I know that it might sound a bit scandalous coming from a food lover, but it was only 6 years ago that I had Japanese food for the first time. Crazy, isn't it!? All I knew about Japanese cuisine was sushi, and though friends assured me that there are vegetarian versions as well as a great deal beyond sushi, I was always suspicious. They must sneak fish into the so-called vegetarian maki somehow, I figured. I was pleasantly surprised when visiting friends selected a Japanese restaurant in Paris and I had cucumber and avocado makis for the first time, back in 2006. I later came to find out that most so-called Japanese restaurants in Paris aren't Japanese but rather run by Chinese or Koreans. Luckily, there were some more authentic options, particularly around Rue Sainte Anne in the 1st arrondissement, where I discovered ramen, yakisoba and other Japanese noodle dishes and soups.
Here in Bangkok though, my exposure to and appreciation of Japanese food has been taken to a whole new level! There are tons of Japanese expatriates living here, with a high concentration in the part of town where we live. There are Japanese gastronomic restaurants, cheap chain places straight out of Japan (such as Ootoya, Fuji, Oishi and Zen), ramen shacks, bakeries and ice cream shops...all as far as the eye can see! Thais are a food obsessed people, and after their own cuisine Japanese is said to be their next favorite. Maybe this would explain why Arena Ten, a sporting and entertainment complex on our street, is chock full of Japanese restaurants. There are many nice looking options, but we always gravitate towards Izakaya Stadium, a casual place where there is an all you can eat menu for 499 baht, which is about 13 euros or 16 USD. An izakaya is basically a casual, after-work drinking joint in Japan which serves snacks to accompany the booze. Many izakayas allow you to order anything and everything you want from the menu. At Izakaya Stadium, you can add on all you can drink beer for just 149 baht more.
Among the small bites, Luis often gets some kind of yakitori (grilled meat on a little stick) which he loves to wash down with a miso soup, while I opt for the different veggie tempuras (they have onion, asparagus, daikon radish and shitake mushroom) which are served with a sweet soy sauce.
On my quest to discover different types of Japanese food, I don't bother with the makis or any other kind of roll, though there are vegetarian options (it just takes a bit of time to understand this from the servers). Luis, on the other hand, loves both the salmon roll and the kaisen spicy roll. Unlike in the Japanese establishments that I'm used to, you have to ask for wasabi and there is no pickled ginger available (boo! Luis now brings his own).
Another one of my favorites at Izakaya Stadium is the tofu salad. Soft cubes of tofu served with a salad of grape tomatoes, grated carrot and cabbage with a delicious ginger-sesame-miso dressing...just perfect!
We've never gone for the beer buffet to accompany our dinner at Izakaya Stadium but rather opt for the soft drinks (I like the iced green tea). Dessert selections are limited to a few flavors of ice cream and a chocolate and banana or strawberry crepe, but we never have much room for dessert anyway after all this Japanese goodness. Luckily we're just a two minute walk away, so we can quickly stumble home afterwards!
If you're in Bangkok and hankering to have some Japanese, you certainly won't be lacking for options. But if you want a totally casual, no-frills, tasty experience and to get to know Japanese cuisine better and prepare for an eventual trip there (I for one can't wait to visit!), give Izakaya Stadium a try.
Arena 10 Complex
Thonglor Soi 10
Sukhumvit Soi 55