Hands down the best part of travelling to Japan is the food. In Tokyo there is an endless amount of amazing local cuisines to try. Rumour has it that there are so many restaurants that if you ate at a different one for each meal for the rest of your life, you still wouldn’t be able to try them all. There is something in Tokyo for every taste and every budget. Traditional Japanese food is (naturally) readily available, but there is also a growing trend for Western styled meals especially Italian and French. It is customary for families to eat out for special occasions, and in those situations they are far more likely to go to an international cuisine restaurant. Some of the best french and indian foods I’ve had were had in Japan.
Budget wise you will never go hungry even on the tightest of budgets, with great supermarket meals or bento boxes easily available for a cheap satisfying meal. However Tokyo is also home to the most Michelin starred restaurants in the world making it an ideal destination for those wanting to splurge on fantastic cuisine.
The Japanese people take pride in the quality and presentation of their food, so expect even a basic cheap meal to look delectable. Unlike western foods the focus of Japanese food is quality over quantity, so portion sizes may be smaller but you will be thoroughly satisfied with the deliciousness and simpleness of the meal.
A few Japanese treats you must experience:
Pieces of meat and/or vegetables that are threaded onto wooded skewers and cooked over coals. Then served either salted or with a sticky sweet sauce. Delicious options include mixed chicken (skin, thigh, gizzards, etc), leeks wrapped in bacon and different varieties of mushrooms.
Top hint: Piss Alley (or Memory Alley as it is now known) is considered one of the top places to experience yakatori dishes in Tokyo. Hidden on the side of Shinjuku station this smoky alley is famous for its tiny yakitori dens and bars. The bars are stacked in close to one-another, with most fitting less than 10 patrons. Be prepared to shuffle and stand as more patrons fill these cramped spaces. The alley is renowned for its shady past, however now visitors safely come here for the grungy post war decor and atmosphere, the fantastic food and cold beers to match.
This is a Japanese institution. Most will eat ramen at any time of day- breakfast, lunch, dinner or after a big night out. The most common ramen is tonkotsu a fragrant broth made from pork bones, served with ramen noodles, seaweed nori sheets, assorted Asian greens, thinly sliced porn belly and a soft boiled egg. Ramen can feature soy or miso based broths, and range with toppings of different sorts of vegetables. It is an affordable and filling option, that is best enjoyed with gyoza (a pan fried dumpling).
A personal favourite of mine. I was corrected once by a older Japanese man when I responded ‘gyoza’ to the question ‘what is your favourite Japanese dish?’. Gyoza originated as a Chinese meal, but they have since become a staple in the Japanese diet. I had a tradition whilst in Japan to have gyoza and cold beer each day to fight off 3pm museum/attraction hungry-angry syndrome. These pan fried bites of deliciousness are filled with minced pork, garlic, cabbage, green onions, and assorted seasonings. A perfect addition to any main or as a tasty snack.
Top hit: Namja Gyoza Stadium in Ikebukuro is a paradise for gyoza lovers. Over 100 different types are available at this food-themed amusement park, which features gyozas (dumplings) from some of the most popular restaurant in Japan. The stadium is also renowned for it’s ice cream section ‘Ice cream city’ which has hundreds of flavours from traditional sweets (ie. chocolate, vanilla or caramel) to the down right bizarre (ie. Dracula’s blood, garlic or shark). Admission to the park is 300Yen with food costs in addition.
Next time you are in Japan you MUST try one of these delicious dishes.