Alexisonfire’s Wade MacNeil shares his favourite culinary memories from Japan

March 21, 2014

Photo: Jess Baumung

As the singer of Gallows and the guitarist for Alexisonfire—who, at points, were among the most beloved punk acts the world-over—Toronto-based Wade MacNeil is no stranger to eating well on tour. But as much as he’s obsessed with hunting down casse-croute poutine, spicy Maritime donairs, and gut-busting cheese steaks, he’s most reverential of one nation’s feasting traditions. Namely, Japan’s.

As he explains it, it’s not just the yakisoba that has MacNeil hooked; it’s the procedure that surrounds a meal. And the last time Alexisonfire played Japan—at a huge metal festival featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Motorhead, and Trash Talk—MacNeil and George Pettit, the band’s singer, had their translator take them on the hunt for authentic Tokyo nosh. And damn, did she ever deliver.

“She brought us to this locals-only spot. We met her outside of these train tracks, and she led us down an alleyway to this tiny Alice in Wonderland-style door,” he says. After knocking on the door, the band was led four levels underground, through a restaurant lit only by candles perched in carved-out nooks in the walls.

“She ordered us a massive amount of what I’d call not-tourist food,” laughs MacNeil. “She ordered us this squid terrine—it was basically squid gut paste served with these salty frites. It was totally earthy, and George got a little too into it.”

Pettit’s most memorable meal might’ve involved gorging on squid innards, but MacNeil’s favoured memory was more cinematic—literally. When he first stepped foot into Gonpachi, a famed Tokyo restaurant, he noticed its ornate décor, the dangling lantern-orbs, and its sprawling open-concept dining space.

“We sit down at a table, and I was like, ‘This is incredible!’” he says. “This place has such a Kill Bill vibe to it!” For good reason: Gonpachi was the izakaya referenced in Quentin Tarantino’s iconic martial arts flick. “Our translator was like, ‘That’s why I brought you here. It’s the restaurant that inspired the Kill Bill Crazy 88 fight scene!”

It’s a piece of trivia that undoubtedly impressed MacNeil. He is, after all, an avid cinephile. But what impressed him more? The restaurant’s barbecued duck soba soup. Complete with handmade soba—thin buckwheat noodles revered in Japanese cuisine—the meal occurred in steps: They added the roasted meat, then a round of sauce, then ladled on more savoury broth from a kettle.

“It’s one of the most standout meals I’ve ever had,” adds MacNeil. “I loved the whole process—we were in there for maybe an hour and a half. It’s long, but it’s a much more engaging way to eat. Being in Japan is a sensory overload, but that—that’s the Japan I dream about.”

Us, too, Wade.

Add a little spice to your meals with Alexanders Keith’s Jalepeno and Lime IPA. It’s the perfect complement for the sweet, savoury, and spicy dishes of Japanese cuisine. Now, it’s possible.

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