Five foods of Tokyo
When it comes to trying out local dishes in foreign countries, Tokyo is a city piled high with possibilities. As should be the case, the cuisine of Tokyo reflects its lifestyle: it’s on the healthy side, much of its bites are on-the-go, and it follows a theme that’s independent of western tastes and combinations.
Being the capital of Japan, the choice of where to find these traditional meals is plentiful – and the quality is impeccable. So if you’re taking a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, here are the Flexicover team's five top tastes you’ll need to try to truly complete your experience.
Not one for the diet-conscious, Chankonabe is a mighty hot-pot dish with chicken broth, meat, vegetables, tofu and fish. The proteinous dish was invented to help sumo wrestlers in Tokyo gain weight, but it’s since turned into a challenge for the rest of us. The best place to try Chankonabe (or ‘sumo stew’) in Tokyo is in the sumo-themed Ryogoku district, where many ex-wrestlers now run restaurants that feature it as the star dish. Unless acute fullness prevents it, walk the meal off with a trip to the nearby sumo stadium and museum.
One of the most universal snacking experiences is at a bar, with a drink. The Brits have mastered the art of scotch eggs and crisps, the Italians go one further and dedicate aperitivo to the pursuit and the Japanese go further still, with a whole restaurant type that specialises in bar snacking: izakayas. Top of the list to try is yakitori – chicken skewers grilled over charcoal to give it a tender middle and a crispy outside. In Tokyoite izakayas, you’ll find all parts of the chicken used to give different flavours and textures; try the chicken neck meat (seseri) or chicken heart (hatsu) if you’re feeling brave or negima (chicken breast with scallions) if you’re not. Stop off in the buzzing Shinjuku area of Tokyo for the highest concentration of izakayas.
You’re probably already familiar with this dish of thin-cut buckwheat noodles – it’s ubiquitous in Japanese restaurants here, but it’s still a must-try in Tokyo, where it’s prepared just as the locals like it. For a traditional version, try soba with okra, raw onion and uni (sea urchin). Both food stalls and restaurants serve the dish as a quick snack or as part of a larger meal, and as either a cold dish or a type of noodle soup. If you’re enjoying it in a broth, don’t worry about the inevitable slurping. Depending on who you ask, eating it with such gusto can be taken as a sign of your enjoyment.
A particularly endearing part of Tokyo life is their definition of quick eats. While we’re grazing on burgers, sandwiches and chips, locals’ choice of easy bites prove why Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world. If it’s not bite-sized sushi or tempura filling the gap, it’s okonomiyaki. The literal translation is ‘whatever you like, grilled’ and that’s reflected in the breadth of fillings in this savoury pancake, including pork belly, scallions, cabbage, shrimp or pork. In Tokyo, it’s mostly enjoyed as street food, or found in the form of monjayaki, which is similar but with broth added to make the pancake more liquidy.
Of course, crepes aren't native to Japan. But they're a comfort food for weary travellers wanting a taste of the familiar, even if the sweet-toothed in Tokyo have added their own twist to the dish. Colourful fillings in these cone-shaped wraps include kiwi, cheesecake and whipped cream, chocolate, banana and vanilla ice cream, and sweet azuki beans with strawberries - go as adventurous or as safe as your taste buds command. To seek out the best in the city, the most famous crepe stands are dotted all around Harajuku. This lively district is where all the young kids hang out wearing the newest and wildest fashions, making it a good place to get a taste of real Tokyo life.
Wherever you plan to head to on your travels it’s good to know that Flexicover Travel Insurance is committed to providing you with the highest level of cover to ensure you are safe and secure 24 hours a day when away.