Tokyo Must-Eat: The Best Local Food to Try

Bjorn Koolen rounds up the best of Tokyo’s famous food scene.


Asakusa Tokyo Photo © iStock/peeterv

Tokyo is filled with restaurants and food stalls serving some of Japan’s best food. Though dishes like udon and soba are obvious choices, the best ones like unagi or Japanese curry are lesser-known. 

Soba Noodles

Soba noodles in Tokyo. Photo credit: Bjorn Koolen

Ramen, udon, and soba are the three main wheat-based noodle dishes found across Japan. While the origins of the first two are unclear, soba finds its origins in Tokyo as a dish that balanced the Japanese’s love of white rice. 

Throughout Tokyo, you’ll find excellent restaurants offering all three dishes. Soba can be served in a bowl of hot noodle soup, or cold on a separate bamboo tray (our favourite).

Dip the cold noodles into a cup of sweetened soy sauce with mirin and dashi and remember to slurp loudly – it’s a Japanese etiquette that shows you’re enjoying your noodles.

Tempura – fried seafood or vegetables – is perhaps the tastiest accompaniment to either hot or cold soba.

Taiyaki Sweets

Taiyaki sweets in the shape of a fish and a panda. Photo credit: Bjorn Koolen

This fish-shaped waffle is a favourite in Japanese street food. Luckily, Tokyo has plenty of small bakeries offering them. 

Taiyaki is essentially a waffle with a variety of sweet fillings that originated in Meiji-Era Tokyo. In terms of fillings, they come in azuki beans, custard and chocolate as the most popular.

Perhaps a nod to the recent trend of cronuts, a popular variation is the so-called croissant taiyaki. As the name suggests, they are taiyaki with a very crispy croissant outer layer. 

Design trends have also created new characters outside the traditional fish-shape of the taiyaki like this adorable panda and the inescapable Hello Kitty.

Green Tea Matcha Delights

Green tea matcha sweets. Photo credit: Bjorn Koolen

Green tea (or matcha) is one of Japan's most famous products and the locals sure do love using it in a variety of sweets, snacks and confectioneries.

There are matcha cookies, matcha croissant, matcha oreos… many bakeries, shops and even supermarkets offer some kind of matcha-based delight to enjoy for a short break in a nearby park. 

In summer, one of the best ways to enjoy matcha is as an ice-cream, and the richest matcha ice-cream happens to be at the tea store Suzukien in Tokyo’s own Asakusa district.

Unagi Rice Box

A delicious unagi rice box in Tokyo. Photo credit: Bjorn Koolen

With the highest quality unagi (freshwater eel in Japanese) just around the corner in Shizuoka Prefecture, there are plenty of unagi restaurants to choose from. In the dish una-don –another one originating from Tokyo – grilled fillets of unagi with a caramelised, sweetened soy-based sauce is placed over a bed of steamed white rice. 

Don’t be weirded out by the fact that it’s eel. Una-don is truly one of those must-try-foods. You may also have a hard time trying to find it done authentically outside Japan too, so try it while you’re here.

Many restaurants treat their unagi sauce as a source of pride and is often a close-guarded family secret!

"Foreign" Food

A fancy meal at a restaurant in Tokyo. Photo credit: Bjorn Koolen

Foreign cuisine in Japan is not entirely foreign – it might be more accurate to call it Fusion Cuisine. These dishes are almost always altered to meet the tastes and demands of Japanese customers, making even a dish like spaghetti or curry (a local favourite) an entirely different, Japan-only dish.

The Kagurazaka district has many French restaurants recommended by both Japanese and French chefs.

If you prefer to stick to Asian food, Yokohama’s Chinatown is a great place to check out the delicious, slightly tweaked, Chinese cuisine.

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