This post was last updated on January 24th, 2020 at 08:19 pm
The Tokyo food scene is unlike anything you’ve seen before. The moment you travel to Tokyo you will experience a totally different culinary world. A vacation in Tokyo means getting acquainted with new dishes, new drinks and sometimes totally different eating habits than you do at home. The journey of discovery through strange kitchens is perhaps one of the nicest things that are directly related to travel. In the case of Japan, many people think that they know Japanese cuisine through sushi and other dishes at an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Whoever is open to what Tokyo has to offer in this area will experience many other sides of Japanese food and drinks.
A Tokyo Food Special: Teppanyaki
A misunderstanding that we would like to avoid is that the Teppanyaki is an authentic element in Japanese cuisine. This form as we know it today from Japanese restaurants, among others, was developed in the United States. In fact, it uses an iron griddle that is used in American diners that the Japanese have started to use to prepare Japanese dishes (or rather: American versions of Japanese dishes). Teppanyaki literally means “cooked on a metal plate”.
The concept was first applied in 1945 in a restaurant of the Misono chain in the US. The Teppanyaki was later used by the American chain Benihana. They opened their first restaurant in New York City in 1964. The Benihana chain now consists of more than one hundred restaurants that operate mainly under a franchise agreement.
Benihana is actually responsible for the idea that many people have with Japanese food: meat, fish and shellfish are prepared with a lot of show, with teriyaki sauce being the most important condiment. Popular show elements are the cutting of meat with many gestures and the shooting of eggs in the noodles. This form of “preparing Japanese food” has spread throughout the world.
However, those in Tokyo who are looking for teppanyaki will see that the range is much smaller than you would expect. That is because it is not authentic Japanese and this kind of restaurant only appeared in the Tokyo food scene over the last decades. If you are going to eat teppanyaki in Tokyo then this is also inspired by the American interpretation of Japanese food. The price is relatively high in Tokyo for these kinds of restaurants.
The Best Teppanyaki Restaurants in Tokyo
Here are some of our recommendations for amazing teppanyaki restaurants in Tokyo.
With the chef cooking directly in front of you with quality ingredients, you will have an amazing dining experience. The place itself, located in Roppongi, is also beautiful with a great design and atmosphere. The price is on the higher side (about 26$ USD for a sashimi platter) but it’s worth the experience. We recommend trying the seabass, it was very delicious!
Address: 106-0032 Tokyo, Minato City, Roppongi, 7 Chome−21 (Google Maps)
2. Ginza Kira
The quality of the food was near perfect with different cuts of beef ranging from normal Japanese beef to the highest grade of wagyu beef. If you’re a non-meat eater you can also enjoy a variety of fresh seafood. We went here for lunch and paid around $60 USD for a lunch set. Dinner options are higher in price (about $100 USD).
Address: 104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo City, Ginza, 5 Chome−4−6 5F Royal Crystal Ginza (Google Maps)
3. Teppanyaki Akasaka
If you’re looking for an amazing view of the surrounding buildings and the Tokyo Tower while you eat an amazing dish then this is the place for you, especially if you’re staying at the ANA Intercontinental. When we ate the beef it disintegrated in our mouths and the chef was very entertaining. Well worth the price if you want to go for an authentic teppanyaki experience.
Address: 1 Chome-12-33 Akasaka, Minato City, Tokyo 107-0052 (Google Maps)
Note – For all restaurants in Tokyo you should try making a reservation. You can always ask your accommodation to help you make the reservations you need.
A Tokyo Food Special: Sushi
After America, Europe and eventually other continents were used to the Japanese style of preparing meat, fish, etc. a new wave of Japanese food followed that spread over the rest of the world: sushi. Almost everyone now knows this dish and for years sushi has also been a hugely popular dish outside of Japan. Although it has been said for years that sushi is a hype that will reach its peak, this has not been the case to date.
Just like pizza, spaghetti, hamburgers, steaks, tapas, tacos and curries, sushi is one of the many dishes that have claimed a definitive place in world kitchens.
Sushi is always based on sushi rice. In addition, different types of ingredients can be used such as raw fish, lightly cooked fish, shellfish, egg (Japanese omelet), meat, vegetables and fruits. Seaweed is used with the rolled up sushi (maki sushi) and with the temaki which is a kind of rolled up sachet of sushi where the filling is tucked. Other ingredients are wasabi (preferably in a small amount), sesame seeds, fish eggs, mayonnaise and increasingly mayonnaise-based sauces.
Of course, you also notice that the versions of sushi that you eat outside of Japan are not always authentic. You can see a clear difference in preferences. In Japan and especially in Tokyo, the nigiri sushi is the most popular variant. This is a scoop of rice that, often with a little wasabi in between, is topped with fish, omelet or shellfish. Chefs play with the method of preparation, sauces and quality more and more often. For example, you can often choose nigiri sushi with different types of tuna toppings.
