Eating in Tokyo is a unique part of the Japanese experience. Japan is an incredible destination known for its arts, culture and cuisine. Traditional Japanese food culture has given us many delicious meals we often enjoy, from noodle dishes to sushi.
Food is an experience in Tokyo and there are many ways to enjoy traditional treats. You’re spoiled for choice, from the famed tea ceremony to one of the many wholesale fish markets. Knowing what to eat in Tokyo can enrich your travel experience, tantalize your taste buds and give you memories to last a lifetime.
In This Article
- 16 Must-Try Foods in Tokyo
- See Toyko as You’ve Never Seen It Before With Windstar Cruises
16 Must-Try Foods in Tokyo
Whether you plan to visit the local fish market or settle down indoors for a warm Japanese curry, some foods capture the taste of Japan in a way that goes beyond the typical tourist fare. Experiencing Tokyo at its finest involves eating like the locals, from enjoying Tokyo street food to visiting one of its famous restaurants.
Try the following foods in Tokyo for a colorful, flavorful experience you’ll remember:
1. Okonomiyaki Savory Pancakes
Okonomiyaki means ‘grilled as you like it.’ This take on a combination of a pancake and an omelet is extremely popular in Toyko. Many call it the cuisine of Hiroshima. In its more traditional form, you can enjoy it with ingredients such as shallots, pork belly and cabbage.
Okonomiyaki is often cooked on a hot plate while you wait and served with a sweet and sour soy sauce. Other popular toppings include mayonnaise and bonito flakes — thinly shaved dried fish.
There are different types of Okonomiyaki to choose from, or sample them all and see which you prefer. Some common types of this traditional Japanese cuisine include the following:
- Negiyaki: Add more shallots to the mixture.
- Monjayaki: This type of Okonomiyaki is popular in Tokyo. It’s a more broth-like style and generally less compact.
- Hiroshimayaki: Instead of mixing the ingredients, they are added in layers for a different texture sensation.
This noodle dish has taken the world by storm in recent years. Combining hearty broth, bamboo shoots, juicy meat, nori sheets and the perfectly cooked egg is the ultimate feel-good food. You might think you’ve tried it already, but you haven’t experienced ramen until you’ve had it prepared in its hometown.
There are many types of ramen to try throughout Tokyo, each with its unique flavor and style. You can find Ramen shops hidden in the most unlikely places. You can customize your ramen or let the chefs guide you.
This satisfying meal is a fantastic way to experience traditional Japanese food culture. With the varieties to try, you could eat it every day of the week and never have the same experience twice. Some popular types of Ramen throughout Japan include the following:
- Tonkatsu ramen: This variety is made with a rich and creamy pork broth.
- Miso ramen: The broth used in miso ramen is made with miso paste to add a rich and savory flavor.
- Tsukemen: Also known as dipping noodles, in which the ramen noodles and broth are served separately.
- Shoyu ramen: The broth in Shoyu ramen is spicy and has a soy-sauce base for a warmer feel, making it perfect for a cold day.
Another beloved dish around the world, tempura, is best enjoyed in Japan. You can choose from delicious meats and vegetables to be deep-fried in the crispiest and lightest batter. While tempura is easy to find around the world, the Japanese have turned it into a culinary art form, and many restaurants across Tokyo specialize in this delicious dish.
One of the best things about tempura is you can enjoy it on any budget. You can go to a specialized tempura restaurant and sample it prepared by Michelin-starred chefs, or you can pick it up at a multitude of food stalls dotted around Tokyo. It’s always light and cooked to perfection.
4. Japanese Curry
The Japanese have taken traditional curry and made it their own. The British brought curry to Japan from India in the late 1800s, and it has becomea popular and convenient food over the years.
The curry in Tokyo today is full of Japanese flair, with a sweeter, milder flavor and stew-like texture. It’s the perfect comfort food for cold days. You can enjoy various options, including Katsu Kare — curry with breaded pork cutlet, curry udon and fried rice.
A visit to Tokyo necessitates a trip to the Tsukiji fish market, also known as the Toyosu fish market. Nestled inside the market is Sushi Dai, a world-famous sushi restaurant people queue for hours to sample. There are many options to sample at Sushi Dai, including the traditional sashimi, nigiri and maki, all made with fish directly from the market.
Many consider Tokyo the world capital of sushi, and you can find variations across the city that rival sushi anywhere else. You can try the Kaiten zushi — or conveyor belt sushi — for a quick option on a budget.
Yakitori is traditionally made with chicken meat, skewered, glazed with sweet soy and grilled over open coals. Although chicken is the most common, you can find plenty of meats and vegetables served yakitori style across the city. This dish is best enjoyed in one of Tokyo’s many izakaya restaurants — or Japanese gastropubs, alongside some Japanese beer or sake.
It’s a popular dish to enjoy in a group. If izakaya isn’t your style, head to one of the specialty yakitori restaurants instead.
Sukiyaki is the perfect food to sample if you visit Toyko in the fall or winter months. It’s a fresh and simple blend of fresh vegetables and thinly sliced meat cooked in soy-based broth. This hot pot delight is a must-try food in Tokyo. It’s filling and delicious, ideal for a rainy day.
It’s the ultimate Japanese comfort food. Although it may look simple, it’s bursting with fresh and natural flavor and makes a pleasant change from tourist food.
