Tokyo is unlike any other city.
It’s a weird and wonderful place. Home to 37 million people, but somehow it never feels crowded. A melting pot of old and new. Anything you can imagine, you can find here. The incomprehensibly widespread city has incredible experiences to suit anyone’s tastes, but foodies are especially pampered in Tokyo.
Walk into any restaurant in Tokyo and you’ll find amazing treats. That’s actually the heart of Tokyo’s true culinary nature – spontaneous and adventuresome. Actually it’s incredibly difficult to even find a specific restaurant in a city with no street addresses, at least in the traditional sense.
Taxi drivers might spend hours going around in circles, never finding a place. I spent my first two days in Tokyo looking for a specific kushiage restaurant, until I finally gave up, walked into the first restaurant I came by, and found the best tempura I’ve ever had.
Street food in Tokyo comes in many shapes
Shimokitazawa, named the trendiest neighborhood in the world by Vogue magazine in 2014, has a wide array of restaurants and cafés with Western influences. This is the place to go for some Japanese-Italian pasta or Japanese-Finnish pastries!
Try Harajuku for some freshly made potato chips, seasoned to your liking, at Calbee
Bio Ojiyan Café in Harajuku has an amazing menu with the world’s best rice bowls
Tokyo is so filled with fantastic feasts that sometimes the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. Here’s seven things nobody should miss in Tokyo:
7. Green Tea
The Japanese undoubtedly have the best tea in the world, and they’ll love teaching you more about it – even if they only speak Japanese and you clearly do not. Try different varieties at tea rooms or cafés and enjoy the subtlety of the world’s most popular drink.
For a more authentic and old-fashioned experience, try a Japanese tea ceremony.
Sandra (I may have forgotten her real name) is the gracious host of tea ceremonies at Rakuutei
It would be impossible to talk about Japanese food without shining the spotlight on sushi. Most sushi joints have displays outside with plastic replicants of their dishes. My favorites, though, are the ones that delete this unnecessary step and make life easier: the kaitenzushi.
Kaiten sushi might just be the best invention in the world. I’m completely convinced that conveyor belt sushi is the secret to a happy life. It also helps with the language barrier – just sit down and pick up whatever looks appealing. Most kaiten restaurants also have taps with limitless green tea. This is paradise to me.
Yakiniku is the Japanese version of BBQ. It’s delicious and incredibly fun. Yakiniku restaurants have small grills on each table where you can cook up your own meal. The grilled beef tongue is my favorite. And yes, there might have been a small fire when I last tried yakiniku, but I’m sure it wasn’t my fault.
Ramen noodles are the perfect fast food inTokyo, especially if you’re traveling alone. Just buy a ticket from a vending machine outside, hand it over to the chef behind the counter inside and sit down. No need to say anything. Most ramen joints only have a few seats, and the massive portions are slurped down fast to make room for more hungry customers.
It’s the perfect spot to forget any social conventions you may have learned in life. It’s not a leisurely dinner where you join in conversation whil you sip a glass of Riesling. Just stare at a wall and slurp your noodles as fast (and as loud) as you can.
In the whole wide world of noodles, udon are my absolute favorite. They have a certain resilient texture, somewhat hard to bite down, which I love. Just make sure you wear an apron to keep that spicy broth away from your shirt!
2. Gyoza Dumplings
The Japanese gyoza dumplings are usually filled with either pork or vegetables. These crispy dumplings are then dipped into an oil-based sauce. Definitely one of my favorites from any Asian cuisine, and the best thing to have as a starter or as part of a larger feast.
And now, the restaurant I mentiond earlier, and the best tempura meal I’ve ever had.
I never thought battered and fried vegetables and seafood could be so tasty, but Tsunahachi Tempura serves these incredible sets that will have you leaving the restaurant painfully stuffed and happier than ever. The fried clams (the size of your palm, and with a delicate touch of clove) are especially tasty!
Bonus: Surprises at Japanese Supermarkets
Japanese supermarkets are filled to the brim with everything. I could spend a week at a 7-11 just going through their snack section. My personal favorites are the green tea or cherry blossom flavored Kitkats, the seaweed and tuna flavored potato chips and yuzu candies.
There’s also cheese flavored chocolate, candy flavored potato chips and potato flavored candy. Be careful, be open-minded and be ready to try new things!