The fatter tuna is often more expensive, but also tastier. Maki sushi that you can find in Tokyo are mainly smaller variants with a limited filling. Larger sushi rolls are seen less and the striking thing is that some of them have their origins not in Japan but elsewhere. In Tokyo, for example, they have the California Roll that, as the name suggests, comes from the American state of California.
You eat sushi in Tokyo mainly a la carte. The all-you-can-eat concept that you see a lot in other countries is less popular in the Japanese capital. You can eat sushi by ordering traditionally from a menu or by means of a conveyor belt. There are two more variants: the first is that all kinds of dishes with sushi pass by and that you take what you want to eat from the belt. The color of the dish determines the price of the dish. Afterwards the price is determined by counting plates.
A variant of this is where you order sushi via a tablet and then it then comes to you via the conveyor belt. Take the dish off, eat the sushi and count the dishes afterwards. We personally think this is the best way to eat sushi in Tokyo.
The Best Sushi Restaurants in Tokyo
If you’re in Tokyo and you’re looking to grab some sushi then take a look at some of our recommendations. We’ve tried these sushi restaurants and they really stood out!
1. Ginza Kyubey
We had an incredible experience here. The price is on the high side but it is definitely worth every penny. Try to make a reservation as early as possible or get your hotel to make the reservation for you. It will be easier for them since they can make the reservation in Japanese.
Address: 8 Chome-7-6 Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0061 (Google Maps)
2. Sushi Saito
Eating here will be one of the greatest sushi experiences of your life. If you’re in the position to get a seat at this restaurant you will be in for an amazing evening. Every dish is wonderful from preparation to presentation. You might even see Saito himself in action!
Address: 106-0032 Tokyo, Minato City, Roppongi, 1 Chome−4−5, ARK Hills South Tower, 1F (Google Maps)
Once you start eating here it will be hard to stop ordering more dishes. Besides delicious sushi you can also have a chat with chef Yasuda himself, who speaks English very well. Dining here comes at a cost (about $200 USD p.p.) but if you’re looking for a great experience it is well worth the money.
Address: 4 Chome-2-6 Minamiaoyama, Minato City, Tokyo 107-0062 (Google Maps)
Japanese Food & Local Dishes
In addition to sushi, the Tokyo food scene includes many types of local food. We will list a number of dishes, products and eating habits here.
The most commonly used explanation for sukiyaki is Japanese fondue. You get a pan in front of you that is filled with a broth. You will see different variations. Commonly used for the broth are raw eggs, mirin, soy sauce and sugar. The ingredients that go into the pan are thin-cut meat (preferably beef), tofu, Chinese cabbage, mushrooms such as shiitake, and noodles. You cook these products yourself at the table in the pan, after which you eat them.
You will undoubtedly come across the bentō on the street and in supermarkets. This is a box in which a typical Japanese lunch is packed. These lunch boxes often work with separate compartments, with different dishes in each box. A good bentō has a balance between carbohydrates (3 parts), protein (1 part) and vegetables or fruit (2 parts). A bentōbox is normally well filled. Rice is a widely used product to provide the box with carbohydrates. Fish, meat poultry, egg and tofu are used as a supplier of proteins. If you walk into a building in Tokyo in a business district and visit the restaurants there during lunchtime, you often see sellers in front of the restaurant selling bentō mainly to office staff.
Typically Japanese is the addition of so-called tsukemono to a meal. These are pickled vegetables, in which Chinese cabbage, ginger, turnip, bamboo, kyuri and nasu are widely used as an ingredient. Tsukemono were born out of necessity. That way food could be stored longer so that you had something even in times of scarcity. Now they are a colorful and tasty addition to a meal.
Eel on rice
A popular dish in all of Tokyo is fried eel on rice. The reddish brown eel is served fried on top of normal rice or fried rice. This tasty dish is very high in protein and contains relatively few calories. The dish is especially popular in the summer due to its stimulating effect. However, you can eat it all year round in Tokyo.
Ramen is a typical Japanese noodle soup. Although the origin is probably in China, ramen in the form as it is served in Japan is definitely a real Japanese dish. The basis is a broth, which can be both a meat or fish broth, where vegetables, noodles and often some meat and/or fish are added. The broth is seasoned with soy sauce.
Vegetarian ramen, based on a vegetable broth, is also increasingly on the rise. Every region has its own variations on ramen. In Tokyo, for example, you can see that the noodles that are used are often thin and curly and that the broth is usually chicken broth. Popular toppings in Tokyo are slow-cooked pork, spring onion, egg and spinach. There are three areas in the city that are known for excellent ramen: Ikebukuro, Ogikubo and Ebisu.
