Tokyo is one of the great foodie cities of the world, specialising in the most incredible food from every corner of the Earth. Rob Goss samples some of the best
The late Anthony Bourdain once said that if he had to eat in only one city for the rest of his life, Tokyo would be it. Most chefs he knew, he added, would agree. Without doubt, Tokyo is one of the great foodie cities of the world, and for many reasons. For one, it’s a place where chefs take an attention to detail and dedication to the culinary craft to the next level with everything, from simple soba noodles to the most sublime sushi. But, from a culinary viewpoint, Tokyo is a great melting pot, too, with restaurants serving not just classic Japanese fare, but specialities from around the country and from every corner of the earth.
There are far too many classics to try and reel off here, but to call out a few, we could start with ramen – the noodles that many Tokyoites will happily queue an hour for, albeit for just a few minutes of blissful slurping. With Nakiryu in Toshima-ku and Tsuta in Shibuya-ku, you have low-cost ramen joints with Michelin stars, but you’ll find superb ramen all over the city. If you are passing through Tokyo Station, stop by Tokyo Ramen Street in the station’s sprawling underground network – it has branches of eight well-known ramen restaurants covering a variety of styles.
Of course, there’s sushi, and that comes in all price brackets. Cheap and cheerful (and still really good) are kaitenzushi restaurants like the Ganso Sushi and Sushiro chains, where you pluck the sushi you want off conveyor belts – although you can also order directly, if you don’t fancy something that may have been circling the restaurant for a while. The high-end could cost ten times as much, but if you are going to splurge on sushi, where better than Tokyo? To pick just two in Ginza alone, Sukiyabashi Jiro and Sushi Yoshitake are both intimate counter-only restaurants with three Michelin stars.
The capital also has some signature dishes that are less well known outside Japan. Being the centre of the sumo world, Tokyo is the best place to try chanko nabe, the hearty hot pot of meat, seafood, tofu and vegetables eaten by sumo wrestlers to get sumo sized. The Ryogoku neighbourhood in Sumida-ku, where the country’s main sumo hall is located, has dozens of chanko nabe restaurants, many of which are run by former wrestlers.
Less of a strain on your belt, the Tsukishima neighbourhood in Chuo-ku has 70 or so restaurants specialising in a Tokyo original called monjayaki, a pan-fried batter that can include diced vegetables, seafood, meat, cheese and all sorts of other things. Admittedly, when you pour the batter mixture onto the hotplate built into your table to start cooking it, monjayaki isn’t the most appetising thing you’ll ever see, but it cooks into a lovely, sticky mess that you scrape up with little metal spatulas, eating directly from the hotplate. It’s one of those foods that just makes you feel happy; that draws you in to the process of cooking, scraping and trying not to burn your tongue on the spatula. Like so much dining in Tokyo, it’s an experience that’s about far more than simply taste.