Tokyo, Japan – Some of the most interesting food I’ve ever had in my life

I visited Tokyo with J in June. Since we really enjoy food tourism, this is a long post about all the things we ate in the name of food anthropology. These places were recommended to us from our research on chowhound.com

This is the menu from Sakuratei in Harajuku. Known for their okonomiyaki, we decided to check it out right after we landed in Tokyo from Toronto. It was a bit of a struggle to find it as we realized that a) Tokyo doesn’t use addresses and streets the way Canada does, b) We don’t read Japanese and the restaurant is not labelled as “Sakuretei” in English. J used her nose and we found ourselves here by luck! I was surprised to find out how much of the food we had to cook ourselves at this restaurant. The food was ultimately pretty tasty but I found the air dense, oily, and made your clothes stink. It was all worth it though.

This is the instruction on how to eat Monja-yaki which is essentially vegetables, meat, and sauce, stir-fried on a flat grill that you stir together and eat with tiny spoons.

Here is the Monja-yaki in action. This is the Hot Hotter Hottest Monja-yaki for 950yen ($12CAD) with spicy ground beef, kimchi, kochuchan. It is similar to okonomiyaki but much thinner. I liked the flavours and the uniqueness in preparation of this dish. It was salty, spicy, and very crunchy with bits that were seared nicely on the grill.

This is spicy chicken saute for 520yen ($7CAD) which was recommended on the menu. Nicely marinated chicken with some interesting spices which I still can’t name. We screwed up the preparation of the dish: we over cooked our sprouts. We should’ve separated the meat and vegetables when we cooked it up. Such a noob mistake.

This is the prep work required to make an okonomiyaki (essentially a salty pancake). So many colours! So pretty! We got the Sakura-yaki (pork, squid, shrimp, white onions, green onions, mushroom, pork shoulder) for 1050yen ($13CAD). Basically we mixed everything inside the bowl, added, the egg, and put it on the hot plate.

Here the okonomiyaki is on the hotplate.

This is the end product with some mayo on top. Crispy, filled with fresh seafood, and satisfying. I would definitely come back to Sakuretei. The experience of cooking your own food and the delicious flavours was definitely worth it. Sakuratei, 3-20-1 Jungu-mae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, phone: 03-3479-0039 www.sakuratei.co.jp

We wanted to find the best ramen in Tokyo and chowhound.com produced Menya Kissou as the most highly recommended place.

This tiny noodle shop opens at 1130am but people start showing up at 11am to lineup. There are about 10 seats that you can sit on while you wait. The rest of the patrons will wait in a line behind the seats, eager for the next group to move in so they can get a seat. We showed up at 1115 and we were 20th in line. We eventually got into the shop at around 1145. They took our order as we sat outside but unfortunately, the menu had no English. You have to know what to order before you arrive. You should get the Tsukemen ramen. This type of ramen is where you are served broth with the ramen on a separate plate that you dip into the broth so you can control the temperature and the amount of soup you get with the noodles. The noodles were fragrant and had their own delicious seafoody flavour. When dipped into the broth, it was savoury, sweet, and warming. You should also get the chasu pork which was delicious: marbeled with fat, flavourful, tender, and delicate. Finally, make sure you get the Hanjyukku egg which is a soft boiled egg with a golden yolk that is mind blowing. It is a beautiful smooth and velvety nectar with amazing flavour. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed so I don’t have photos of the wonderful ramen that we ate. However, visit this blog (linked on chowhound.com) if you want to see some photos exilekiss.blogspot.com Do not miss this place. This was the best ramen I’ve ever had in my life. It was the perfect experience: cooling off in the AC, eating hot noodles, with Bette Middler playing in the background. Menya Kissou, (Koto, Tokyo, Japan), 麺屋 吉左右(めんや きっそう)江東区東陽1-11-3, Tel: 03-3699-5929

I really wanted a nice drink and a skyline view of Tokyo at night so we decided to check out the New York Bar at the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel. You may also recognize it from Lost in Translation.
While expensive, this place really oozed ambience. I am not sure if it was the smokey room, the live jazz, the dimly lit interior, or the brightly lit Tokyo skyline that made this bar amazing.

