Ninja Cafe & Bar in Tokyo serves food shaped like throwing stars — and sometimes fare that’s truly deadly
In the shadow of Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in Japan, is a small restaurant, Ninja Cafe & Bar.
On a typical day, the attraction at this 20-seat restaurant in Asakusa is the ninja-costumed wait staff. The ninja theme flows over you like a black wave, your connection to the present the soft hum of pop music like “Macarena” on the sound system.
Black-clad attendants show you to your seat. The food arrives in the shape of shuriken, also known as throwing stars. Ninja Curry and rice, Okonomiyaki, Ninja Chicken and Ninja sausage are all shaped as shuriken.
But for one week in September, the 20-seat Ninja Cafe served 1,000 bowls of piranha ramen. You read that correctly — ramen made with the flesh of the notorious, all-consuming, carnivorous South American freshwater fish. I was luckily among the relative few to feast on this rare dish.
At just over the yen equivalent of $50, a bowl of piranha ramen was priced on the steep side, but a good deal in my opinion for fish from the Amazon River, halfway around the world. For just under $30, you could get the ramen minus the fish but made with piranha broth.
The soft flavor of this ramen is one of the best I have had in the past year in Japan. The noodles were served al dente and had a floral note.
There was no gamey or fishy flavor from the broth; perhaps the garnish of lemon and ginger masked it.
The fish — pan fried whole — is a wonderfully flavored white fish with very little of the muddy flavor I expected.
There is a drawback, though. When I ordered the piranha topping, the server handed me a Styrofoam bowl and said: “For the bones.”
And there were bones. I think more than half my fish was bone, and not all were large. I spent about 10 minutes throughout the meal fishing tiny slivers of piranha bone out of the delicate white meat. Of about two pounds of fish, a third was likely bone.
Another problem I ran into was the simple task of eating a whole, bony fish using chopsticks. The sardonic grin of my prey looked back at me as I chased it around the bowl trying to get at its delicate meat. A plate, knife and fork would have made this task slightly easier.
Because of the difficulty of importing the fish from Brazil, the piranha was a one-off meal. However, the Ninja Cafe & Bar Asakusa has more tricks up its sleeve. Future menu items include kangaroo, crocodile, rabbit and camel.
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Location: 3-27-14 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo 111-0035Hours: Open daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.Prices: Menu items average 1,500 yen, or about $14. The full ninja experience (reservations required) costs about $93 per person.Dress: CasualDirections: A 10-minute walk from Tawaramachi Station on the Ginza Line. GPS: N 59 34.267, E 24 45.433.Information: 03-6231-7387; Online: ninja-cafe.com