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Eating in Tokyo: Our Favorite Foods

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Every morning before starting out on another day in Tokyo, I would ask Jürgen what he was most excited about. It didn’t matter whether we were planning to visit an ancient temple, a renowned museum, a crazy festival or a gorgeous garden, his response was always the same: “Eating.” And I would thoughtfully nod in agreement. Of all the things Tokyo has to offer, its delicious and surprisingly affordable food is probably the highlight. This is a city in which it’s almost impossible to eat poorly.

Omurice
Omurice

As a foreigner, ordering your meal in Japan isn’t always the easiest task in the world. What is Mentaiko? Katsu-sando? Karaage? Are these fish guts? Cow brains? The words are so unfamiliar that anything is possible. But the first time someone suggested omurice, I knew I could rest easy. I ordered with confidence, and watched with satisfaction as exactly what I expected was placed before me: an omelette served atop rice. Omurice! Sounds simple, and it is, but somehow Tokyo’s restaurants elevate this no-nonsense dish to a delectable art form. [Photos]

Udon
Udon

Thick white noodles made from wheat flour, udon competes with soba and ramen for noodle dominance in Tokyo. At its simplest, udon is served in big bowls of hot broth, topped with scallions, but there are endless ways to order it. Topped with tempura. Served with a piece of sweet tofu called aburaage. Accompanied with mochi: a glutinous rice ball (not my favorite). You can have cold udon, udon with veggies, or with raw egg. It’s one of the cheapest and quickest meals in Tokyo, and the chewy noodles always hit the spot. [Photos]

Tonkatsu

We had been introduced to tonkatsu, breaded pork cutlets, during our time in Busan, South Korea, but the deep-fried dish is originally from Tokyo. Like udon, this is a dish you can order in a variety of ways: in a sandwich, covered with curry, or atop a bowl of rice. But in our estimation, the classic tonkatsu plate is still the best: served with a heaping helping of shredded cabbage, and topped with a dark and tangy Worcestershire-style sauce.

Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki

It might seem wrong that, as a customer in a restaurant, you’re forced to cook your own meal. But when you can skip all the prep-work — all the chopping, thinking and balancing of ingredients — cooking can be a blast. We consistently enjoyed the okonomiyaki restaurants we went to. You choose the mix that sounds best, then pour the batter out onto the perfectly-heated plate in front of you. The flipping is tricky, but within minutes you’ll have a wonderful pancake-style dish. Or a horrid, splattery clump of half-cooked dough. [Photos]

Takoyaki
Takoyaki

Frequently, we’ll be indulging in a favorite new foreign food and I’ll say something like, “Why don’t we have this back home? This would totally be popular in America!” But while eating takoyaki, I didn’t say that. I mean, I enjoy takoyaki, but I seriously doubt that it will ever succeed with my countrymen. These are, after all, fried octopus balls. Deep-fried dumplings of dough, each concealing a big chunk of octopus. They’re cheap, yummy and popular in Japan, but Americans are more likely to embrace seppuku. [Photos]

Tempura
Tempura

Tempura is fried food, nothing less and nothing more. Fish and vegetables tossed in a flour batter and dropped in oil. Unlike octopus balls, fried food is a concept which my inner-American has no problem with. But somehow tempura tastes different than what I’m used to. Lighter, crispier and healthier. The batter is kept cold and clumpy, not mixed too much, and the frying is done in regular vegetable or canola oil, for the barest minimum of time. You can find tempura restaurants ranging from the very cheap to the quite expensive, but what you’re unlikely to find is tempura done badly. [Photos]

Sushi
Sushi In Tokyo

It’s sushi, and this is Tokyo. Do you want me to elaborate on that? You know it’s delicious. It’s delicious, fresh, perfectly prepared, served in millions of wonderful restaurants on every corner, and it’s absolutely affordable. Come to Tokyo and eat as much sushi as you can stomach, because when you go home and are charged eight dollars for a single piece of tuna nigiri, you’ll wish you had eaten more. [Photos]

Soba
Soba

We learned how to make soba noodles during a day spent with a master chef. But it was by watching (and listening to) fellow patrons in the restaurants of Tokyo, that we learned how to slurp. Soba are hand-cut buckwheat noodles, normally served cold, with a small bowl of soy-based dipping sauce that’s garnished with spring onions. You grab a few noodles with your chopsticks, dunk them half-way into the sauce, and then … slurrrrp. One of our favorite meals. [Photos]