These views were simply spectacular. The drinks were bloody expensive ($15 per martini) but well worth it for the view, the atomsphere, and the live jazz. We ended up having to pay a pretty hefty cover charge of 2200yen ($27.5CAD) but the jazz was pretty nice. My only gripe: smoking is still allowed in hotels and hence, it was somewhat of a smokey night.

If you want a nice night out with jazz, a view, and a nice cocktail, I would definitely check this place out. New York Bar in Park Hyatt Tokyo,3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo, Tel: +81 3 5322 1234, tokyo.park.hyatt.com

J and I stumbled through Shinjuku after a few drinks at New York Bar. Because of the cost, we didn’t end up eating a lot at New York Bar so we were in dire need of some sustenance. We came to Toriyoshi which is a yakatori-ya (a place that serves skewers of meat).

This is the Soybean tofu for 570yen ($7CAD). It had a really interesting texture: soft, somewhat foamy, and yet full of many little firm areas. It was almost granular. I thought it was texturally interesting.
This is the Secret Recipe Fried Chicken Wings for 480yen ($6CAD). Nicely fried, sweet, and tender on the inside. Nothing remarkable though.
These are the skewers. We had grilled chicken skin which was really fatty and crispy. We had salt grilled chicken thigh, teriyaki chicken, and salt grilled chicken tail. All were pretty good but nothing spectacular. Basically salty barbequed chicken. While I liked the atmosphere here at Toriyoshi, it was nothing compared to Fuku which I write about farther down in this post. Toriyoshi, Ikeda Plaza Building, 5f, 3-34-16 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 03-3225-1922

We had full morning at the Tsukiji Fish Market, where we met some unfortunate Canadian travellers who really made us embarrassed to be Canadians (“Oh my god! Don’t believe him. He hates outsiders. He is lying to us!” when we asked a local for help). I would highly recommend taking a taxi to the fish market. Taking the subway is OK but the first train only starts running at 545am so it is virtually impossible to catch the tour! They now have a limited number of tickets (free) available for outside viewing. It makes sense. Tourists like us get in the way of real business and we don’t ever buy anything from the market. Make sure that after you wander the market, you grab some sushi at Kagura, right outside the market.

This is the front of Kagura which was recommended on chowhound. We later found out that it Kagura was part of a chain of sushi restaurants in the area. The term “Chain restaurants” in Canada suggests a corporate recipe book and high school students as cooks. I should know. I was a cook at a chain restaurant… Kagura was quite delicious though, defying my Canadian notions of chain restaurants.

This is the Kagura set meal for 4200yen ($52.50CAD). The fish was really soft, delicate, and refreshing. Each bite was filled with the wonderful flavours of each unique fish. The various tunas were balanced and fell apart with each bite. The uni (sea urchin) was fresh and devoid any metallic flavours. This set meal was very expensive but came with a lot of fish.

This is the eel that comes with the Kagura meal. Soft, slightly sweet, with a small rice ball in the middle. It is like a giant unagi nigiri but the eel wasn’t barbequed.

This is the Omaze set meal for 2940yen($36CAD). The only difference is that there were 4 grilled pieces of nigiri. These were nicely smokey but still had wonderful fishy flavour. I didn’t like how the searing changed the texture of the fish but I appreciated it as a different way of enjoying this fish. The raw shrimp was very sweet and very slippery. The sushi rice was sticky and sour, as it should be. Overall, I really enjoyed the sushi at Kagura and would come again. I don’t care that it is a chain! My only gripe is that I was hopeful to try real Japanese wasabi but they served the horseradish stuff that we have in North America. The prices are pretty high but the flavours are amazing and it is quite an experience to eat the fish that you saw being sold just a few blocks over. Kagura Sushi, 4-14-14 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

The following day, we went to find ramen in the Shinagawa area but unfortunately, the place that we were trying to get to was closed. We saw several Japanese middle-aged ladies enter a small restaurant that opened with a shutter door. There was no English signage. We had no idea what type of food they served. But we heard lots of people inside and we wanted to go where the locals went for lunch. Turns out, it was a small fish shop! Trying to negotiate a meal was difficult, especially as we knew very limited Japanese and the cook/owner knew very little English.

