Tokyo. This one word is enough to send a frisson of excitement down the spine of anyone who loves to eat. This vibrant, complex city is a gastronomic paradise. The city gets a bad rap for being very expensive and sure you can easily spend hundreds of dollars on a single meal but you can just as easily eat very well for not much money.
So without further ado our Top 10 Things to Eat in Tokyo (and where to eat them) when you’re on a budget in one of the greatest cities in the world…
NB: Every meal eaten at the restaurants below was under $50USD for two people (not including drinks)
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1. Eel hotdogs and fish burgers at Delifucious
Delifucious a name coined by the chef of this burger joint who wanted to combine the words “delicious” and “f*cking” to represent his food. And it’s the perfect name- the uniquely Japanese burgers and hotdogs are incredible.
The boiled conger tempura dog is melt in your mouth- a combination of thinly sliced cucumber and a filet of buttery conger eel that’s battered and deep fried before being drizzled in a sticky, sweet sauce made from eel broth, soy and mirin. The Kobuzime fish burger contains a thick, juicy filet of fish that sits on a bed of slaw which is studded with tsukemono, tart Japanese pickles and slathered in a tofu and kombu (kelp) sauce. Creative, fresh, f*cking delicious food created by a former sushi chef. Well worth seeking out!
Delifucious, 13 9 1 東山, Meguro, Tokyo 153-0043, Japan. Open 12:00pm to 9:00pm. Closed Wednesday.
2. Conveyor belt sushi at Hanamaru
Conveyor belt sushi can be a really affordable way to enjoy sushi in a city where it can be one of the most expensive meals to eat. Hanamaru balances affordability with excellent quality fish. It’s said that Hanamaru (fish) buyers are so well respected in the trade that they have special access to top quality fish at Tsukiji fish market.
The restaurant is located on the eighth floor of the Tokyu Plaza building in Ginza so you can enjoy a spectacular view of the city whilst you dine. Their aburi salmon, roasted eel and fatty minced tuna sushi are especially worth eating. English menus are provided and staff are very friendly.
Hanamaru, Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, 中央区銀座５丁目２−１ 東急プラザ銀座Ｂ2F. Open daily 11:00 to 10:00pm.
3. Soba at Kanda Matsuya
When a restaurant is over 150 years old, you know they must be doing something right. Soba are buckwheat noodles and at Kanda Matsuya they make them fresh (you can watch them being made at the back of the restaurant). The traditional atmosphere of the restaurant is an experience in itself but the soba which are served both hot and cold are a revelation. Nutty and chewy, we like to eat them cold, dipping them into tsuyu a soy based dipping sauce. Cap off your meal by pouring the soba water (a teapot will be delivered to your table) into your remaining tsuyu and sipping on the savoury, warming broth.
Kanda Matsuya, 1 Chome-13 Kanda Sudacho, Chiyoda, Tokyo 101-0041, Japan. Open Monday to Friday 11:00am to 8:00pm, Saturday 11:00am to 7:00pm.
4. Seafood at Takamaru
If you want to experience an izakaya, a Japanese pub and you love seafood, then head to Takamaru for dinner. The environment is boisterous and they’re known for their thick, fresh cuts of seafood. Their seafood bowls are great value and you can sample a variety of fish from uni (sea urchin) to ikura (salmon eggs) but we found their a la carte offerings to be better in terms of freshness and quality. Try their raw octopus and wasabi and their minced fatty tuna with natto, the polarising dish of fermented soy beans.
Takamaru, Japan, 〒160-0023 Tokyo, Shinjuku, 西新宿７丁目１５−１ アパライトビル1階. Open 11:00am to 11:00pm.
5. Your own cooking with a Cookly cooking class
This is a meal you’re going to have to put a bit more effort into but we promise it will be well worth it! One of the best ways to learn about the food culture of the country you’re traveling in, is to get in the kitchen. Cookly is an online platform which hosts cooking classes from all around the world.
We experienced a class where we learnt to cook traditional Japanese food in the kitchen of Tokitarazu, a local restaurant. We learnt the foundations of Japanese cooking- how to make dashi stock, popular ingredients used in Japanese cooking and cooked a full menu which included miso soup, sushi, vegetable dishes and seared bonito. It was a brilliant way to familiarise ourselves with Japanese food by making AND eating it.
Classes in Tokyo range from Tsukiji fish market tours and sushi making to conjuring up hearty bowls of ramen. Highly recommended and definitely worth looking into if you want to go one step further in understanding the intricacies of Japanese cuisine.
