From the posh Michelin star restaurants — Tokyo has three times as many eateries bestowed with a star than New York — to the dime-a-dozen ramen shops that will change your perception of those 35 cent packages you at in college, there is so much for a food lover to experience in Tokyo.
During a recent trip, some of the best meals were served at our hotel, the Conrad Tokyo. We had a modern taste of Japanese at Kazahana, and twist on Chinese that you'd never imagine eating in America at China Blue, and the interesting and powerful traditional Japanese breakfast at Cerise by Gordon Ramsay. When it comes to fine dining, these set the bar high, with a special tip of the cap to the Japanese breakfast, which includes an omelette (sweeter than back home), grilled fish, steamed rice, miso soup and an assortment of pickled vegetables with some very unique flavors.
Out on the street is where you have the chance to eat like a local. The traditional ramen noodle house is the ideal spot to stop to power up during a day spent shopping, or late night after many drinks have been consumed. The richness of the broths tasted during the week was deep and flavorful, and come in a range of varieties from soy sauce to pork, although many ramen spots specialize in a certain type. Ordering is made easier for those who don't speak or read Japanese with a push button machine where you insert your money, press the button of what you want (complete with pictures) and then you're shown to your seat, typically at a counter. As one of our hosts said, look for a place with tissues near the napkins, since a good shop will have the spicy soup that gets the eyes and nose running.
Maybe the most authentic experience was a trip to one of the many izakayas, a type of restaurant where locals will go after a day of work. The beer flows, and lots of small dishes are available. Here we had some sushi, an assortment of dumpling-type dishes, and most notably yakitori, which are best described as Japanese kabobs. These izakayas typically include booths designed to seat small groups and offer lot of privacy for conversation and good times.
Of course when you think Japan, you think sushi, and there's no shortage of wonderful fresh examples of this treat. However, there are ranges of sushi, from the low end where you pick plates off a conveyor belt, up to fancy exotic meals that would be best saved for special occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries. But rest assured, every bite of sushi in Tokyo lived up to expectations, especially at a small sushi joint just outside the famed Tsukiji fish market.
Tokyo's exciting food scene, in pictures
A glimpse at all the tastes of the city, from post restaurants to street vendors.