Ramen
Ramen

I thought I knew all about ramen noodles. I went to college, after all, and survived four years on a diet of Papa John’s pizza, beer and ramen. But I knew nothing. Those dried-out noodles in styrofoam cups have as much to do with real ramen as Pringles have to do with potatoes. From the first steaming bowl I tried in Tokyo, I was hooked. I could eat ramen for weeks and never get sick of it, especially since there’s such variety. Every region of Japan has its own spin on the dish, and you can find them all in the capital. Especially popular in Tokyo are tsukemen, or dipping ramen noodles. [Photos]

Shabu-Shabu
Shabu Shabu

A pot of broth is set upon the burner built into your table, and soon the waitress will bring a tray of vegetables and meat. Once the broth is boiling, you start plopping in the food, leaving it to cook for as long as you want. Then you eat it. Shabu-shabu is another Japanese dish which asks the customer to do the cooking himself. The name is derived from the sound the food makes as you stir it around the pot. I’d be more inclined to call it “hiss hiss,” but “shabu shabu” is apparently how the Japanese ear hears that sound. At any rate, this is a fun meal to enjoy with friends. [Photos]

Japanese Cookbooks

More Omurice Photos
Omurice
Omurice
Omurice
Omurice
More Udon Photos
Udon
Udon
Udon
Udon
Udon
More Okonomiyaki Photos
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
More Takoyaki Photos
Okonomiyaki
Okonomiyaki
More Tempura Photos
Tempura
Tempura
Tempura
More Sushi Photos
Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
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Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
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Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
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Sushi In Tokyo
Sushi In Tokyo
More Soba Photos
Soba
Soba
Soba
More Ramen Photos
Ramen
Ramen
Ramen
Ramen
Ramen
More Shabu-Shabu Photos
Shabu Shabu
Shabu Shabu
Random Tokyo Food and Sake Photos
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
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Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
Tokyo Food Blog
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June 28, 2014 at 3:28 pm Comments (5)

Our Favorite Shibuya Sights

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We spent many entertaining evenings in Shibuya, which has become one of the most exciting areas in Tokyo. There are so many bars, shops and things to do here, that it would be hopeless to attempt listing them all. But here were a few of our personal favorites.

Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street

Perhaps the best way to approach Shibuya is along Cat Street, by way of Omotesando. This curvy lane follows the old path of the Shibuya River, and brings you past loads of cool designer stores, vintage clothing shops, and cozy cafes. It’s is one of the most popular areas among the young and hip of Tokyo, and serves as a relatively laid-back introduction to the craziness you’re about to experience in Shibuya. [Location]

Shibuya Goat Cafe
Sakuragaoka – Goat Cafe

Found on the quieter southern side of the tracks, Sakuragaoka has won fame not for its food or drinks, but for its doormen. In a cage outside the cafe are two braying goats. Sweet-tempered Sakura is white, while boisterous Chocolat has a brown coat. You can pet Sakura without fear, but take care if attempting to touch Chocolat; that feisty beast will head-bash anyone who gets too close. The goats are fun, but our favorite part of this cafe was its familiar atmosphere and excellent food. [Location]

Photo Boxes

Yes, fine, the most important thing is inner beauty. Blah blah, now shut up and get out of the way, so I can get inside this photo box and show you what real beauty looks like.

You can find Fashion Photo Booths all over Tokyo, but for some reason it took a trip to Shibuya before we felt brave (or drunk) enough to step inside one. Want freakishly huge eyes like a Disney character? Want smoother, lighter skin like the finest porcelain? Want your wrinkles to vanish along with the last of your self-regard? Then these photo booths are for you. Results can range from terrifying to hilarious. But probably not beautiful.

Uobei  Automated Sushi Restaurant
Uobei Automated Sushi

Sit down in front of a terminal at Uobei, and scroll through the options. Tuna nigiri, that sounds good. Salmon with mayo? Yes please. And a tempura shrimp roll for only ¥108? That’s crazy, I’ll take it. Selections made, you press “go.” A couple minutes later, a tray with three plates zips out along a magnetic belt, stationing itself in front of you. You grab the plates, press a button and zip, the tray flies off, back in the opposite direction.

