It’s now been a few weeks since I came back from Japan and every time I think about it it feels almost like a marvellous dream. A glimpse into a different universe where everything has distinct rules and everyone strives continuously for perfection.
Japanese culture is unique. Everything is done with utmost dedication and attention to detail. Every element of life has clear rules laid out, which everyone abides by, from general day to day niceties to the intricacies of social customs and rites of passage.
At temples there are certain ways to pray, in the kitchen there are particular rules to cookery. In Japan you are never master of your craft but always on a journey, continuously learning on a quest to better yourself.
Fascinating culture aside, the food is undoubtedly also one of the best things about visiting Japan, particularly if you have a penchant for trying unusual things. If you go with an open mind you’ll certainly be rewarded. In my two weeks I tried some of the strangest and some of the most delicious food I’ve ever eaten.
So for those of you considering a trip to Japan to get to know this fascinating culture, here are my Tokyo top 10 eats. Many of these are better if you have a Japanese speaker with you. But Japanese hospitality is so wonderful that usually a Japanese app or good phrase book will be enough.
If you’re ready to try some unusual fish, freshly caught; sashimi, tempura, katsu or however you fancy, this place is for you.
2. Ichi Nen (Shimo-Kitazawa)
In a fabulously trendy part of Tokyo, Ichi Nen is also a fantastic izakaya. There is a lot of choice here, you can have small tapas style dishes as we did or something bigger like a sharing shabu shabu. The sake cocktails are also great, and don’t forget a trip to the bathroom where there’s a wall of scented toilet papers!
4. D47 Shokudo 5th floor Hikarie (Shibuya)
A restaurant where you can sample dishes from across Japan, here you choose a set meal themed for each of the regions of Japan. The sets are exquisite and come with big steaming bowls of fresh miso with shimeji mushrooms, sparkling white rice and pickles.
5. Tsukiji fish market
It doesn’t get fresher than this, if you don’t fancy getting up at 4am for the tuna auction but still want to see the market, head down for lunch instead and try out one of the many sushi bars in Tsukiji Market. There are also plenty of shops and stalls where you can but delicious snacks, leave space in your suitcase!
6. Lawson/Family mart
Ok yes it is just a mini mart but as a foodie there’s nowhere I find more interesting than a supermarket when I travel. And after all the mini mart is a staple of Japanese culture. From day 1 almost every breakfast was bought from here, and what a breakfast. Buy two salmon onigiri every evening, pop them in the fridge and in the morning you’ve got a delicious breakfast that you can even eat on the go.
7. En (Shibuya Toei Plaza 11th floor)
In an unexpected location on the top floor of a building filled with shops and arcades, this gorgeous restaurant is super classy with delicious izakaya dishes. This was particularly good for vegetables, with lots of options from steamed veg with miso sauce to braised chrysanthemum and spinach with sesame.
8. Shirube (Shimo-Kitazawa)
Another Shimo-Kitazawa izakaya, again lots of delicious little dishes. The highlight of this one is the mackerel dish where the fish is seared with a blowtorch at your table, then you’re invited to quickly squeeze lemon over the fish as it’s still cooking. The restaurant then applauds your lemon technique. There are also fantastic slow cooked dishes like stewed beef with an egg cracked in, and even more unusually a cheesy tofu with honey, almonds and bread to spread it on – so unexpected for Japan but incredible.
9. Teiandei (Okinawan cuisine, Shibuya)
In the heart of Shibuya, an izakaya where you can sample the delights of Okinawan cuisine. Not for the fainthearted, this is unusual Japanese food, strange tasting seaweeds, alien looking vegetables which have no equivalent and western inspired icecream desserts. Weird and wonderful, bring a Japanese speaker here there’s no English!
10. Conveyor sushi Pintokona
So you’ve been to Yo sushi, but you’ve never tried the real thing. Here it is, the conveyor belt is actually just for show, it’s got to be fresh made to order here. Get a booth and order straight from the chef. Try the seared set. This is perfectly located if you’re going to the Naruto exhibition next door.
Tokyo is a completely unique city unlike anywhere else, full of interesting cultural nuance and contradiction. I hope this inspires you to visit and try some of these incredible eats.