A Guide To Tokyo's
In October, I got to live out a lifelong fantasy of mine: going to Tokyo. And let me tell you, it was everything I imagined it to be. Cutesy Japanese voices squeaking out the speakers of every random bits & bobs store, tiny sushi bars, the wildest street style and Hello Kitty everything!
I'd especially been excited about trying Japanese cuisine, from udon noodles and ramen to wagyu beef and yakitori, and OMG it did not disappoint – shocker. It was hard to have a bad meal in the city because everywhere is just incredible, you’re literally spoilt for choice.
With my Tokyo-themed nails ready to claw at some chop sticks, I delved tongue-first into a new realm of DELICIOUSNESS and here are my top food picks…
A tiny little gaff in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighbourhood, Shin Udon was my absolute favourite. The menu is simple: tempura and udon noodles. You’ll most likely queue but it shouldn’t take too long and the staff bring out the menus as you wait to speed up the process. Top picks: vegetable tempura and the beef or carbonara udon.
When it comes to pork, I’m very fussy and I deffo don't fuck with cutlet/loin, but I badly needed to try Tonkatsu while in Japan. Luckily, I managed to find two places that offered a non-pork version of the classic dish. The first was Suzuya, where I ordered the breaded prawns and crab croquettes, and both were absolutely DELISH.
However, the second place was the one. Tonkatsu Hamakatsu offered chicken on the menu and it really delivered on flavours/overall experience. The chicken was so fresh and full of flavour, while the light, crispy breadcrumbs gave it a little texture and crunch. Dreamy. It came with all the traditional sides, such as rice, miso soup and pickles, as well as sesame seeds. The seeds come in a small bowl ready for you to crush, before adding in the sweet and tangy tonkatsu sauce (kinda like a Worcestershire sauce). Bang bang.
Mmm…ramen. These delightful bowls of pure comfort are everywhere you go in Tokyo and there are four different types: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), miso (fermented bean paste), and tonkotsu (pork).
As you would expect, I had a few ramens during my Tokyo trip, but I still wished I had been there long enough to try a hundred more, as each ramen is so different to the next. But I did get to fulfil a tiny (pathetic) dream of mine by ordering ramen via a machine. The machines detail the type of broth, meat/veg, any extra toppings and whether you want it spicy or not. I did a little ‘eee’ at the first sight of one, followed by a ‘huh?!’ when I realised it was all in Japanese. At first I had to ask for help (a common theme in the city) but it doesn't take long to work out what the hell is going on.
Also, be prepared to hear the locals slurp really loudly (yes, that rumour you heard is true) – they do this to cool down the food as they eat it. We just did the classic British thing of blowing on it really quietly. Anyway, here are three places I went to. BIBS ON BBZ.
Afuri is a chain ramen restaurant but don’t let that put you off, it really is a tasty experience. I got the spicy version and loved every drop.
Second up is Menya Musashi. There are a few of these ramen spots dotted around the city but we went to the Iwatora branch the day we spent in the anime area of Akihabara. Like a lot of ramen restaurants, this place is small and only seats about 12 people, so be prepared to wait a few minutes. I chose a soy sauce base with pork and wow, the pork was STUNNING. One thing I would say is, this ramen was particularly rich but definitely worth a visit, especially if you like rock music as that’s all they seemed to play LOL.
Oreryū Shio-Ramen in Shibuya was my favourite ramen. The staff were so lovely and helpful and I especially loved all the condiments lined along the bar, allowing you to add whatever extras you fancied to your ramen. This was by far the tastiest pork broth I had and the fried pork on top literally MELTED IN YA MOUTH FFS. Buttery goodness. 10/10 tbf huns.
For die hard meat lovers, wagyu beef is not to be missed when visiting Japan. We enjoyed it on various occasions, but I particularly loved the whole vibe at Nikuen. Right in the centre of Shinjuku, this restaurant is surrounded by several similar spots, but this was the place we tried and loved.
The barbecue style tables come with a grill at the centre, so you can cook the meat as much or as little as you’d like. We chose a mix of cuts and I especially loved the skirt. So soft, light and naughtyyyy. This mixed platter also came with miso soup, rice, a raw egg yolk you mix with soy sauce (piff) and then a course of entrails. I would skip this course next time tbh, wasn’t really anything memorable, just super chewy offal.
This place is especially great for groups.
Memory Lane, aka Piss Alley, is one of the most touristy places in Tokyo, but that's not always how it was. Back in the 1940s it was a hub for black market traders until a fire destroyed everything in 1999 and the area was rebuilt, becoming what we know it as today. And although it is a tourist hot spot, you HAVE to go and make sure you do it at night. The tight, dark alleys are barely wide enough for three people to pass at a time and the smoke from the barbecues all add to the buzz of the place. Choose from the many yakitori bars, take your seat very closely to the other diners and pick a few of the sticks to share. Garlic is a percy one for me.
I'd recommend this for solo travellers, couples and light bites with a drink.
If like me, you’d try anything once then I recommend giving chicken sashimi a go. I know, it sounds fuckin insane but I promise you it’s so good. Knowing Japan was a place where they sold chicken sashimi, I made sure to add it to my Tokyo list. We hit up Nikusushi and delved into the world of raw meats. We had quite a lot of horse sashimi, a little duck and some chicken. The maddest thing is that the chicken was the best. The texture was like salmon sashimi, yet I would way rather have a cold piece of uncooked bloody chicken than salmon – what have I become?