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Published December 31st 2012
Grab a great Japanese meal right there on Bourke Street
If I'm somewhere on Bourke St and it's lunch time, it's only a matter of time before I find myself peering into the dark interiors of Ajisen. For the uninitiated, this is Japanese fast food that's tasty, quick, and fuss-free. Once you've found this place it'll be your answer to where-to-grab-lunch-on-a-busy-day-on-Bourke St conundrum. I would suggest, however, that you avoid the actual peak lunch hour between 12 to 2pm as it can get quite crowded and noisy.
The Bourke St. Ajisen is a no-frills restaurant with quick service and tasty Japanese cuisine. Their signature soup is purportedly healthy in addition to being really flavourful and tasty. It's thin and comes with shredded mushroom and other ingredients that I can only guess at. But it's a favourite as far as I'm concerned. Then there's the kimchi that has just the right degree of spice and sourness that is brought out by the mysterious fermentation process.
The Geso Karaage or fried octopus is worth trying but it's not one of my favourites. Something about eating an octopus brings out the wuss in me and the same goes for the grilled eel or Unagi. I've only tried these on a dare and that was it. I prefer pan fried dumplings for starters along with the kimchi.
The best bet at Ajisen is to go bento. I can't begin to describe the beef bento or how satisfying it is to dig into this fabulous collection of this and that. You get rice, beef, seaweed salad, a couple of pan dumplings, a chicken skewer, coleslaw, and a bit of lettuce and tomato salad. If you haven't tried the seaweed salad, yes, it tastes like the ocean and may leave an aftertaste. It's one of those things that you either like or you don't.
Another favourite of mine is the teriyaki chicken. It's all in the sauce, of course, and comes on a sizzler with stir-fried vegetables and accompanied by a bowl of rice. The beef teriyaki is not bad either, but somehow I prefer teriyaki sauce on chicken rather than beef. Edamame, tofu, and fried eggplant are some yummy vegetarian options. The deep fried tofu in miso sauce is especially good.
Green tea is the perfect beverage to wash it all down with. They are happy to keep refilling and I really can't imagine a Japanese meal without a cup of green tea to keep things moving. The tea they serve is really green and does not turn rusty as in some other places that offer the same beverage.
Of course these are just a few of my favourites and by no means the only good numbers on the Ajisen menu. They have a variety of ramen, rice, salads, soups, entrees, and main dishes that you may experiment with. My friends swear by the seafood, but then I'm so hooked on the kimchi, Ajisen soup, beef bento triad that I will not be swayed.
The place has minimal furnishing and the figurine at the entrance is the only concession to whimsy in an otherwise down-to-earth effort at décor. The waitressing is efficient and the service quick. Food is at your table in five minutes and the soup has never once burned my tongue.