Are you a foodie visiting Tokyo and looking for a Tokyo food guide in 2021?
When Ninja Food Tours gives food tours in Japan, people often ask me:
“Where should I go for good food? Do you have any recommendations for traditional Japanese food in Tokyo? Can you just tell me about Japanese food culture?”
Let me help you out. You do not want to spend a lot of time researching, and I know it’s especially hard if you can’t read Japanese in Tokyo.
So I will give you a list of must-try food in Tokyo during your stay in Japan. Make sure you check out my other posts as well.
I realized that a lot of people, sometimes even foodies, do not know which restaurants to go to in the first place.
Here is the list of 5 foods you must try when you go to Japan. I will give you several lesser-known restaurants in Tokyo as we go through this Tokyo Food Guide:
- Yakitori (Grilled Chicken Skewers)
- Ramen noodles
- Okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancakes)
- Soba noodles
Also, check out our blog post for recommendations of selected restaurants in Tokyo. If you already know enough about the basics, try our online Japanese Food Trivia Night. It is a really fun experience with friends and families.
Ok, now let’s go ahead and talk about the real stuff.
You simply cannot ignore sushi when you visit Tokyo. The fish market (Tsukiji fish market) brings tons of fresh seafood from other parts of Japan and around the world. It is the biggest fish market in the world!
But do you really want to spend $$$$ just for one meal?
Don’t worry, this Tokyo food guide gives you some ideas for where to go and how to enjoy sushi in Tokyo.
Tokyo foodie guide: where to go for sushi
- Sushi no Midori (Ginza/Akasaka area): A very popular sushi restaurant with multiple locations in Tokyo (Ginza, Akasaka, and Shibuya etc). They serve good quality sushi at a reasonable price, and you definitely need to make reservations or wait in line. Avoid weekends and peak times (e.g. 12 pm and 7 pm etc).
- Mantenzushi (Tokyo station and Nihonbashi): They serve two dozens sushi pieces and small dishes for only 6,800 JPY for their omakase sushi course. It used to be pretty popular only among locals, but now you will see a lot of foreign visitors. Go there with a small party (2-3 people) to be able to sit down at the sushi counter for a great experience. Reservations recommended. They have two locations (Tokyo station and Nihonbashi). It is easier to make reservations at the Nihonbashi location.
Also, if you go to the fish market, there are tons of sushi restaurants around the market, including Sushi Dai, Daiwa sushi, and Sushizanmai. It is typically a 2+ hour wait to eat in the first two places in the morning if you want to eat at the fish market. They are actually in the outer part of the market, called Jogai.
Is it really worth the wait? Some people say yes.
Would I line up and wait?
….Probably no. You can find other good restaurants without a line in Tokyo.
Here are some tips when you travel to Japan for food:
How to eat sushi
There are no strict rules as far as how to eat sushi properly, although there are a few things to keep in mind.
Using chopsticks v.s. Using your hands
Either works. If you go to a good sushi restaurant and eat at the sushi counter, your sushi chef will make sushi differently depending on how you eat sushi.
If you are using chopsticks, he will make sushi a bit firmly so that the rice does not crumble while eating.
How to dip in soy sauce
Sometimes sushi is pre-seasoned with salt or soy sauce when served. That is the way the sushi chef thinks is the best way to eat certain fish (e.g. white fish with sea salt etc). If it is not pre-seasoned, flip your sushi piece over and dip soy sauce on the fish side, not the rice. This is to avoid the rice absorbing too much soy sauce and making the sushi too salty.
Do you want to add wasabi as well? I have seen a lot of people mixing wasabi with soy sauce….
Don’t mix! It ruins the taste of both wasabi and soy sauce. It is considered bad manners in Japan. Instead, put a little wasabi on the fish before eating.
Now time to eat
Sushi tastes the best right after it is served to you, so I recommend you eat your sushi right away. If you are sitting at the sushi counter, order as you go, not all at once.
