I’ve always been a fan of Japanese cuisine – you name it, I’m there. So naturally, when I take a vacation to Japan, I’m going to eat as much as I can! And if there’s one country where food is abundantly available – in copious variations – it’s Japan. I sheer amount of street food (glorious takoyaki, sweet taiyaki, and the best soft serve in the world) that I had in my two weeks in Japan is astounding! And of course, the infamous vending machines that are probably the best invention ever.
Since I split my time between Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto, I’m going to split my posts into two food round-ups: one for Tokyo and day-trips and one for Osaka/Kyoto. The food types are somewhat similar in the sense that in every city there is takoyaki, there’s ramen, there’s soba, and, of course, there is sushi – but the tastes and flavors are vastly different between these three cities. Let’s start off with the giant hub that is Tokyo.
My very first meal in Tokyo was Numazuko, a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in the heart of Shinjuku. Here at Numazuko, you sit around a giant conveyor belt that stretches the length of the restaurant. You can either pick off the belt or order directly from the chef if you don’t spot what you want. Prices vary depending on the color of the dish and at the end of your meal your waiter will count it all up for you. Green tea is completely self-service and you’re pretty much left alone during your meal unless you flag someone down. I personally thought the fish was pretty fresh and since we sat in front of the chefs, we got first dibs on the new items.
One of the highlights of my trip to Tokyo was Shirohige’s Totoro Cream Puff Factory, located in Setagaya, a residential ward located 15 minutes away from Shinjuku. Shirohige’s specializes in – you guessed it – Totoro cream puffs! You can buy them from the store front or walk upstairs to Tolo Café and eat the cream puffs with a nice cup of coffee. We opted to sit down in the café since I wanted to take my time and admire these cute little desserts. The cream puffs were actually very good – and not just a gimmick! I think my favorite was either the chocolate cream or banana cream.
When a tourist visits Tokyo, they often go to Tsukiji Market, one of the most famous fish markets in the country. They are famous for their tuna auction, which requires attendees to start lining up at 3am in the morning just to get in! They’re also famous for their fresh fish and delicious sushi. Instead of lining up for hours at the hotspots Sushi Dai or Sushi Daiwa, I opted for Yamazaki, located right smack in between the two restaurants. Our wait was only about 1 hour and we probably stayed for close to 2 hours (much to the discontent of the people waiting in line outside). We ordered a set to share but then ordered a few pieces off the menu straight from the chef. Our chef was super nice and the entire restaurant is pretty English-friendly. The highlights were definitely the fatty tuna, fatty salmon, abalone, and this firefly squid sushi with 3 tiny squid on top. The Uni was a standout as well. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Yamazaki and highly recommend it if you don’t want to wait in line for the two usual suspects.
My favorite ramen meal in all of Tokyo had to be Rokurinsha Ramen, which serves Tsukemen. Tsukemen is ramen that is served in a separate bowl from the liquids – there is actually no soup. You dip the ramen in a thick fish sauce. If you have leftover sauce, you can ask for broth to be added and then you can drink the soup. I thought the combination of bouncy, al dente ramen worked so well with the fishy dipping sauce. If you’re interested in trying out Rokurinsha, I recommend the Skytree Solamachi branch over the Tokyo Station branch, which is always busy.
One of our favorite meals of the entire trip was in Hakone, a small mountainous town known for their hot springs and views of Mt. Fuji. Hakone is located close to 2 hours away from Tokyo – faster if you take Odakyu’s special Romancecar train. Right on the side of Lake Ashi is Ashinoko-Chaya, a restaurant with great views of Lake Ashi and amazing soba. Here, we had soba and rice topped with Hakone’s famous soy milk skin. The flavors were simple, but the freshness and crispness of the ingredients really shone. If you have extra time in Hakone, walk to the Hakone Checkpoint and make a stop at Amazake-Chaya, a small teahouse that served the best mochi that I had my entire trip. You won’t regret it.
We took one more day trip out of Tokyo during our week there to Yokohama, a former port city just 30 minutes by train from Tokyo. Inside one of the many malls in the Yokohama Minato-21 area, is Yokohama Motomachi Doria, a restaurant that specializes in rice doria and omu rice. We had the mushroom-meat sauce omu rice and it was divine. The egg, or omelet, was so soft it practically melted in my mouth! If you’re in the area checking out the Cup Noodle Museum or Cosmo World, definitely give Motomachi Doria a try.
And lastly, I want to give a shout-out to Coco Curry Ichibanya, which might be a chain, but offers up some of the best (and cheap) curry rice in all of Tokyo. You can literally order any variation of curry rice here – vegetable, chicken katsu, pork katsu, no katsu, sausage, and a bunch of other toppings and sides. Your meal will be hot, delicious, and super cheap! I had the pork katsu curry rice with cheese on top and it was pure perfection. You’ll end up smelling like a walking box of curry when you leave, but it’ll all be worth it!
Have any good places to recommend? Or general questions about where I went? Drop me a comment – I’d love to talk more about this amazing country!