This is the fish of the day. I am not sure what of fish this was but it tasted miso marinated. The fish was warm and flaky and the crispy skin was delicious.

This is the salmon. Again, nicely cooked, tender and delicious fish.
This is the homemade soy tofu. Wonderfully soft, rich, and salty. This was better than the tofu that we had Toriyoshi!
This is the entire meal that we had. As you can see, even though we didn’t speak any Japanese, we pieced a meal together and it was quite tasty. This just goes to show you that you don’t need to rely on food blogs or chowhound to know where to find good food. True food tourism is also about adventure!

After eating a light lunch, we went to Roppongi for some shopping. We ended up not being able to afford any clothing but we could afford some pastries. These pastries are from Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris.

Even the box is beautiful!

These are the two pastries that we purchased. One was a green tea pastry (about $10CAD) and the other one was a profiterole.

This is the green tea pastry dissected. This was fantastic. The green tea cream was soft, rich, and smooth. There was a red bean paste on the inside which added some sweetness and texture. The bottom was a green tea macaroon which added some nice crunch to this pastry. Do NOT miss getting pastries from this place. Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris, 9-7-4 Akasaka Minato-ku Tokyo Midtown B1F. www.sadaharuaoki.com

Before a big day touring Yoyogi (where we found ourselves often, either on purpose or by accident), we tried out Yoshinoya. It is a Japanese fast food chain that serves noodles, rice, and other quick dishes.
This is the meat bowl for 380yen ($4.75CAD). It was really satisfying. Marinated thin slices of beef in a soy/onion broth poured on top of rice. Served very quickly and very hot.
This is the unagi bowl for 500yen ($6.25CAD). Nothing special but dirt cheap compared to Canada. Overall, I really enjoyed Yoshinoya as cheap way to stave off hunger. Though cheap, it was still delicious and really demonstrated to me that even cheap Japanese food is awesome. Yoshinoya, multiple locations.

Wanting to try even more ramen, we went to Shibuya in search of more Tsukemen noodles (dipping noodles). Our chowhound searches produced Suzuran as the next best after Menya Kissou.
This is the storefront right behind the police station in Shibuya.This is the Kagoshima pork (buta kakuni) on tsukemen noodles. So very very tender, salty, sweet, and juicy. The pork just falls apart in your mouth.This is the pork chasu on tsukemen ramen. The broth was quite salty, more than what I expected. It was really nice to be able to control the amount of soup in each ramen bite but I did find it salty. The noodles were thick, bouncy and chewy but didn’t carry any distinct flavour the way that the Menya Kissou ramen did.This is a separate plate of the buta kakuni because I liked it so much. I really enjoyed Suzuran but not quite as much as I enjoyed Menya Kissou. I found the broth a bit on the salty side but it was still rich and satisfying. The noodles in particular carried less flavour but I really enjoyed the texture. They also served this wonderfully thick noodle that we didn’t get a chance to order. Next time! Suzuran, 3-7-5 Shibuya, Tokyo.

We wanted to diversify our eating experiences beyond ramen and sushi so we tried out tonkatsu, fried pork cutlet. This is something that I don’t usually get in Canada as it is usually quite fatty, very tough, and tastless. Katsukura is reportedly one of the best tonkatsu places in Japan, though again, it is a chain restaurant. We ate at the one in Takashimaya Times Square.
This is the more expensive TOEN Pork Fillet Cutlet for 2180yen ($27.25CAD). It is supposed to be specially selected cross-bred brand name pork. I found it more fatty, more juicy, and more rich than the regular tonkatsu pork fillet. This is the Ton Katsu Zen fillet cutlet for 1800yen ($22.5CAD). Lightly breaded, lightly fried, tender, juicy, and wonderfully full of that pork fat flavour. It is served with a ton of thinly shredded cabbage to cut through the fattiness. This was a nice meal to end the evening but even though it was lightly fried, it felt a bit heavy in my stomach. Don’t come here for lunch. You’ll sleep through the afternoon. Katsukura, Takashimaya Times Square Main Build, 14F, 5-24-2 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

