Enjoy an authentic dining experience in the Japanese capital without paying premium prices. Nicola Iseard picks up some top tips from Tyler Palma, a tour guide for Inside Japan Tours.
How to eat well, like the locals do; you won’t bust your budget either! Image: Kzenon/ 123RF.com
With more Michelin-star restaurants than any other city, one might say that Tokyo is the gastronomic capital of the world. But to get under the skin of its food scene, you don’t need a fat wallet. You just need a sense of adventure to go in search of the places where locals dine, from traditional pubs to hidden street stalls. You’ll find top quality Japanese cuisine for budget prices and a great atmosphere too.
1. Visit a Japanese izakaya
Many office workers head to an izakaya for a drink to unwind after work, which gives these places a lively atmosphere. Besides beer, sake and shochu (a distilled liquor), they serve delicious, reasonably-priced food, from the chef’s sushi and sashimi of the day (moriawase) to snacks like fried chicken karaage and ramen noodles. Or choose the Tabehodai (all-you-can-eat) or Nomihodai (all-you-can-drink) options, or a combination of both. At Za Watami (1-16-4 Nishi Shinjuku, Tel: 81 3 5322 4501) in the buzzing Shinjuku district, you are given 90 minutes to eat and drink as much as you like, for around ¥2,900 (approximately S$31.40).
2. It’s all about kaiten sushi
Good sushi doesn’t have to be expensive. There are affordable but decent kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi shops all over Tokyo offering a wide array of sushi from as little as ¥105 per plate. One of the most popular chains is Kappa Sushi – look out for the mythical kappa (frog) that adorns its signboard – where plates of sushi are delivered to your table by a model bullet train on a conveyor belt.
3. Head to Yurakucho Yakitori Alley
Underneath the railway tracks next to Shinbashi station, you’ll find Yurakucho Yakitori Alley, which is lined with numerous food and drink stalls. It comes to life in the evenings as locals stop here for a bite on their way home from work. Yurakucho is renowned for its many yakitori (grilled skewers of meats and vegetables) bars, such as Ton Ton (2-1-10 Yurakucho, Chiyoda, Tel: 81 3 3508 9454) which is a firm favourite. Here, you can have tasty charcoal-grilled chicken from ¥150 a skewer, which goes great with a glass of cold beer. Try Hoppy, a beer-flavoured non-alcoholic drink that is usually served with a shot of shochu.
4. Cook your own okonomiyaki
One of the most popular dishes in Japan is okonomiyaki, a savoury cabbage-based pancake, which derives its name from the word “okonomi”, meaning “as you like it”. Okonomiyaki restaurants usually involve diners sitting at a table which doubles up as a hot plate where they cook their own food. You can add anything from beef and cheese to clams and shrimp. Prices typically start from ¥1,000. There are many okonomiyaki eateries found across the city, especially in the quiet Tsukishima district. Try Taro (1-24-10 Chuo-ku, Tel: 81 3 3531 3946), a short walk from the Tsukishima subway station.
5. Make lunch your main meal
If you are celebrating a special occasion and want to sample Tokyo’s Michelin-star cuisine without breaking the bank, some of the top restaurants offer more affordable prices at lunchtime. For example, a traditional kaiseki (multi-course) feast at the two-Michelin-star Akasaka Kikunoi will start from ¥15,750 for dinner, but from only ¥10,500 for lunch.
This story was originally published on SilverKris.com.