Tokyo is famed around the world for its street food, and takoyaki is the ultimate Japanese street cuisine. These small, ball-shaped snacks originated in Osaka and are made from a dashi or fish stock batter, fried to perfection and filled with octopus, green onions and pickled ginger.
Takoyaki is cooked in a special pan until crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and served with several toppings, including mayonnaise and takoyaki sauce — a sweet and savory soy-based sauce. You will find this dish at many street vendors across the country.
9. Miso Soup
Miso soup is another must-try food in Tokyo. The principal ingredients of this traditional Japanese soup are Dashi and miso paste, combined with various components such as tofu, green onions and nori. It’s easy to find throughout Toyko and often served as a side dish with meals.
This soup is warm, homely and full of protein and vitamins. It’s a healthy, filling option the locals enjoy anytime, from a popular breakfast food to an accompaniment to different main meals.
If you’re feeling adventurous, unagi — or Japanese freshwater eel — is worth a try. Unagi is considered a delicacy in Japan, and it’s often eaten in the summer months, as it’s believed to provide strength and stamina in the hot and humid weather.
There are several ways to sample this cuisine, one of which involves brushing the eel with a sweet soy sauce known as kabayaki and serving it over rice with green onions and wasabi.
Many restaurants in Toyko serve unagi in several forms. You can also opt for unagi sushi or shirayaki — roasted eel seasoned with salt. It all depends on your taste. Regardless of how you like it, it’s a unique dish worth trying if you want to experience the many flavors of Japanese culture.
While sake isn’t food, it’s still worth a try when visiting Tokyo. Although it’s known as rice wine, it’s between a wine and a liqueur made from fermented rice. You can sample your sake in its purest form with namazake. This unpasteurized version of sake is unbelievably tasty, but it must be enjoyed fresh.
Alternatively, you can drink your sake sparkling in cocktails or settle for junmai — sake made with just rice and water. Booking a sake-tasting evening could be the best way to sample all the different types, creating an enjoyable evening for everyone. Keep the following etiquette in mind for the complete Japanese experience:
- Serve someone else: Pouring sake for yourself is known as tejaku and is considered rude.
- Wait until all the cups are full: Only start drinking when everyone has a full cup. The host will raise his cup for a toast and say Kanpai. Follow their lead.
- Sip it slowly: Sake may look like a shot but is best enjoyed steadily so that you can appreciate the full range of flavors.
Dining is a communal affair in Japanese culture, and yakiniku is an ideal way to sit together and enjoy a meal in a traditional collaborative style. In simple terms, it’s a barbeque with a Japanese flair. An excellent selection of tender meats and fresh vegetables is cooked on an open grill, with savory dipping sauce on the table.
At certain restaurants, diners can cook the meat themselves, making yakiniku a fun and interactive way to experience the flavors of Japanese cuisine. It’s a casual dining experience best suited to groups wanting good food and better company.
The word ‘tendon’ combines ‘tempura’ and ‘donburi,’ which means tempura bowl in Japanese. It’s a divine take on traditional seafood and vegetables, deep-fried in the lightest batter and served over a bowl of rice.
While tempura has become its own cuisine, with many specialist restaurants offering elaborate tempura-based menus, tendon is available and loved by tourists and locals alike. It’s a humble dish — affordable yet packed with flavor — and perfect for wanting something quintessentially Japanese on the go. It’s a filling, satisfying food for when you’re exploring the city.
Matcha may have started as the star of the traditional tea ceremony, but it has evolved into something much more. People drink it for an energy boost and enjoy popular matcha desserts, such as matcha ice cream or mochi.
This sweet and bitter tea is made from shade-grown tea leaves, ground into a fine powder. It’s known for its vibrant green color and is high in antioxidants.
You can sample some matcha at any number of tea shops, cafes and restaurants in Tokyo or experience the tea ceremony, known as chanoyu or sado, where it’s prepared with meticulous care after years of careful study.
If you’re looking for something meaty, tonkatsu could be right up your street. Tonkatsu is Japan’s answer to schnitzel — a deep-fried, breaded pork cutlet. It’s a simple dish that can be enjoyed casually or at a high-end restaurant. It’s often served with a sweet and savory sauce, steamed rice, shredded cabbage and miso soup. The best tonkatsu is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, served in a way that keeps it fresh and grease-free.
For a beefier option, consider Gyukatsu, the beef version of tonkatsu. This trendy dish is served the same way as the pork-based option and is famous for its crispy exterior and rare interior. In some restaurants, you can grill your gyukatsu at the table, getting meat just as you like it.
There are many restaurants across Tokyo where you can enjoy these rich and filling meat dishes, whether you want them served in a relaxed or upmarket style.
16. Chanko Nabe
Eat like a sumo wrestler with a dish called chanko nabe. This hot pot dish started as a weight gain meal for sumo wrestlers, who ate it in large quantities to put on and maintain their muslces after training. These days, it’s a popular choice among Tokyo locals and throughout the rest of Japan.
Chanko nabe is high in protein, and chefs often use chicken-based broth as a base, then add vegetables, tofu, meat or fish. There are several specialized chanko nabe restaurants to choose from in Tokyo, some of which are run by retired sumo wrestlers. Chanko nabe is another excellent choice for those wanting to put their finger on the pulse of local Japanese cuisine.
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Even when you’re back on board, you can relive the cuisine you just experienced with the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation, making your trip a culinary treat, no matter where you are. Contact us today to learn more about our immersive Japanese experience and many others, and get started planning the cruise of a lifetime with Windstar Cruises.