After trying out tonkatsu, we wanted to see what Tokyo had to offer for tempura restaurants. Chowhound recommended Ten-Ichi. Again, this is a chain restaurant but was highly recommended for their tempura. I have to say that even though I hate chain restaurants in Canada, chain restaurants in Tokyo are fantastic.
This is the Kayaku and Tempura-Matsu with assorted special tempura and cooked rice in a pot with hors d’oeuvre, salad, soup and pickles for 3150yen ($39.4CAD)This is a close-up of the tempura. Some yam, cucumber, fish, lotus root, pollock, and shrimp were lightly battered and fried. A lot of tempura but because of the way it was fried, it really wasn’t too heavy. In particular, the shrimp head was deliciously crispy. Each bite was juicy and the frying really locked in the flavour of each item.
This is a close up of the rice. It was slightly salty, chewy, with some nice smooth pieces of bamboo shoots, ground pork and mushrooms. Very warm and hearty.
This is the sashimi from the Sashimi and Tempura-Matsu (assorted special tempura and sashimi with salad, rice, soup, and pickles for 3675yen or $46CAD). The red tuna was smooth and delicate but not quite as exciting as the fish we had at the Tsukiji fish market. I really enjoyed the tempura here. The meal itself was quite expensive but definitely worth trying what Japanese tempura has to offer. Ten Ichi, Shinjuku Isetan Honkan Bldg. 7F, 3-14-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

J and I like to shop for different things. I enjoy clothing/electronics. She seems to enjoy food. I’ve never seen her so happy as when we did this shopping spree in the basement of Isetan. We dropped around $100CAD on small pastries, food stuffs, and gifts. The most interesting part of the experience was how different it was compared to the bottom floor of The Bay in Canada. Each shop had professionally dressed individuals with gloves on and halogen lighting that beautifully showcased the food. It really looked more like a jewelry store.
This is the aftermath of our shopping spree, all laid out on the bed in the hotel room.
This is a grape jelly from Shiseido Parlor for around $5CAD. You can see peeled grapes, a fleck of gold leaf, and some really wonderfully slippery jelly in this glass cup.This is a fantastic small pastry from A tes Souhaits!. There was a lot of detail in this pastry. You can see the small flowers, the beautifully laid out berries, and the smooth sugary exterior here.But the magic really happens once you break into the pastry. So many layers of wonderful green tea goodness, balanced with some custard and a little bit of cake at the bottom. There was a huge lineup at the counter of Hollandische Kakao-Stube Hannover Friedrich Bartels. We decided to purchase one of their cakes just because of the line-up. Essentially, it was an egg-based pastry that was layered very intricately. It was moist, flaky, and not too sweet. I wouldn’t have gotten it again though. It was simple but a bit plain for me.
This is a cream cheese stuffed apple stuffed within a cake from chez-moi. This was one of the first cakes that I saw when I went down the escalator and Isetan and I knew I had to buy it. Two levels of stuffing! How could I not?! Unfortunately, the cake was a bit dry though the apple was sour, sweet, and smooth. The cream cheese rounded out the cake nicely. Generally, more of a conversation piece than truly tasty pastry. Make sure you check out the bottom floor of Isetan or any of the other department stores in Tokyo. You won’t be sorry. Isetan, 14-1 Shinjuku 3-chome, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo.