The Best Ramen Places in Tokyo
Ramen is one of the foods in Tokyo that you have to try. Even if you’re not a fan you should try a bowl and see if it can convert you! These are some of the most delicious ramen places in Tokyo.
1. Ichiran Shibuya
The ramen here tastes absolutely fantastic and they use a simple system which is very easy to understand. There can be a waiting time anywhere from 5 up to 30 minutes. Each of the booths inside seat one person meaning it’s better to visit this place with a small group (the doors separating the booths can be collapsed so you can still talk to each other).
Address: 150-0041 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jinnan, 1 Chome−22−7 岩本ビル B1F (Google Maps)
2. Ichiran Ramen
Just like Ichiran Shibuya, Ichiran Ramen has delicious bowls of ramen. You can easily order from a machine (cash only). You might have to wait for a while but it’s worth it! They are open 24/7 so you can also go there at off-times. Inside are cubicles where you can eat by yourself or you can put down the little doors to eat together.
Address: 150-0001 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Jingumae, 6 Chome−5−6 サンポウ綜合ビル 2F (Google Maps)
3. Kyushu Jangara Ramen Akihabara
This is one of the places which sell Vegan Ramen, among the usual options, and it’s very delicious as well. The place is quite compact but the food packs a mean punch! The English menus are easy to read and you can even get a fork if you desire one. If you can handle it we recommend trying the spicy version as well, it’s very tasty.
Address: 3 Chome-11-6 Sotokanda, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 101-0021 (Google Maps)
The curry also found its way to Japan in the nineteenth century. The British brought the spices and recipes for curry from India. In Japan the curry has been adjusted to their own taste. An essential difference is how the sauce and other ingredients are served. In Japan, meat or other ingredients are not normally processed by the sauce. A well-known chain with good curry is CoCo Ichibanya.
Japanese Skewered Chicken (Yakitori)
You can describe yakitori as the Japanese version of skewers. Basically it is chicken meat that is strung on skewers after which it is grilled over a coal fire. During and/or after grilling the skewers are covered with a sauce. Teriyaki sauce is mainly used for this. In addition to chicken meat, you now see many different variants of this dish. Yakitori is a typical form of street food in Tokyo, but you can also find Japanese skewers on the menu in restaurants and eateries.
Anyone who thinks that carbohydrates are mainly eaten in the form of rice and noodles is wrong. Japanese also like bread. At the many bakeries in Tokyo you can see natural bread types, but also a very wide range of sweet and savory bread products. More and more European influences are appearing. A pleasantly sweet sandwich that you see quite a lot in Tokyo is “melon pan”. These are round rolls with a diamond pattern on the top. This sweet bun consists of a combination of a sweet bun with a topping of cookie dough. Although the name suggests otherwise, there is no melon in a “melon pan”.
Tonkatsu is one of our personal favorites in Japan. This is a flat piece of pork, normally pork fillet or pork tenderloin, which is breaded in a Japanese way and then fried. Tonkatsu is then cut into strips and often served with rice, miso soup, Chinese cabbage and a Japanese sour. You usually serve some sesame dressing over the finely chopped Chinese cabbage. You sprinkle the tonkatsu sauce over the tonkatsu itself. This sweetish brown sauce is also called the Japanese Worcestershire sauce.
In addition to the much-eaten variant with pork, you can also order this Japanese cutlet on the basis of chicken fillet or beef.
The Best Tonkatsu Restaurants in Tokyo
There are plenty of Tonkatsu restaurants to visit in Tokyo but here are some of our recommendations. We feel like these are some of the best tonkatsu restaurants that Tokyo has to offer.
1. Tonkatsu Marugo
Their platinum pork cutlet is very juicy and tender, we recommend trying this item on the menu. As in many Japanese restaurants, we also really liked the miso soup. The miso soup and the tonkatsu go really well together. The chicken and pork loin are also very good. Keep in mind that there can be a long queue outside but it’s worth the wait!
Address: 1 Chome-8-14 Sotokanda, Chiyoda City, Tokyo 101-0021 (Google Maps)
We got one of the first tonkatsu’s that we tried in Tokyo at this restaurant. It was very crispy and light on the outside with tender meat on the inside. The service was excellent and the price is great too. You also get a couple of side dishes which make the experience whole. The price tag is slightly high but the food makes up for it.
Address: 2 Chome-24-9 Nishiazabu, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0031 (Google Maps)
3. Katsukura Shinjuku Takashimaya
Besides a great tonkatsu we would also like to make another special mention; the prawns. They are very big and delicious. You can also grind sesame seeds into a powder to use for the sauce. It’s a whole experience and, since it’s located on the 14th floor of the Takashimaya building, you will also have a great view.
