Many years ago I heard that there was a Czech restaurant in Tokyo (what doesn’t this city have?). Using my internet searching skills, I was able to track it down to Arakicho, the first time this neighbourhood ever came to my attention. I tried to go there soon after but all seats were taken up by university students specialising in Czech language and literature. There was no choice but to come back another day, making sure to reserve in advance – I couldn’t believe that Czech culture was so popular in Japan!
Since then, the restaurant has moved to a new location on Sugidaimon Dori Street in the basement, very close to ITOI tempura dining. The new location is more spacious and one can enjoy several kinds of Czech beer on tap, sitting at the counter seat or at one of the tables. I counted about 20 seats. During my visit, I went for a bottle of Czech craft beer called Bernard – the perfect drink for quenching my thirst!
In addition to bottled beer they have Pilsner Urquell beer on tap. If you have never had Czech beer before I’d recommend starting with that since Pilsner style beer was first produced in 1842 in the Czech city of Pilsen. I asked the owner, Takano-san, how he got started with the restaurant and he told that it was because of his love of beer.. He also recommended the Marumugi beer bar, higher up on the same street. As a beer lover myself, I promised to stop by there at the next opportunity.
What really makes this place interesting is the pretty decor. Lots of wood and soft light. For someone who has actually been to the Czech Republic many times, this does indeed feel very authentic. In addition, there are many dolls, wooden toys and stuffed animals on the counter and shelves. It is fun to look around and check them out.
The one that stands out the most is Krtek, the Czech Republic’s most famous mole. He had his debut as an animated character in 1956 but isn’t so well-known in Japan yet. No doubt his time will come (hopefully with a small push from this article). You can check out some of his animated videos on Youtube.
Another draw is the impressive library of books related to the everything Czech. You can leaf through them between beers or while waiting for your food. In fact, Dashenka is named after a famous Czech Children’s book written and illustrated by Karel Capek (science-fiction writer who wrote “War Of the Newts” and first person to coin the term “robot”). “Dashenka or the life of a puppy” features stories about a wire-haired terrier of the same name and was published in 1933. A Japanese copy of the book is displayed in the restaurant.
I believe I’ve mentioned the beers but not yet the food. That is what drew me to Dashenka in the first place – the potato pancake or “bramborak”. I won’t lie – eating them freshly made in the Czech Republic, homemade or from a food stall, is the best. However, having them at Dashenka in Arakicho is second best. There are actually two kinds of “bramborak” – thick and thin. The ones I had were the thick ones. Even if you popped in mainly for the beer, I’d suggest trying this tasty dish.
Another dish which is very common is the Czech Republic is the Prague-style beef goulash (Czech-style beef stew on the menu), a kind of meat stew served with bread dumplings. This is a good and filling dish so if you walked into Dashenka hungry, you won’t be disappointed. Of course there are a number of other dishes on the menu, not only Czech but Russian and Polish as well. Both the food and drink menu are in English.
I like to relate one more story before I end this article. At the time of my visit, the bar wasn’t overly busy, since it was a Monday evening. The usual group of Czech culture aficionados were there but they were on the verge of leaving. After a while I was the sole customer. That didn’t last long however, and soon I was joined by two fairly inebriated businessmen.
After settling at a table, the senior one, who had apparently been to Prague a long time ago, started asking the shop owner many questions about the Czech Republic (for example, what is the religion there?). Eventually he asked the owner to play My Vlast (My Fatherland), the famous classical piece by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana.
The owner happily obliged and to my delight, the beautiful notes of the opening part Vltava (The Moldau) started to resonate throughout the restaurant. It was truly fitting to hear such a piece in a place dedicated to everything Czech.