Thanks to Kumon and Asian parents, I’m pretty good at math despite being an art school graduate, eschewing a life of accounting, bad fluorescent lighting and beige cubicles. That ‘Bring Your Kid To Work‘ Day really threw me for a loop.
So in relation to eating over the course of my most recent trip to Japan, let me break it down for you: I was in Japan for 17 days. Multiply that by 3 meals a day. That equals to 51 meals total.
Yea, I counted. So what?
I anticipated that breakfasts would likely be hasty affairs; grabbed on-the-go to reach sites early to beat the hordes of tourists. Plus, raw fish isn’t exactly appealing first thing in the morning. Personally, my stomach has no concept of time but I can’t expect everyone to be the same.
So that whittled the number of meals I had in Japan to 34.
Minus a couple more meals due to debilitating stomach flu that not only dampened my appetite but made me want to vomit at the smell of soy and miso (literally the basis of all Japanese cuisine). Don’t forget being confined indoors due to the arrival of a typhoon the likes of which hasn’t been seen for over 50 years.
This means I had to be SUPER STRATEGIC in where I chose to eat in order to get a well-rounded culinary experience in Japan. I stepped up my game and ate within an hour of waking up and every two hours following for the sole purpose of providing this list of Where To Eat In Tokyo for 8 Kinds of Foodies.
Ok, maybe that wasn’t the sole purpose but here are some drool-worthy spots in Tokyo whether you’re a seafood lover or plant-obsessed:
Quick – if you had to choose only one carb to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be? If you answered unequivocally NOODLES then I wholeheartedly agree (we should be friends) and Japan is the place for you.
While Japan is home to more types of noodles than you can fathom my absolute favourite was abura soba. Translating literally to “oil noodles,” it has all the toppings of a regular bowl of ramen – bamboo, shredded nori, chashu pork, scallions, onsen (similar to a poached egg) egg – minus one noticeable element: the broth. In lieu there is a soy sauce-flavoured seasoning base (shoyu tare) and fat that mixes with a plump egg yolk to coat the noodles in a silky sauce.
I visited Abura Soba twice during my brief time in Tokyo, impatiently waiting for a seat at the tiny Shibuya location.
Important note: A small and XL bowl of noodles is THE SAME PRICE!!
If the idea of broth-less noodz has you protesting “BLASPHEMY!” head to one of the many locations of the infamous chain, Ichiran Ramen, for a traditional bowl of soupy noodles. Punch your order in to the vending machine out front before taking a seat in a little cubicle (perfect for focusing on eating) where a steaming bowl of ramen is delivered right to you.
If you prefer a thicker noodle, udon may be the noodle of your carb-filled dreams so head over to Shin Udon where fresh buckwheat noodles are made in-house. Arrive as soon as they open the doors to this snug shop in Shinjuku to snag a coveted seat.
I skipped the traditional udon in broth in favour of the hot soy sauce udon with butter, pepper, slivers of scallions, a soft-boiled egg and bright orange seasoned cod roe that thickly coated the springy noodles with just the right amount of chew 😻🍜
Obviously I had to add a crispy slice of tempura bacon (u-don even know how heavenly it was!) and a tempura egg for extra protein.
Tip: Want to compliment the chef? Slurp your noodles noisily to let them know you’re enjoying the food. When you finish, put both hands together in front of you and say “Gochisou sama” to thank them for the delicious meal.
Being the self-proclaimed plant lady that I am, of course I’d include a spot for my fellow plant-obsessed foodies.
Recommended to me by a little egg (Nhi), I visited the Aoyama Flower Market Tea House and fell in love at first
sight scent. The air was so fresh! Every surface of this café and flower shop is draped with lush greenery – hanging vines, potted plants, fragrant blooms and vibrant bouquets.
After reviewing the beautifully designed menus, I settled on a pot of fruity jasmine tea and a flower parfait. This pink confection arrived to the table in a glass globe and was a symphony of delicate flavours. The floral notes in the rose jelly and cherry mousse were tempered by a creamy scoop of vanilla ice cream and sprinkled with crunchy cereal and edible rose petals.
Convenience stores are NEXT LEVEL in Japan. There’s no need to settle for soggy taquitos and cold pizza covered in congealed cheese when you’re in a rush. Instead, when hunger strikes, pop into a 7-Eleven, FamilyMart or Lawson’s, one of which that can conveniently be found on every corner in Tokyo.
Scour the shelves for culinary delights made with the same high level of quality that the Japanese are known for. Ideal for when you’re on the way to catch the bullet train to another city or up early to beat the crowds at tourist attractions.
I had a ball inspecting rows upon rows of onigiri (my favs were the ones stuffed with seasoned soft-boiled eggs and the cod roe-filled treasures). I became addicted to the super smooth egg salad sandwiches. A+ for mouthfeel.
For a higher-end experience, swing by a depachika, food halls located within department stores (depato) in Japan. They have every kind of food imaginable – sweets, pastries, fermented vegetables, onigiri, fresh sushi, designer fruit, etc…– that are immaculately packaged and ready-to-eat.
Note: In Japan, it’s considered a faux pas to walk and eat. Instead, find a seat. Don’t forget to bring your garbage with you to dispose of when you find a bin. Some department stores have rooftop seating.
