Some of you may know from my Instagram feed that I recently took a two week trip to Japan with my boyfriend and I should let you know that this has been a place that we have been longing to visit for some time now and I was beyond excited to realise my Japanese dream, if only for two weeks. This trip had been at least a year in the making (and several years of dreaming) before we finally touched down in the madness that is Tokyo.
Hugely intimidating at first, the sprawling city of Tokyo is everything you could wish for and more. Several people have asked me questions since I came back, namely, is it as mad as it looks on TV/in the movies? The honest answer is yes, it is mad but it is so much more that just flashing neon lights and crazy themed restaurants. The city of Tokyo is a total contradiction with zen parks and gardens where you can relax and then bustling areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku where you can people watch for hours as people go about their days in central Tokyo.
We began our trip with a week in Tokyo before heading to Kyoto and then on to the little suburb of Uji, the home of Matcha before returning to Tokyo to savour our last few days in Japan.
There were so many food highlights that it’s really hard to choose just a few but somehow I’ve managed to pick just a few of the food highlights of Tokyo below. I’m not going to be prescriptive at all here. Tokyo is a city that you should explore by following your tastebuds and eating things strange things that you don’t recognise and would never try at home. One of the most enjoyable evenings we had in Tokyo was at a Izakaya where they served only offal yakitori. We didn’t necessarily know what we were eating but we were having so much fun that we didn’t care!
Food Court Takoyaki
The Japanese have an obsession with food courts and they do them exceptionally well. They are often found in the basement section of department stores and you can find everything from sushi to gyoza and every kind of cake and pastry you could ever imagine. My favourite option was the Takoyaki which are essentially octopus balls topped with Takoyaki sauce, Kewpie mayo and bonito flakes. We frequented Tokyu Food Show quite a bit which is located near Shibuya Station.
No trip to Tokyo is complete without trying out some Yakitori in a neighbourhood Izakaya where locals kick back and relax with beers and some meat on a stick on the side. We tried a number of places that served Yakitori, one of which served exclusively offal on a stick and was not for the fainthearted! We also made a quick visit to one of the tiny little restaurants on Memory Lane (or Piss Alley as some people refer to it) where a maximum of eight people sit around in a cupboard-sized bar and choose a variety of meat and veggie snacks on a stick to go with their drinks. It’s a bit of a gamble as sometimes you do not know what you are eating but be adventurous and go for it as it’s difficult to come across any that you will not like!
Sushi Train on a Budget
Everyone should visit a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi place while in Japan and most are quite expensive but you can find a few cheap options which, while not having the greatest quality of sushi, are a lot of fun to experience. One of these is Umei Sushi which is popular and very inexpensive. You order your sushi via a touch screen and it arrives directly in front of you along a mechanised rail. At less than 100 yen a plate, you may get quite carried away but even we weren’t tempted by the salmon and fried chicken ‘sushi’ with carbonara sauce!
I couldn’t write a post about Japan without talking about the ramen. Now, I’m a huge fan of ramen and I really wasn’t sure that many ramen shops in Tokyo would meet my huge expectations and, in fairness, the first ramen place we tried was only ok and nothing to write home about. However, the second, located on Ramen Street under Tokyo Station was glorious. We ordered the most delicious Tsukemen (dipping noodles with ramen broth), gyoza and beers on a vending machine outside, queued along with the locals and gave our tickets to the waitress before we sat down. Fatty pork broth, juicy roast pork and delicious noodles were served alongside chilli oil, and of course, pickles.
Shibuya Food Tour
One of the other main highlights and something I would recommend anyone doing in Tokyo is going on a food tour. We went on a 3 hour food tour of Shibuya on the day after we arrived and it was so worth it to get to know some great local restaurants that we wouldn’t necessarily have known anything about if we hadn’t gone on the food tour. Be prepared for lots of food as we had everything from Okonomiyaki to Hakkaido cheese and corn to the most delicious miso broth and dumplings at a restaurant that is supplied by their very own farm and garden.
Tour by Arigato Japan.
One of the other foods that you need to try on a trip to Japan is Tonkatsu. This is essentially a deep fried breadcrumbed pork cutlet (you can also get chicken or prawn) served with shredded cabbage, rice, miso soup and pickles. Katsukura is one of the chain restaurants that we tried and we had the set meal which came with unlimited cabbage and pickles.
Tokyo is quite enamoured with French patisserie and many famous chefs and Patissiers have bakeries and restaurants in the city (many of which are Michelin-starred). At the very end of our trip, we did take a trip to DAB Japan near Harajuku to try the famous cronut and have some brunch. I would return for the egg sandwich but maybe not for the cronut which was slightly underwhelming. They did have some interesting desserts there such as sweetcorn soft serve – corn flavoured things are very popular in Japan! Taiyaki are another sweet treat that are very popular in Japan and available on almost every street corner. These fish-shaped sweet treats come with different fillings such as the polarising red bean paste (not for me), vanilla custard or even matcha flavour.
Hope you enjoyed my food highlights of Tokyo. Highlights of the rest of the trip will be live soon!