Ostensibly prepared by humans, the sushi at Uobei is delicious and fun, but will make connoisseurs turn up their nose. One offering, for example, is cheeseburger sushi. Yes, we ordered it. Yes, we loved it. Though Uobei forces you to miss out on the human engagement which makes experiencing a foreign culture so rewarding, sometimes it’s nice to just look at color pictures of food, press buttons, and eat in blissful peace, no talking required. [Location]

Karaoke Tokyo

(With our friends from Chic Soufflé and Not Hemingway’s Spain)

Karaoke

You’re in Tokyo, so you’re doing karaoke. No, that’s not a suggestion, nor is it a threat. Just a simple declaration of fact. You’re in Tokyo, so you’re doing karaoke. Grab your friends, have some drinks, and relax. This isn’t American-style karaoke, where you’re asked to bleat in front of a huge crowd of strangers. In Japan, you rent a room, and the only people who will ever hear you are those you trust.

We thought that in Shibuya, karaoke might be too expensive, or that we’d have to wait in a long line. But in fact, this turned out to be the best place for it. There are a lot of halls, and maybe because they’re forced to compete, they’re cheap. You normally rent a room for an hour at a time, and the price includes all the drinks you want. The machines can be switched to English, and the song selection is excellent. Kanye West? Guns n’ Roses? System of a Down? 99 Luftballons? Shibuya’s karaoke halls have you covered. But as for your friends’ ears… they’ll have to cover those, themselves.

Crazy Shibuya
Maidreamin’

We sat down at our table in this below-ground restaurant in Shibuya, and were instantly made dizzy by the pixellated decor. Maidreamin’ is a cafe that takes its inspiration from the 8-bit world of Mario Brothers. I don’t remember any flirty french maids in the video game, but perhaps they were on Level Eleven.

We leaned back in our chairs and allowed ourselves to be entertained by a super-sweet cadre of hostesses who brought us food, served us beer, blew us kisses, taught us cutesy-pie songs, and even danced to ear-splitting J-Pop on a tiny stage in the middle of the cafe. It was a bizarre, very Tokyo-ish evening out and even though our personal tastes run more toward butlers, we had a great time. [Location]

Tokyo Tower Framed Photo

More Photos from Cat Street
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
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Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
Cat Street Tokyo
More Photos from the Goat Cafe
Shibuya Goat Cafe
Shibuya Goat Cafe
Shibuya Goat Cafe
Shibuya Goat Cafe
Another Beauty Box Photo
Beauty Booth
More Photos from Uobei Automated Sushi Restaurant
Uobei  Automated Sushi Restaurant
Uobei  Automated Sushi Restaurant
Uobei  Automated Sushi Restaurant
Uobei  Automated Sushi Restaurant
Uobei  Automated Sushi Restaurant
Uobei  Automated Sushi Restaurant
A Couple More Karaoke Photos
Karaoke Tokyo
Karaoke Tokyo
Another Pic from Maidreamin’
Crazy Shibuya
Random Shibuya Pictures
Crazy Shibuya
Crazy Shibuya
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June 20, 2014 at 12:04 pm Comments (2)

Shiodome

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Shiodome, the onetime railway center of Tokyo, has blossomed into one of the city’s most modern and important financial districts. We spent a day wandering around its skyscrapers, like ants in the presence of giants.

Just like Ginza, the neighborhood immediately to its north, Shiodome was originally swamp land, filled on the orders of Lord Tokugawa in the early seventeenth century. In 1872, during the Meiji Era, Shiodome became the terminal of Japan’s first railway line. With the closure of the train station in 1986 and the dismantling of its yards, a prime piece of real estate opened up, and Tokyo decided to build what Tokyo builds best: skyscrapers. Today, Shiodome is home to the headquarters of some of Japan’s biggest firms, including Fujitsu, All Nippon Air, Bandai, Dentsu and Softbank.

We were visiting on a Sunday, when Shiodome was taking a breather from the standard corporate hustle, so we didn’t really experience its true spirit. But that was fine. While in Tokyo, we wouldn’t exactly be suffering from a lack of “crushing crowds of businessmen,” and it was fun to have this ultra-modern skyscraper park largely to ourselves.

For lunch, we went to the top of the sleek Dentsu building, one of the tallest skyscrapers in Tokyo. Though we had expected outrageous prices, we found an excellent and extremely reasonable meal at a restaurant dedicated to the cuisine of Hokkaido. The view from here was perhaps even better than that of the SkyTree; not nearly as high, but closer to the city and far less crowded.

