was working in Shibuya and someone from Indonesia told me they wanted to eat nasi goreng. 

“At the time, I didn’t know what it was, but they told me it was basically an Indonesian style of chahan, so I did some research on my own and came up with this nasi goreng recipe. I’ve carried it with me ever since.”

Seiji suddenly understood where the originality of the dish came from. Koraku’s nasi goreng was born from a connection formed between two people in an age where it was much harder to get information. Or, if you want to think of it differently, it’s a dish that would never have been born in this day and age, when you can easily find the correct way to make nasi goreng on the Internet.

No wonder it’s is the most popular dish. It’s packed full of the owner’s history!

Restaurant Information
Koraku / 幸楽
Tokyo-to Taito-ku Kojima 2-1-3
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Closed Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays

Images © SoraNews24
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