There is a funny story behind Fuku. I thought it was in Yoyogi-ku but it was actually in Yoyogi-uehara. So when we tried to find it in Yoyogi, it was impossible. We walked back and forth in the slums of Yoyogi in the dark trying desperately to find it. We were starving and eager to try the wonderful yakitori that was promised to us from chowhound.com. But we never found it. We ended up walking home. Then we walked through Yoyogi again trying to find the Squaresoft store. When I finally realized that Fuku was in Yoyogi-uehara, it was our last night in Tokyo. Lessons on traveling in Japan: 1) Take a photo of the name of the restaurant written in Japanese. It is often not labelled in English, 2) Know what you want to order in Japanese. Use chowhound if you need to. 3) Get the address right. 4) Don’t trust Google maps.This is the front of Fuku.This is the Tanuki (Shitake mushroom stuffed with minced meat) for 300yen ($3.75CAD). Beautifully soft and delicious mushrooms stuffed with ground chicken. This ground chicken is fantastic because it had little bits of cartilage mixed into it to give it a very springy texture.I really enjoyed the chef at Fuku. He was slaving away on the charcoal grill, flipping each skewer perfectly, wiping down the skewer so that the handles weren’t greasy, and most impressively: used a tiny pair of scissors to cut off any burned edges. He was so meticulous and caring about his meats that it was hard not to be impressed with anything that he made. This is the Enoki (Enoki-dake mushroom rolled in bacon) for 250yen ($3CAD). Crunchy mushrooms with smoky and crispy bacon.This is the Tsukune (chicken meatballs) for 250yen ($3CAD). This was my favourite skewer. Sounds simple enough but they include small bits of cartilage to make the meat very bouncy.This is the Bonbochi (Chicken Tail) for 200yen ($2.5CAD). I liked the chicken tail as it had the perfect balance of fattiness and meat. As you can see, it gets nicely crispy and has some nice skin on it. This is the Kashiwa (chicken) for 250yen ($3CAD). Really delicious, salty, and satisfying. You could really taste the smokiness in this chicken.This is the Sunagimo (chicken gizzard) for 200yen ($2.5CAD). Very crunchy and bouncy. I had to try it but I didn’t love the gizzard.This is the smoked cheese for 350yen ($4.5CAD). I really liked how the cooking process made the outside slightly crispy but the inside deliciously gooey.These Tebasaki (chicken wings) for 250yen ($3CAD). I loved these so much I had to get 2 orders. So crispy, juicy, salty, tender, and smokey. The best wings that I have ever had. I am salivating right now thinking about them.This is the Atsu-age (fried tofu) for 280yen ($3.5CAD). Pretty simple and with a bit too much onion for my liking but a nice dish to clear your palate.This is the Dansyaku (Hokkaido potatoes) for 380yen ($4.75CAD). This was another highlight. The potatoes were buttery, sweet, and had a crunchy shell. Each bite was soft, hot, and slightly mushy. I loved Fuku. It was the best yakitori I’ve had. The chef was meticulous, caring, and the chicken was treated as a truly magestic meat, not the boring meat that it is considered in North America. Fuku, 3-23-4 Nishihara, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 03-3485-3234

After a full night at Fuku, we decided to check out even more yakitori at Aburiya Fudo. Tucked into a trendy bar area in Azabu-Juban, this dimly let modern shop was pretty cool. You sit right in front of the chef and eat as he serves you. The drink menu is extensive and there is jazz in the background. It is a great place to spend a few hours late at night.
This is the complimentary dish served by the chef. It is essentially pureed turnip that is topped with raw baby octopus. The eye stares at you in this picture. The eye is pretty crunchy. The octopus itself was slippery, mucousy, but pretty tasty. Unfortunately, the texture was difficult to enjoy. The funny thing was that later on in the night, when 2 young Japanese people entered, they got a more normal looking dish, white fish on pureed turnip. I feel like the chef was challenging us as we looked clearly like tourists.This is horse-meat flesh ham for 980yen ($12CAD). I’ve never had horse before. It was so beautifully marbled and had a nice smokey/gamey flavour. Such a beautiful dish.This is a nice glass of shochu with a huge chunk of ice. You will notice that the horse is slowly getting eaten.This is the Goroika (grilled squid) for 680yen ($8.5CAD). This dried squid was grilled on charcoal and served with some mayo. The squid was very tough and chewy but again nicely salted and smokey. The brains were creamy and rich. This is the octopus for 280yen ($3.5CAD). Nicely textured but nothing special.The shitake mushroom for 180yen ($2.25CAD). Again, nicely cooked, slippery, and mushroomy but nothing special.

