Tempura in Kobe: Where to Find the Best Restaurant
Tempura, one of my favorite Japanese dishes, can be quite costly in Japan. I don’t mean that inexpensive tempura is not worth your time; on the contrary, what I am saying is that tempura can be enjoyable no matter how much you are paying for it. And recently, tempura restaurant Makino (まきの) has become my no-brainer go-to when it comes to lunching in downtown Kobe.
Makino: Try Tempura at this Famous Restaurant
This Kobe restaurant had a slight reputation for me, as I heard numerous comments about the place before I finally learned of its location. Hidden in the basement of the Center Plaza mall in Sannomiya, you will always see a line outside of the restaurant most times of the day. The open-kitchen, open-entrance restaurant, plus the somewhat old-styled surroundings, however, might give a less-than-promising impression.
Most of us would have some sort of bad deep-fried food experience at least once in our lives. So deciding whether to give tempura a try each time at a new place always gives me pause to consider if I want to pay good money to put bad grease in my mouth. If it were not for the line outside, I might not have had the confidence to even try going into Makino, especially when there is a famed tonkatsu-ya (豚カツ屋; pork cutlet place) just around the corner.
What to Expect from your Tempura
I recall that the first time I was there, doubt did not disappear from my face until I took a bite of the first tempura, a tempura broccolini (菜の花). By the way, after you have made your order, you will be served your tempura a single or couple of pieces at a time, whenever a new batch is done frying. Thus you will be eating freshly fried tempura throughout the meal, instead of having them come all at once and let cool if not consumed quickly.
Like many other tempura places, seasonal ingredients (vegetables, fish, mushroom, etc.) are served, though there are standard items on the menu such as shrimp, squid, chicken and their house special, tempura whole egg.
How to Eat Tempura Egg
The way to eat a tempura egg is to first make a hollow in the center of your bowl of rice. Next, you put the freshly prepared tempura egg in the hollow. You may then sprinkle some special black shichimi chili peppers, found on the table in a small tray in front of you. Break the yolk, and depending on your liking, you can add some soy sauce to your rice and mix it lightly before taking a big bite of rice and egg. I am usually a big fan of eggs, but in the case of tempura eggs – let us say I would prefer saving my stomach for more tempura.
The Recommended Tempura Set
“Osusume-tenteishoku” (おすすめ天定食; “recommended tempura set”) is what I order most of the time, which comes with one piece each of shrimp, squid, chicken thigh, seasonal fish, yasai-kakiage (野菜かき揚げ; fried mixed veggies) and two different vegetables of the season. Miso soup and hot rice are free to refill; and the pickles – yuzu daikon (ゆず大根) and shiokara squid (イカの塩辛) – placed together on the tray with the seasonings on the table – are all-you-can-eat. No complaints for a lunch set of such volume and quality for less than JPY 900!
A Welcoming Atmosphere at Makino
What I also like about Makino is their staff’s welcoming attitude, despite how crowded or busy it is in the restaurant. Telling you what the new piece of tempura is when they put it on your tray might not be out-of-this-world surprising; but recommending/asking whether you want your rice or soup refilled is pleasantly encouraging, especially for the ladies.
The food, the handy location and the warm service are what made Makino become my cafeteria. And how many times have I said to whomever I had just finished eating with, pointing at some nearby restaurant, “I’m definitely going to try that place next time.” But Makino is just too inviting. At this rate I am afraid there hardly will be any new restaurant reviews.