You find yourself stuck in Tokyo for a full day and you take it upon yourself to indulge in the local cuisine. However, you quickly realise that typing food into Google yields more search results than people you see walking through Shibuya Crossing.
I love Japan and I love food. The local cuisine is probably the largest contributor to my desire to travel, and when you look at Japan, just in presentation alone the cuisine inspires excitement in the eyes of tourists and locals alike. So I asked myself what I’d eat if I only had a day in Tokyo. This guide isn’t for foodies, it isn’t for seasoned travelers, it isn’t for enthusiasts. This guide is for your first time japan traveler, someone that wants to get the maximum amount of experience in the minimum amount of time and someone that just wants some delicious food that doesn’t delve too much into questionably tasting ‘delicacies’.
In a full day we’re having breakfast, snacks, lunch, dinner, drinks and late night greasy goodness. We’re focusing on the Shinjuku and Shibuya areas as they are the urban wonderlands of Tokyo.
Ramen. A staple Japanese comfort food, especially on a cold morning. You’ll see so many ramen shops on a simple walk down a street in a busy area but avoid all of that. As great as it is to explore and try little gems here and there, you’re here for a day and you want something great, something you can customise easily without learning 13 Japanese phrases to do so and something easy first thing in the morning. Head over to the closest Ichiran Ramen shop. This chain restaurant lets you customise the ramen using a sheet. You can adjust the richness of the broth, the amount of meat, garlic and spice. They have all the recommended options right there on the sheet if you don’t want to bother. It’s simply a beautiful breakfast that will set you up for a great day. Warm flavourful broth, a perfect hit of garlic and spice, tender meat that’s intensified flavour from the broth, will just make your smile like an idiot.
Let’s get onto that beautiful fresh sushi shall we. You can’t be in Japan and not have sushi, I believe it’s physically impossible. Fair warning that you’re not going to find chicken avocado ‘sushi’ here. That’s a very westernised version of a dish that’s almost exclusively seafood. There’s a fantastic restaurant in Shinjuku that’s slightly higher end and what I believe to be higher quality (also not a chain). I’m dropping it in here for sushi enthusiasts but I’m going to suggest another chain restaurant instead. This is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant that lets you order sushi from a tablet. A mini bullet train will then bring you your colourful, beautifully presented plate of sushi and if that doesn’t excite you, the variety will. You can get different cuts of tuna and salmon with varying degrees of fat. I highly suggest getting the fatty tuna as it just feels like butter melting in your mouth. The sardines and mackerel are beautiful as well, each having various degrees of intensity in flavor. You can also get grilled eel, fish roe, shrimp and sea urchin if you’re feeling adventurous. It’s called Genki Sushi and my favourite one is in the middle of Shibuya. Word of warning. It’s quite a popular chain so expect to wait a little while to get in if you’re there at a busy time i.e. Saturday at lunch time.
We’re going to go a little higher end and treat ourselves for dinner. A proper Japanese dining experience with chefs preparing your food right in front of you. A beautiful, perfectly balanced Tempura set course in the middle of Shinjuku. English menus are available but forget all of that and just get one of the recommended sets. This is a tempura restaurant. I’m talking seasonal vegetables, tiger prawns, perfect tender cuts of fish, squid, prawn cakes, absolutely astonishing clam base miso soup, all tempura battered barring the soup, and served warm straight out of the pot. I’m salivating while recalling this meal. You really get the entire experience while sitting in this cosy place, having some draft beer or sake, slowly working through your course. This should definitely be a stop on your food journey. It’s called Tempura Tsunahachi and it’s amazing.
Drinks & Bar Food
We’ve just had our dinner and we’re filled up. We’ve walked around, embracing the constant wave of lights, gone through arcades and slot machines, we’re taking it all in when we realised that we’ve worked up a thirst. This is the perfect time to head over to Golden Gai. Yes you’ve probably heard of it and yes it’s gotten more touristy but if this is a week day, you’re getting some sweet sweet local experiences. Golden Gai is a collection of 300-ish little bars. All unique and seat between 5–8 people in an extremely intimate and atmospheric setting. You can drink different types of beer, wine, sake and cocktails — all while getting some grilled vegetables and meat skewers. Crispy, salty and sweet snacks are going to go down like M&Ms as you fill up with drinks and try to talk to locals in a combination of English, basic Japanese phrases and a whole lot of google translate. It’s hilarious and you’ll have a great time, believe me when I say that. Some bars will have seating charges as these are quite small and need to make money. Some will just require you to buy at least one drink. Some will only accept people who can speak Japanese, some are extremely tourist friendly. See what you like and go for that.
The Greasy Late Night Snack
So this is another chain restaurant, though it’s popular for a reason. It’s cheap and its absolutely delicious. It’s a place called Yoshinoya and it was the first place I ate at, on my first ever trip to Japan. Needless to say I’ve had it too many times to count since then. My favourite dish is the jumbo bowl of rice with marinated and thinly sliced beef/other meat (I don’t know til this day) on the surface, topped with onion. I get that with the fried vegetables on the side and of course bowl of miso soup. There are a ton of options and there’s a 24/7 Store right in Shinjuku overlooking the famous street with Godzilla popping out behind a building. The grease will breathe life back into you after all your irresponsible drinking in Golden Gai. You can also substitute this chain for every other place I mentioned in the previous sections. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks — all of it’s good for this place :)
And there you have it ladies and gentlemen. This is what you should do with your spare day in Tokyo. If you do go through all of this, please find me on all the things @sahkilic and legitimately tell me how you went. I really want to know what you thought of all the food!
Side Note — I’m not a sweets guy but you’ll see a bunch of Crepe shops in the area. You can’t go wrong with them. So if you have sweet tooth, go for it!
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