Address: 151-0051 Tokyo, Shibuya City, Sendagaya, 5 Chome−24−2, Times Square Building, 14F (Google Maps)
Other Cuisines in Tokyo
The Tokyo food scene does not only dependent on Japanese food. You can enjoy many different cuisines, especially in neighborhoods such as Shibuya and Shinjuku. You can find Thai, Korean and Chinese restaurants in Tokyo on a large scale. Not strange, because these countries are close by and they are internationally popular Asian cuisines, although Korean food has not yet made a major breakthrough in Europe.
Looking at European kitchens you will see Italian passing by (but this is true in almost the whole world) and you will also see a rise in Spanish cuisine, especially in the form of tapas. For those who love German cuisine, there are a few places where you will find a pleasant combination of German beer and German food. There are also a number of places in Tokyo where you can enjoy Belgian cuisine, which is then combined with Belgian beers.
You can also eat Mexican and American food. Shawarma cases are also remarkably popular. Shawarma is sold as a döner kebab in Tokyo.
Eating Habits and Etiquette
The Japanese are sensitive to customs, traditions and the right manners. For example, there are different rules and customs with regard to food and drinks. We have listed a number of things for you to keep in mind:
- Do not eat on the street or in the metro. Although you gradually see more and more Japanese people breaking this unwritten rule, it is actually “not done” to eat (or drink) while walking on the street or standing/sitting in a train or metro. You can have your lunch or snack on a picnic blanket or on a bench in a park or garden. You will see a striking amount of bentōs around lunchtime.
- Do not stick your chopsticks in the rice. This is reminiscent of the ceremony that is given to the deceased at a funeral. If you put your sticks in the rice, this is considered an insult to the dead.
- Are there dishes or plates on the table from which you can eat together? Grab the food with the back of your chopsticks, put it on your own plate and eat it again with the right side.
- Do not poke into the food with your chopsticks.
- If you are going to eat sushi: do not dip the rice in the soy sauce. This is an insult to the sushi chef, because you indicate that his rice does not have a good taste. If you want to use soy sauce, dip the side with the fish in the soy sauce.
- Wasting food is not socially acceptable. Don’t order too much food, so you don’t have to leave anything behind.
- Don’t like something in your dish? Leaving specific parts of your dish is something that in the eyes of the Japanese is only done by children.
- Do not tip during checkout. It is not only unusual to give a tip in Japan; it can even be seen as an insult.
- Never point at people with your chopsticks.
Free Green Tea or Water
When you go out to eat in Tokyo, it is usually not necessary to order a drink. Water and/or green tea is served for free or you can take it yourself unlimited. It is not uncommon for a jug of cooled water to be placed on the table. It is tap water but it is of high quality in Tokyo, so you don’t have to worry about the free drinking water that is offered. They drink green tea without sugar.
In Japan you can enjoy a very wide range of drinks. Soft drinks such as Coca-Cola and Fanta are also available in Tokyo. In addition, there is a very wide range of local drinks. Sometimes you can figure out from the pictures on the label what kind of drink or flavor is in a bottle or can, but sometimes you have no idea at all. Japanese variations on iced tea are very popular. It’s useful to know that these are often unsweetened.
In many places in Tokyo you can see vending machines with chilled drinks in them. Sometimes there are three vending machines next to each other. In addition to cash, you can often also pay with an electronic card such as a Suica card. Water only has a small share in these machines, which is quite striking. That will probably have to do with the fact that you can drink free water in quite a few places from fountains (on the street) or water coolers (in food courts).
You can also choose from a wide range of alcoholic beverages in Tokyo. Beer is very popular in Japan. In many places you can choose from different types of beer and brands. Well-known brands are Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo. You can also find beer of the local brewer Yebisu in different places, but it’s best to drink it in the tasting room of their beer museum in the Ebisu district. This neighborhood is even named after the beer brand. Japan also has several specialty beers, with the so-called fusion beers with fruit flavors and other additions being something truly Japanese.
When it comes to wine, you can see that viticulture is on the rise in Japan. If you want to drink normal wine (so no sake) then in many cases you will still be served import wines. In fact, we would like to recommend that you drink sake (rice wine), which is the national drink of Japan. This product is made from rice and not from wine. The alcohol percentage is around 14%.
In the area of cocktails, whiskey and cognac are especially popular. Gin and vodka are drunk a bit less than in America & Europe and you can see that rum has a relatively small share, although you can order a mojito in different places. The Japanese brand Suntory is very popular in whiskey. A popular mix is whiskey with carbonated water: the Highballer. Here you can often also order special variants, including apple flavor.
The legal age limit for buying and consuming alcohol is 20 in Japan. Under 20 you are not allowed to drink in Tokyo. If in doubt, your ID can be requested.