Also, when you actually eat sushi, flip your sushi face down so that you will taste the fish better, instead of the rice.
You can also try creative sushi in addition to traditional sushi course meals in Japan. Here is an example:
Also if you are looking for a way to buy professional-quality Japanese kitchenware, try Ninja Kitchen Market to shop online so that you don’t have to carry around heavy ceramic ramen bowls.
Also check out our online shopping experience if you would like to virtually explore and shoop. You will get to tour a small part of Tokyo and browse high-quality sushi knives etc.
2. Yakitori (Grilled chicken skewers)
This is one of the traditional Japanese dishes. You might have already tried it back home or seen it on another Japan food guide. Yakitori is typically cooked over charcoal grills to make the meat crispy outside and tender inside. Seasoning is either (1) salt only or (2) savory tare sauce made from soy sauce, dashi broth, and vinegar.
You probably want to try both (1) salt only and (2) the tare sauce at first. I recommend (1) salt only to taste the natural flavor of ingredients if you are dining at a good yakitori restaurant in Tokyo.
Various chicken meat pieces are used for yakitori including:
- Momo (Chicken Thighs)
- Negima (Chicken breast and spring onion)
- Tsukune (Chicken meatballs)
- Kawa (Chicken skin)
- Bonjiri (Chicken tail)
- Liver (Chicken liver)
- Hatsu (Chicken heart)
- Sunagimo (Gizzard)
- Nankotsu (Cartilage)
- Seseri (Neck meat)
In addition, do not forget to try seasonable vegetables:
- Japanese mushrooms
- Japanese Shishito green peppers
OK, are you getting hungry yet?
There are some websites that can help you find where to go, like Tabelog and Retty. Unfortunately, Retty does not seem to have an English version. Yelp in Japan is not as popular as in other parts of the world.
Tokyo food guide: where to go for Yakitori
Japanese people commonly eat Yakitori with beer or sake for dinner. There are a lot of izakaya places that offer good yakitori in Tokyo… but don’t get overwhelmed! Here are some recommendations for you:
- Doromamire (Yotsuya/Shinjuku area): They serve great quality chicken and vegetables. The place is always packed with locals in this cozy restaurant with only 30 seats. Reservations recommended. The average price is 5,000+ JPY per person.
- Torimitsu (Shinjuku): You will be surprised to find this hidden gem in the middle of busy Shinjuku. There are only 10 or so seats and they serve great yakitori meals. The price is moderate and they have a wide range of types of chicken meat, including chicken neck meat (Seseri) and some other parts you have never imagined eating before! This is a good place to eat in Shinjuku and reservations are also required.
3. Ramen noodles
It goes without saying that there are A LOT of ramen restaurants in Tokyo, and Japanese people really love ramen. It is cheap (you can get a decent one for 500 JPY or 600 JPY) and tasty. There are multiple types of ramen based on the type of the broth:
- Shoyu (Soy sauce)
- Shio (Salt)
- Tonkotsu (Pork)
- Others (oil-based, dried fish etc)
If you are not sure which one you would like and want to try multiple types of ramen, maybe you should go to Tokyo ramen street at Tokyo station or the Ramen museum at Shin-Yokohama station. The Ramen Museum is a good option as there are around 8 ramen restaurants selected from various parts of Japan. You can try at least 2-3 different types of small ramen bowls!
Tokyo food guide: Where to go for ramen
It is a tricky question because there are too many good ones in Tokyo! So I will give you some chains to start with and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.
- Ichiran (Most major stations in Tokyo): You might already have heard of or seen Ichiran on another Tokyo food guide before. Originally from Fukuoka, Japan, this pork-based ramen chain has been featured on Forbes and other media. They serve an authentic Hakata-style ramen, each in an individual booth to help you focus on eating your ramen. Ichiran’s pork broth is pretty rich but smooth. The noodles are pretty thin and people often get an extra portion of noodles while keeping the same broth (Kaedama) for a second round.