These are the chicken wings for 380yen ($4.75CAD). Crispy skin, tender, juicy, but not was well seasoned as Fuku. Overall, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of Aburiya Fudo. It is a great place to enjoy a drink, some light food, and some cool music. I highly recommend ending your night here. Azabu-Juban 1-8-6, 3568-6224

The rest of these photos are random things I ate in Tokyo that I thought I’d write about.
These mini rice bundles are delicious. Sold from local convenience stores, these sustained us on many early mornings. It is a perfect match of textures. The rice is soft and chewy, the meat centre is jelly-like, and the nori outside is crispy and salty.The technology behind these little bundles of joy is impressive. Only when you open it from the wrapper is the seaweed exposed to the rice. It helps keep the seaweed dry. Amazing!

This is a Krispy Kreme. I have not had one of these since 2004 when they arrived in Calgary. This one was not fresh and was slightly too sweet. I am not 100% sure that I still like it. I used to love them because of their perfect balance of textures: soft, chewy, and lightly crispy. Maybe this one was a little stale? The Japanese loved them though. The line ups were pretty long at times.

This is a heart shaped watermelon. It costs 2020yen ($25CAD). Crazy!

All in all, I loved Japan. I want to come back very soon. The food was impressive, interesting, and flavourful.

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~ by Russ on September 7, 2010.

7 Responses to “Tokyo, Japan – Some of the most interesting food I’ve ever had in my life”

  1. Wow, wow, wow! That is one massive post, where to begin? I’ve always wondered how I would do meal-wise over in Japan, Korea etc… Some of that stuff looks a bit too adventurous for me, such as the eel and horse meat, but I could definitely see myself ordering something along the lines of the Omaze set, and the Dansyaku. The Omaze is still a bit adventurous for me, but a bit less daunting than a big piece of meat or fish. A nice little taste of a few, filling menu items is probably a better strategy in case you don’t like something.

    The green tea dessert looks amazing. The idea of a red bean paste does not seem as appetizing as a chocolate interior, but I’d still give it a whirl.

    Krispy Kreme are good, but definitely overrated. You gotta get them fresh from the store, but I don’t think there are too many left in Ontario any more.

    • Thanks for the comment Harvey. It took me weeks and weeks to collect all the pictures, remember where each store was, and then write this blasted thing!

      The nice thing about some of the Japanese food that we ate is that it comes in small serving sizes so if you don’t like it, you can try something else and not feel too bad about wasting something small. I really enjoyed almost everything I ate. I was watching the TV show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” and I would honestly put Fuku up there if I was ever on the show.

      I am in Vancouver right now and I gotta say: there is a killer food scene here. Lee’s Donut (I’ll write more about it later) blows Krispy Kreme out of the water!

  2. did you have a Mos rice burger?

  3. This reminds me, I should probably start posting about my trip to Asia earlier this summer, huh?
    I think my head is about to explode from your awesome post! So many pictures.. where should I begin? lol

    Your Menya Kissou ramen lunch reminded me of my first LIbretto experience – such an amazing experience, but no photos to re-live it. =[ And you always know you chose a great restaurant when people are lining up before it even opens.

    I couldn’t believe that small green tea pastry was $10 CAN. I wouldn’t have the guts to buy it on a whim, even if it did look good. It’s a good thing you did! Yum! Was there a salty component to it?

    Fuku looks so amazing! I’ve always wanted to try yakitori. I need to get myself to Japan.

    • I can’t to see your asia photos! Where did you end up going? I’ve always wanted to see southeast asia and check out the fresh seafood there. This Tokyo post was massive and overwhelming, so overwhelming that I haven’t written about my most recent trip to Vancouver and Seattle. I’ll get back to it I am sure.

      You have to see Japan Christine. You have to. But be prepared to spend a lot. Not because things are expensive but because you want to eat everything you see there!

  4. What are the 3,4 restaurants you would visit again if you returned to Tokyo?

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