The Indecisive Foodie
If you want the angsty decision-making process eliminated from dining at a restaurant, an omakase-style meal is for you. Omakase translates to “respectfully leaving another to decide what is best.” In this case, the master sushi chef will meticulously craft and curate your meal.
My favourite part about omakase is watching the sushi masters prepare each bite with such respect and precision before placing it in front of you.
Of course, I had to follow in Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps so I made a reservation at Sushi Bar Yasuda on the first of the month prior to when I wanted to go. This is very important as (like everywhere else in Japan) it’s a tiny spot.
A family affair, Yasuda is helmed by his wife and daughter who help serve while he simultaneously shaped rice and regaled guests with tales of living in New York for 20 years.
I sipped on a flight of sake while piece after piece of delectable morsels were delivered to our plates – fatty cuts of tuna, lush uni, glistening sardine and salmon, plump shrimp, clam and scallop, grilled eel, etc… ending with the requisite tuna maki and sweet tamago. Before we knew it, we had devoured 24 pieces of sushi in a single sitting!!
Another spot in Tokyo that was recommended to me was Kyubey in Ginza. The service was impeccable, the room was a bit rowdier as it could accommodate more people but the sushi was no less delicious.
In addition to the 12-piece omakase set, our cheerful sushi master gave us crunchy fish bones to nibble, umami-filled soups and tamago two ways for dessert. I requested an additional order of the wagyu beef sushi at per my roommate’s insistence as she had visited the year before. Melt-in-your-mouth goodness!
Tip: As most establishments in Japan don’t speak much English, ask your accommodations to help you make reservations.
Note: Unless indicated by the chef, don’t dunk your sushi in soy sauce. If required, the chef brushes the piece beforehand placing it before you.
So, you like seafood? How about 10+ courses of it? Even better, am I right. While the menu at Kaikaya By The Sea, an izakaya with a slight Western influence, is swimming (pun intended) with seafood options, I would opt for the Special Course Meal.
Eat your way through an artfully arranged sashimi platter, succulent slices of hamachi carpaccio, flavourful tuna spareribs, sticky fried prawns and flakes of salmon with strips of seaweed on a mound of rice that you pour broth over.
Not for the squeamish, there’s also a shirako dish (cod sperm sac) cooked au gratin with Gorgonzola cheese.
Other notable dishes were the strips of sirloin that were perfectly marbled with fat and melt in your mouth and the delicately flavoured sakura blossom ice cream.
Note: Tipping is not customary in Japan. In fact, if you leave money behind, the servers will chase after you to return it!
The Snacking Foodie
If you prefer grazing over multiple tapas-style small plates (versus ordering your own entrée) to sample a little bit of everything, then head to a traditional Japanese izakaya.
Ban Ban Izakaya is an authentic, locals-only spot in the heart of Shinjuku. You’re welcoming into the narrow, packed room by the fragrant scent of yakitori sizzling on the grill.
No one spoke a lick of English so I just pointed at what people seated near me were eating and was presented with a drool-worthy selection of skewers of chicken, pork and beef.
I washed it all down with multiple massive Chuhai, (short for “shochu highball”) which is composed of shochu, soda water and lemon.
Teppan Onnadojo in Shibuya is another amazing izakaya offering a lively crowd, refreshing highballs and tasty small plates. My favourite skewer ended up being an item listed on the menu as “pope’s nose” which turned out to be chicken butt…delicious. The omelette stuffed with cod roe was another standout dish for me.
Tip: Don’t over over-rub disposable chopsticks as it implies that the establishment uses cheap quality.
The Comfort Foodie
Sometimes you’re just not in the mood for some finicky, frou-frou meal that requires knowledge of how to use seven different kinds of forks. If you’re craving a simple, hearty meal that will warm the belly, hightail it to Curry House Coco Ichibanya, a no-frills chain restaurant that specializes in Japanese curry.
The service is fast and friendly and the menu is extensively customizable – choose how much rice, spice and toppings you want.
I ordered the thinly sliced pork curry with hunks of roasted eggplant with spicy roasted garlic on the side (highly recommend!). Don’t forget to order crispy fries on the side to dip into the smooth sauce – the salt from the fries perfectly offsets the slight sweetness of the curry. Guys – I actually have dreams about this curry.
Stroll along a quiet residential neighbourhood in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward and you’ll find two-storey café as quaint and cute as what you’d find in a Studio Ghibli film (pretty much the Disney of Japan).
Your heart will just explode in squeals of “KAWAIIIIIIII” at Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory. Choose from golden-crusted rows of Totoros, a giant, rabbit-like spirit creature in the adorable film My Neighbour Totoro, with light custard and cream fillings in seasonal flavours like chocolate, strawberry and mango.
You’ll have a hard time taking the first bite of this cute dessert!
Luckily, living in Toronto means I have access to pretty high quality Japanese food. However, nothing compares to eating the real deal in the country that it was created. Also, I can’t for the life of me find abura soba in The 6ix!! Let me know if you know a good one or find a spot 🙏🏽
If you want to keep this eating train going, check out this post about eating your way through the Tsukiji Market.
Keep your stalking game strong and follow me @teriaki if you aren’t already!