Pinpoint the middle of the Japanese map and look right. On the eastern coastline, under the shadow of Mt Fuji, you’ll find the metropolis of Tokyo – located in a large circular bay connected to the Pacific Ocean.
Japan is one of the most food obsessed nations in the stratosphere. Its bustling capital city hosts a population of around 9 million, including a few hundred thousand cashed-up executive expats, so it stands to reason that, of anywhere in Japan, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options.
Tokyo’s wide port receives and distributes the majority of Japan’s eclectic seafood booty, so its restaurants can’t be beaten when it comes to freshness and quality. With that comes incredible sashimi and sushi. Most of the sushi we know and love today is in fact of the modern Edo-style nigiri zushi developed in Tokyo in the 1800s – prior to that the fish and rice were fermented for preservation.
By now, if you’re heading to Japan desperately seeking sushi, Tokyo will be topping your hit list. Yen will quickly evaporate at exclusive sushi counters but you’ll find excellent gear at the most humble joints – even in takeaway bento from a department store!
Secluded beneath the railway tracks under Yurakucho station is a permanent camp of stalls selling succulent yakitori (grilled chicken). It’s a great place to pull up a beer crate and rub shoulders with office workers into the wee hours.
In contrast, sophisticated and fashionable Tokyo restaurants are dishing up creative cuisine with an inspiring, sometimes perplexing, range of flavours, textures, techniques and innovations – all earthed by an inherent seasonal philosophy and respect for ingredient. If Michelin stars float your boat, you’ll find more in Tokyo than any other city in the world.
If you make it, Frogger-style, past the stop-for-no-one high-speed forklifts into the inner sanctum of Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market, your senses will be rewarded (your shoes on the other hand… meh). There’s nowhere quite like Tsukiji for the array of always pristine, often wriggling, aquatic creatures. The energy is palpable. It’s noisy (for Japan!) and raw, providing a fascinating look into not only the most elite and competitive fish trade in the world but also into Japanese food culture.
Kappabashi Street, a few minutes’ walk from the striking Sensoji or Asakusa Kannon Temple, is frequented by chefs and restaurateurs for its devotion to excellent quality, well-priced kitchen equipment, cookware, knives, utensils, serving ware and lifelike models of plastic food. If you are looking for bento boxes, sukiyaki pans or hibachi grills, this is your one-stop shopping experience.
Best food souvenirs
Anything from Kappabashi! And a photo of you under its iconic giant chef’s head mascot.
Photography by Jane Lawson