Book a class here: https://www.cookly.me
6. Tonkatsu at Ponchi-ken
Tonkatsu- breaded, deep fried pork cutlets are a must eat when in Japan. Ponchi-ken hold a Michelin Bib Gourmand award for their Okinawan pork cutlets which are breaded in a light panko crumb and deep fried to golden perfection. The pork is juicy and flavoursome and together with the accompanying rice and fresh, shredded cabbage, makes for a memorable meal.
Visit at lunch time where the prices are more affordable for their rosu katsu set meal and where their katsu curry is on offer. Tonkatsu, half a soft boiled egg, piles of thinly shaved cabbage, pickles, rice and a thick, spicy curry sauce that will have you weeping with pleasure. Don’t miss this!
Ponchi-ken, 2-8 Kanda-Ogawamachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Open Mon to Tue 11:15am to 3:00pm; Wed to Sat 11:15am to 2:00pm, 5:30pm-9:00pm / closed Sun and 3rd Mon of every month
7. Oden at Maruken Suisan
One of Japan’s most beloved fast foods, oden, a bubbling hot pot of vegetables, tofu and fishcakes can be found everywhere from the most exclusive of restaurants to the ubiquitous konbini (convenience stores). Maruken Suisan is a family run oden eatery where the fishcakes are all made in house and where diners lean on communal tables snacking on dashi drenched daikon and fluffy fishcakes whilst sipping on sake.
Order a cup of sake and drink three quarters of it before asking for dashiwari where the staff will top up the rest of your sake cup with oden broth and a sprinkle of shichimi (Japanese spice mix). Savoury, spicy and a warming burn from the sake- it makes for a unique end to your oden feast.
Maruken Suisan, Japan, 〒115-0045 Tokyo, Kita, 赤羽１丁目２２−８. Open 10:00am to 9:00pm. Closed 3rd Wednesday of each month.
8. Dojo nabe at Komakate Dozeu
If you’re after an experience then dojo nabe at Komakate Dozeu will deliver the goods. This restaurant has been around since 1801 serving up the same menu of dojo nabe, a loach hotpot for over 200 years. Loach aren’t the most appealing looking fish. A freshwater fish that looks like a small eel- they’re grey and slimy looking. But one taste and you’ll be hooked.
Eaten whole, the flesh is tender and the soy and sake based broth in which it’s cooked is thick and full of umami. Sitting on the floor in the traditional dining room with the pan of dojo bubbling away in front of you over a charcoal fire is one dining experience in Tokyo you don’t want to miss.
Komakate Dozeu, Japan, 〒111-0043 Tokyo, Taitō, 駒形1丁目7-12. Open 11:00am to 9:00pm
9. Skewers at Akitaya Toriyaki
For a really local izakaya experience head to Akitaya Toriyaki for some beers and motsuyaki or grilled offal skewers. This tachi nomi or standing bar floods with salarymen on their way home after work looking for a quick bite to eat and a cold beer. Don’t be put off by the cuts of meat- they are all delicious- smoky and tender served either salted or with sauce and a dab of mustard on the side. Don’t miss Akitaya’s nikomi or their tataki, the former a stew made up of beef intestines and tripe and the latter a minced pork gristle skewer, both are sensational and some of the best things we ate on this visit to Tokyo.
Akitaya Toriyaki, Japan, 〒105-0013 Tokyo, 港区浜松町２丁目1, 第２森ビル. Open Monday to Friday 3:30pm to 9:30pm, Saturday 3:30pm to 8:30pm.
10. Sukiyaki at Nabezo
One of the most social meals in Japan is sukiyaki a hot pot style meal which is cooked at the table. A shallow pot filled with sukiyaki broth, made up of brown sugar and soy is brought to the table where thinly sliced meat, vegetables and noodles are added. Once cooked the pots ingredients are dipped in beaten raw egg before being devoured. Sweet, intense and creamy (from the raw egg)- this unique style of eating is really popular in Japan and should definitely be on your eating itinerary.
We ate at Nabezo, a chain restaurant which serves both shabu shabu (Japanese hot pot) and sukiyaki in a buffet setting. The quality of the food was excellent and staff were really friendly and helpful.
Nabezo, 5F Humax Pavilion Ikebukuro Sunshine 60 St., 1-22-10 Higashi-ikebukuro, Toshima-ku,Tokyo. Open Monday to Friday 11:30am to 3:00pm (L.O.2:30pm) and 5:00pm to 11:00pm (L.O.10:30pm) and Saturday to Sunday 11:30am to 11:00pm (L.O. 10:30pm) (Numerous branches around Tokyo).
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We hope this Tokyo food guide has helped you eat and explore like a traveller, not a tourist!
Spending more time in Japan? Check out our Where to Eat in Osaka, What to Eat at Tsukiji Fish Market and Where to Eat in Tokyo posts…
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