- Nakamoto (Shibuya, Shinjuku and other major stations in Tokyo): You would probably not think of Tokyo for a spicy ramen, but this spicy ramen is addictive. They offer a wide range of ramen and they tweak the spiciness on a scale of 0 to 10. You should probably start with somewhere between the 4 or 6 to be safe. The ramen chain originally started as a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo in 1991. There are now 19 locations, mostly in Tokyo including Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Meguro.
- Aburagumi (Shibuya, Shinjuku and other major stations in Tokyo): A lot of people don’t know about oil-based ramen without broth. This may sound pretty greasy and heavy… But I strongly recommend you try this at least once! They put their home-made ramen oil over the ramen noodles with some toppings (e.g. grilled pork, scallions, and seaweed). You also add some vinegar and chili oil and stir it well before you eat. It tastes surprisingly smooth and tasty! If you want to try something different, it is definitely worth a visit.
4. Okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancakes)
Okonomiyaki is a popular dish in Japan, and people even cook it at home pretty often. At the same time, there are a lot of restaurants that specialize in Okonomiyaki in Tokyo.
Typically okonomiyaki includes flour, cabbage, scallions, and pork belly slices. It is cooked on a big hot plate and served with a sweet and salty sauce made from soy sauce.
There are multiple types of Okonomiyaki depending on the region:
- Negiyaki: More scallions are added to pancake. Originally from the Kansai area (Osaka and Kyoto).
- Hiroshimayaki: Ingredients are layered rather than mixed together, compared to Okonomiyaki. In addition, pan-fried noodles are added on top of cabbage and proteins in Hiroshima (Western Japan).
- Monjayaki: Similar to Okonomiyaki, various ingredients (cabbage, pork or other proteins) are chopped and mixed together. The key difference is to add water or dash broth to make it more watery rather than making it a pancake. It used to be eaten as a snack mostly in Tokyo or Kanto area. Typically you make your monjayaki on your own. You’ll probably need to learn how to cook monjayaki beforehand.
Tokyo food guide: Where to go for Okonomiyaki
- Kiji (Tokyo station and Shinagawa): Originally from Osaka, this popular Okonomiyaki restaurant always has a line to get in during lunch hours. Each table has an individual grill to keep your meal warm. The Tokyo St. location is pretty convenient, so this may be a good idea to eat as your last dish in Japan before flying from Narita (or at Shinagawa if you are flying from Haneda).
- Monja Kura (Tsukishima): In Tsukishima in the Tokyo bay area, there is Monja Street where there are 60+ Monjayaki restaurants. Kura is one of the most popular restaurants that serves good monjayaki in the area and it is always crowded. Funny that their signature dish is clam chowder monjayaki and it actually tastes really good!
5. Soba noodles
Have you tried hot soba noodles, but not cold? You should try cold soba noodles while you are in Japan. Soba is made from buckwheat flour, and smooth and refreshing.
Soba is typically served with side dishes or toppings. It goes well especially with tempura (deep fried shrimp and vegetables) as soba is pretty light by itself. It will be a good mixture of light cold soba and warm juicy tempura!
By the way, it is totally okay to slurp the noodles in Japan. My mom actually used to tell me to slurp!
Tokyo food guide: Where to go for good soba noodles
- Yabu Soba (Ueno): Yabu soba is not only famous for their handmade soba noodles but also for their side dishes (rolled eggs, tempura, and eel). You might have to wait in line to get in. Also, you will probably see some locals drinking sake while eating soba noodles during the day time. Yes… they have a good life.
- Fuji Soba (Major stations in Tokyo): If you are on a budget, you should try Fuji Soba, one of the major soba chains in Tokyo. You can get soba noodles from 300 JPY. They also sell side dish tempura on cash at the counter.
Are you hungry yet?
I’d like to hear from you!
Whether you have a question or a comment, let me know what you think.