From the moment you see this quaint family run restaurant you can sense there is something special. With each step creeping closer to the front of the queue, you can see and smell the smoky charcoal grill on your right with lots of eel being marinated, sometimes literally filling the skies with a pleasant sweet soy aroma.
The 1950s clock, the old period dressed dramas on the TV, the low tatami mats and tables and shoji lamps all point to an earlier time, just like visiting your grandpa's home. There is no stainless steel or chrome, and this eatery, despite its moderately high prices, are a world away from the slick hotel and office lobbies at Nagoya Station.
Kanebun Restaurant started a few generations ago in 1910 in Nishio, however the newer branch here at Shin Anjo has overtaken the original Nishio shop. This reminds me of the movie, Jiro dreams of sushi, and the polite rivalry between the original main store and the more contemporary branch started by his son, knowing that with two sons, only one could inherit the main store. So why not improve on tradition by opening up another branch?
Their specialty is Nagoya style eel, marinated and grilled to perfection, served on Niigata Koshihikari rice with dried nori, called Hitsumabushi, a famous Nagoya delicacy. If you want to splash out, try the Donburimatsu meal set for 4650 yen. The secret to this dish is exquisite timing and care with the charcoal grill, along with scrumptious tamari, a premium soy sauce that has won many fans in Aichi, with a smooth, thick consistency and an almost honeyed caramelized glaze.
The eel is cooked until the skin is crisp on the outside. The crunchy skin and the dry nori seaweed flakes provide a crispy textural counterpoint to the tender eel filet and the soft but just perfectly cooked rice. I suggest that you try each of the ingredients separately first to really appreciate each flavor, and then mix it up. The sweet soy marinade may seem overpowering by itself, but is a perfect accompaniment to the fluffy rice. Take in the aroma of the cloudy steamed rice; it is a wonderful and homely comfort food. On the other hand, the soup is clear and refreshing with mushroom and citrus peel giving you the feeling of soaking yourself in an Onsen.
With the remaining eel rice you can pour the tea and mix in the wasabi, herbs, ginger and dried nori seaweed to make a filling Ochazuke. At last an Ochazuke heaven, and a filling one at that! I began my food safari in Kyoto with some surprisingly delicious savory tea over there, which naturally led me on the trail to Ochazuke. So now having my fill, it is time to move to the next treat, sushi and sashimi.
Kanebun is open for lunch and dinner from 11 am. It is a very popular spot for the locals, so even if you get there at 1130 am for lunch, there may be a small wait time. Some people have been coming here for 50 years, being fans of the traditional menu. So it is best to avoid the peak times of 12 pm to 1 pm. Don’t get there too late for lunch though, as they take a break need to rest those charcoals and flicking skewer hands from 2 pm to 430 pm on weekdays, and from 230 pm to 430 pm on weekends, before reopening for dinner.
They don’t speak much English, so you may need to write down your order, or just point to what your fellow diner is eating. The menu is also in Japanese, but at least you can read the prices. Expect to pay between 2000 and 3000 yen per person, for a meal served with soup, pickles, eel and rice.