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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogTokyo Food You Must Try in the City!

Tokyo Food You Must Try in the City!

James LauJames Lau
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May 16, 2024
Platters of nigirizushi, an example of Tokyo food.

Tokyo is known for being one of the most fantastic food paradises in the world! There’s so much to eat and thousands of restaurants for you to discover! Let’s look at some of the classics Tokyo offers and see how some of these favorite foods have evolved and become loved by locals and tourists!

What’s the history of Tokyo food?

Tokyo’s food scene began in the Edo period (1603-1867) when Tokyo was known as Edo. It was during this time that modern sushi was created. Originally street food sold in stalls, sushi evolved into an art form, with Edo residents enjoying nigirizushi, made of fresh fish on vinegared rice. Street food culture evolved with the emergence of yatai, or food stalls, lining Edo’s streets, offering delights like tempura and yakitori, which remain popular today.

An assortment of Japanese food in small red bowls with black and white signs.
A lot of Edo-era food was centered around convenience. Image via Shutterstock

Tokyo’s food scene has since changed with diverse flavors and influences. The Meiji period (1868-1912) introduced Western influences, including foreign flavors. Western-style restaurants opened, offering dishes like bread, coffee, and pastries. Following World War II, Tokyo experienced a culinary revival with the rise of ramen and izakayas. Today, Tokyo has numerous Michelin-starred restaurants and international cuisines while preserving its food culture.

Edomae Nigirizushi

Edomae sushi, a style in which rice and seafood are molded together, has a rich history dating back to the 18th century when Tokyo was known as Edo. Initially, Edomae sushi was larger and treated like fast food, going for quantity over quality. Before Edomae sushi, they had narezushi, a fermented dish from the 10th century that differs significantly from the modern nigirizushi we enjoy today.

An assortment of Edomae nigirizushi
Edomae sushi was originally meant to preserve food. Image via Shutterstock

In Edomae sushi, the rice differs from Kansai nigirizushi, featuring a less sweet profile due to lower sugar content. Kansai nigirizushi tends to have more rice and a sweeter flavor. When experiencing Edomae sushi in Tokyo, popular choices include anago (saltwater eel), kohada (yellowfin tuna), and zuke maguro (tuna marinated in soy sauce). Preparing these toppings requires precision and skill, showcasing the unique qualities of the chef.

Edomae Tempura

Tempura originated in Edo in the 17th century. This classic dish evolved over time with the birth of Edomae tempura. Edomae tempura uses 100% sesame oil for frying, giving it a distinct aroma and texture. However, in modern times, many tempura restaurants use lighter oils due to sesame oil’s heaviness and high cost. Traditionally, Edomae tempura features seafood sourced from Tokyo Bay, such as whitefish, mackerel, eel, and shrimp.

A plate of tempura, an example of Tokyo food.
Tempura is fried in a thin batter. Image via Shutterstock

Tempura lovers should enjoy Edomae-style tempura, where the batter undergoes expert frying in sesame oil. This process yields a delightful contrast of crispy exterior and fluffy interior, elevating the dining experience to new heights. Kakiage, a tempura fritter crafted with precision and care, is a must-try delicacy. Its dense yet tender texture, achieved through expert frying techniques, offers everyone a satisfying crunch and flavor!

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Ramen

Tokyo’s ramen scene offers an array of modern interpretations that push the boundaries of tradition. At Iruca Tokyo, every element of the ramen is intentional, from its blend of four distinct broths to its signature noodles. Ginza Hachigou takes inspiration from French cuisine, crafting a clear, golden soup with a deep flavor. Meanwhile, Ebimaru uses a luxurious lobster bisque base, elevating the ramen experience.

Soy sauce ramen with a boiled egg.
Ramen is based on Chinese noodles! Image via Shutterstock

Buta Soba Tsukiya offers tonkotsu ramen featuring a light and refreshing broth created through slow simmering and meticulous skimming. Konjiki Hototogisu infuses Italian truffle oil and pancetta into its shio ramen. Ten To Sen adds Indian spices to its broth, while Menko Ushio surprises you with chicken ramen that reminds you of pasta carbonara. These modern ramen interpretations promise to push the boundaries of flavor and tradition!

Chanko Nabe

Chanko nabe, a hot pot dish associated with sumo wrestlers, boasts various styles like yose nabe, featuring chopped fish, meat, and vegetables simmered in flavorful broths. Originating over 2,000 years ago, sumo wrestling remains a popular Japanese tradition, drawing crowds to tournaments like Ryogoku, Tokyo’s sumo neighborhood. Visitors can enjoy chanko nabe filled with chicken, tofu, fish, vegetables, and mushrooms.

A pot of chanko nabe.
Chanko nabe is a high protein stew by sumo wrestlers. Image via Shutterstock

Visitors can explore restaurants like Chanko Kuroshio, owned by former sumo wrestler Kuto Kuroshio. It serves savory chanko nabe with a sweet hint of white barley miso broth. Kappo Yoshiba offers fresh ingredients from Toyosu Fish Market, including house-made swordfish balls. Tomoegata serves up to 300 guests with its signature kunimiyama chanko nabe, featuring a lightly salted chicken and sardine-based broth!

Tokyo Sweets

Japanese sweets range in flavors and textures, from traditional wagashi to modern creations. Wagashi are delicate confections that feature seasonal ingredients and delicate designs. These treats are commonly enjoyed alongside a soothing cup of matcha. Tokyo’s sweet scene combines global influences with favorites like kakigori (shaved ice), melon pan, and the ever-popular unique Kit Kat flavors.

A bowl of orange kakigori with condensed milk and syrup on top.
Kakigori is a popular dessert in the summer! Image via Shutterstock

Modern Japanese desserts embrace global influences and culinary trends, resulting in a fusion of flavors and presentations. Tokyo offers desserts where visitors can indulge in everything from elaborate parfait creations to fluffy soufflé pancakes.

Why should I try Tokyo food?

You should try it because Tokyo has many dining experiences that will tease the taste buds of visitors from around the globe. You can savor traditional Japanese sweets like wagashi or indulge in the latest dessert trends in Harajuku. Tokyo’s culinary landscape promises an unforgettable journey through the vibrant and dynamic world of Japanese cuisine!

A bowl of tempura soba (with tempura shrimp).
Have you ever had Tokyo food before? Image via Shutterstock

Overall, with its Michelin-starred restaurants, food stalls, and global influences, Tokyo continues to fascinate food enthusiasts with its food delights! Whether you’re a seasoned foodie or a curious traveler eager to explore, Tokyo’s food culture invites you to embark on a delicious adventure that will keep you coming back for more! Have you eaten any of the food in this article? Which was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

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