In the bottom levels of the nearby Caretta Building we came across the Advertising Museum of Tokyo (ADMT). With engaging exhibitions that take visitors on a chronological journey through the history of Japanese advertising from the 1700s into the present day, the museum is a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed the interactive booths where you could view television ads from throughout the years. Did you know that Orson Welles did an ad for Japanese whiskey? He did, and it’s as awesome as you’d expect. The ADMT is sponsored by Dentsu, Japan’s leading advertising firm, and is free to visit. Fair enough, considering that, while inside, you’ll be watching advertisements.

Before leaving Shiodome, we made sure to watch the hour strike at a giant copper clock outside the Nippon Television Building. Presented by Studio Ghibli, this clock marks the hour with a clanking, noisy show of copper robots, puffing engines and and tinpail percussion… like something straight out of a steampunk anime flick.

Location of the ADMT on our Map
Advertising Museum of Tokyo – Website

Affordable Hostels In Tokyo

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March 17, 2014 at 2:41 am Comments (3)

The Tokyo SkyTree and Solamachi Mall

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After arriving in a new city, we often try and find a panoramic viewpoint for a bird’s eye view of our new home. So our first activity in Tokyo was destined to be the SkyTree which, at 634 meters, is the world’s tallest tower.

Tokyo Skytree

We planned to get moving early on our first day in Tokyo, and visit the SkyTree as soon as it opened. Rising early wasn’t a problem; Japan is fourteen hours ahead of New York, and our jet lag was of comical proportions. Wide awake by four in the morning, we were polishing off a third cup of coffee before the sun had risen. So how was it possible that we didn’t reach the top of the SkyTree until late afternoon?

The short answer is that we got distracted. In the sprawling complex attached to the SkyTree, we encountered our first Japanese shopping mall. I knew we were in trouble, when I saw the Studio Ghibli store at the mall’s entrance: Jürgen and I have been obsessed with the studio’s films for years. Unable to resist, we spent an hour inside the shop, admiring miniature figurines of Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo.

The rest of our morning was devoured by the Solamachi Mall. It was such a different shopping experience to anything we were used to. Smiling workers bowed as we passed by stores dedicated to anime, chocolate, clothing and sake. We visited a couple art exhibitions, including one that featured a life-size jet/robot fighting machine. We were introduced to Nanoblocks, which are like mini-Legos, and even marveled at the mall’s toilets, complete with butt-warmers and automatic bidet. Before we knew it, lunch time had rolled around.

Our first lunch in Japan! Yes, the SkyTree could wait. On the upper floors of the Solamachi Mall, we found a wealth of mouth-watering restaurants on its upper floors. We got into the longest line we could find, at a place called Rokurinsha. After a 30-minute wait, we were led to a vending machine in the restaurant’s doorway where we chose and paid for our meals and then we sat down to steaming, delicious bowls of ramen.

Having had our fill of both shopping and food, we could finally scale the SkyTree, and joined the unbelievably long queue for tickets. Unfortunately, the weather which had been so lovely in the morning was clouding over dramatically. As we progressed slowly toward the counter, the sky continued to darken. By the time we were on the observation deck, the SkyTree had been completely enveloped in a blinding snowstorm and we couldn’t see a thing. Oh well. At least the tickets only cost $60 apiece.

We’d been in Tokyo less than 24 hours, but had already started to learn that patience pays off, even in the world’s fastest city. Whether you’re squeezing onto a crowded train, waiting for a seat at a popular restaurant, standing in an hour-long queue to scale a tower, or hoping for better weather, the key to sanity in Tokyo is to take a few deep breaths and remain calm. Eventually, you’ll get on the train. You’ll get your table, or reach the end of the line. And eventually, the weather will clear up. We had to wait two hours at the top of the SkyTree, but when the clouds finally did part, the view over the sprawling, endless city was unforgettable.

Location of the SkyTree on our Map

Great Hotels In Tokyo

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March 13, 2014 at 8:47 am Comments (10)
Eating in Tokyo: Our Favorite Foods Every morning before starting out on another day in Tokyo, I would ask Jürgen what he was most excited about. It didn't matter whether we were planning to visit an ancient temple, a renowned museum, a crazy festival or a gorgeous garden, his response was always the same: "Eating." And I would thoughtfully nod in agreement. Of all the things Tokyo has to offer, its delicious and surprisingly affordable food is probably the highlight. This is a city in which it's almost impossible to eat poorly.
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