Eating in Tokyo is seen as an experience rather than to fill a void of hunger. In many restaurants, you take your shoes off to enter and sip sake before the meal. The chef carefully prepares the food and each dish is consumed slowly with chopsticks. This is especially the case with sushi eating in Tokyo. But don’t be fooled, there is much more to the Japanese restaurant scene than sushi. Tokyo boasts a diverse food scene with more Michelin starred restaurants than anywhere else in the world. I am by no means a foodie, in fact, I am quite picky, but I made it a goal to give each Japanese cuisine a try. When you find yourself in eating in Tokyo, venture out of your comfort zone and try these 8 foods.
Yakitori is the soul food of Japan. If a food can be skewered, you can make yakitori. Food is grilled over a charcoal fire and often seasoned with sauce from a family recipe. Typically yakitori range from chicken breast, thigh and meatballs to green peppers and noodles. Order one of everything that appeals to you on the menu and definitely don’t keep track of how many you have consumed. I am still dreaming of this yakitori – bacon wrapped noodles.
Gyoza originated in China (as potstickers) but were modified to create a Japanese staple. It was my favorite food I encountered in Japan. So much so that I ran through airport terminals to ensure that Gyoza was my last Japanese meal. Gyoza is a thin, steamed dumpling typically filled with pork or beef, mixed with cabbage and an assortment of veggies. Gyoza are served hot with a side of soy sauce.
This triangular or circular rice ball snack is commonly mistaken for sushi, but is an entirely different food concept. Onigri is traditionally filled with tuna, shrimp tempura, pork, pickled fruits and veggies, salmon or any other salty ingredient. I picked up one that was filled with tempura chicken and cheese.
Tempura=fried, but don’t let your mind immediately go to heavy, American fried food. The key to tempura eating in Tokyo is that the batter is light, creating a fluffy and soft fried dish. Tempura restaurants will serve up tempura style green beans, pork, chicken, peppers and more. I can ensure you that each bite will have a flavorful crunch that will leave you wanting more.
Ramen is consumed frequently in the winter in Japan. It is a soupy dish with a beef based broth filled with Ramen noodles, meat, a boiled egg and veggies. If you head to a Japanese ramen restaurant, you will find patrons loudly slurping their food. It is not considered impolite, but is a way to cool down and enhance the flavors.
Sushi is treated as a form of art in Japan. It is incredibly fresh with many ingredients sourced from the Tsukiji Fish Market, one of the worlds largest fish markets. Don’t expect to order your classic California rolls. Sushi will be served in more traditional forms and only using what is fresh that day. A newly popular concept is conveyor belt sushi, where rolls are individually ordered on an iPad and delivered directly to you on a conveyor belt. It is quite an experience, albeit a little scary, to imagine the future of restaurant technology.
Restaurant Recommendation: Uobei
Dorayaki is a Japanese delicacy that looks like a pancake sandwich. It is made of two honey pancakes with a sweet red bean paste filling. Dorayaki is often served warm as a snack or sweet treat. I found dorayaki to be a little too rich for my taste and I was intimidated by the texture of the red bean paste.
Let’s not forget about dessert when eating in Tokyo! Mochi is a traditional, bite sized treat made from rice that is pounded and molded into a circular shape. Mochi is made in a variety of flavors such as green tea, matcha, strawberry, chocolate, mango, red bean, coffee and more. Don’t be fooled by its texture – mochi is surprisingly chewy!