What to eat

Where to eat: Best yakitori in town

Where to get your tasty skewered chicken fix in Tokyo

Best known as every Japanese oyaji‘s favourite beer snack, the humble yakitori (grilled, skewered chicken) is most commonly consumed in noisy pubs, at simple roadside stalls, or at various open-air festivals taking place year-round all over the country. However, the gourmet value of this simple delicacy is also widely recognised, best evidenced by the existence of Michelin-starred yakitori restaurants in Tokyo. Below, we have selected 10 of the best places in the city for getting your mouthwatering chicken-on-a-stick fix, ranging from friendly neighbourhood izakayas to splendidly sophisticated bird bars.

imai

Located close to Sendagi Station, this tiny yakitori eatery caters to all friends of wine and/or nihonshu. Go for the standard menu (¥5,400, includes appetiser, skewers, and a main dish) or pick your favourites off the blackboard – menus change daily, with the birds being grilled ranging from duck to shamo chicken, and vegetable plates rotating seasonally. Choose your drinks from a wide selection of organic wines from France, Italy, and Japan, or make your pick from the equally impressive nihonshu lineup. The friendly owner is always ready to make recommendations and answer any questions about ingredients and preparation methods. Reservations required.

Details

Address 

2-29-4 Sendagi, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo

Transport Sendagi Station (Chiyoda line), exit 1

Telephone 03 3821 2989

Open 6pm-10pm / closed Mon

Isehiro Kyobashi

Isehiro

Be it at lunch or at dinner, Kyobashi’s Isehiro will never let a yakitori lover down. The lunch bowl (yakitori-don) maintains the same high quality as the dinner courses (from ¥4,725), which allow visitors to taste a variety of chicken parts, all not only flavoured differently but also featuring different textures. We recommend the five-skewer bowl (¥1,800), which contains delicacies like liver and lean sasami breast.

Details

Address 

1-5-4 Kyobashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Transport Kyobashi Station (Ginza line), exit 6

Telephone 03 3281 5864

Open 11.30am-2pm, 4pm-9pm / closed Sun, holidays

URL www.isehiro.co.jp

 

Uchida

Uchida

This tiny yakitori eatery in Musashi-Koyama often fills up right away after opening, making reservations highly recommended. The very reasonably priced yakitori (from ¥150) are outstanding, particularly the perfectly cooked livers and tsukune meatballs, which can be combined with a nice bottle from the shop’s expansive sake collection. If you’re ever strolling the area, do take a peek in to see if there are any seats available.

Details

Address 

3-14-7 Koyama, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo

Transport Musashi-Koyama Station (Tokyu Meguro line)

Telephone 03-5749-3455

Open 5pm-2am / closed Thu

Edomasa

Edomasa

Located along the row of one-man shops and wholesalers near the foot of Ryogokubashi bridge, Edomasa is a chicken-and-drinks bar that’s been a fixture in the neighbourhood for decades. Slip in through the curtain and find the counter right there – the tiny space fits only 12 patrons. Items from the shop’s early days are still in use, while the wall is decorated with hand-written notes from old-timer Sumo wrestlers. Nothing beats the ambience here.

 Details

Address 

2-21-5 Higashi-Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Transport Higashi-Nihonbashi Station

Telephone 03-3851-2948

Open Mon-Fri 5pm-8pm, Sat 5pm-6.30pm / closed Sun, holidays

 

Toriki

Toriki

 Boasting one Michelin star and located a quick walk from Kinshicho station, this yakitori restaurant is a true rarity. Using only the freshest chicken liver, Toriki’s giblets are absolutely the main attraction here, while those uncomfortable with intestines will be relieved to hear that the rest of the menu maintains a similarly high quality. Reservations for weekends can be difficult to come by, but your luck might be better if you aim for a weekday after 9pm.

Details

Address 

Kosaka Bldg. 1F, 1-8-13 Kinshi, Sumida-ku, Tokyo

Transport Kinshicho Station (Hanzomon, Sobu lines), north exit

Telephone 03 3622 6202

Open 5.30pm-10.45pm (Sat from 5pm) / closed Sun, holidays

URL r.gnavi.co.jp/gaez800/

 

Ginza Torishige

Ginza Torishige

This upscale joint in Ginza has been in business for over 80 years, and the experience shines through in their tsukunemeatballs, light-tasting quail skewers, and chewy duck dishes. Don’t forget to end your meal with a bowl of Torishige’s famous ‘dry curry’.‘Would you like dorai kare [curried rice] with that?’ the staff invariably ask customers when they place their first order at this upscale yakitori restaurant in Ginza. Trust us: just say yes.

Details

Address 

6-9-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Transport Ginza Station (Ginza, Hibiya, Marunouchi lines), exit A2

Telephone 03 3571 8372

Open Mon-Fri 11.30am-2pm, 5pm-10pm, Sat 4pm-9pm / Closed Sun & hols

URL ginza-torishige.co.jp

 

Iguchi

Iguchi

The standard course (¥4,800) is the only way to go at this Nakameguro bar, but it’s also most certainly the right way; starting with artistic appetisers and stretching all the way from small veggie bites to excellent chicken skewers, Iguchi takes yakitori to another level.

The black-and-white interior, topped off with a bonsai tree, is only part of the attraction at this Nakameguro yakitori bar. The standard course (¥4,800) is the only way to go here, but it’s also most certainly the right way; starting with appetisers ranging from foie gras and liver pâté to caciocavallo cheese and stretching all the way to small veggie bites and excellent chicken skewers, it’s hard to find anything wrong with this presentation taste-wise. Big eaters may leave slightly unsatisfied, but yakitori beginners will love the variety on offer. Reservations required.

Details

Address 

Highness Nakameguro 109, 1-2-9 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

Transport Nakameguro Station

Telephone 03-6451-0575

Open Mon-Sat 6pm-midnight, Sun 4.30pm-midnight

 

Souten Minamiguchi

Souten Minamiguchi

The can’t-miss dish at Otsuka’s famed Souten is the shiitake-flavouredtsukune meatball, a juicy and powerful creation that rises high above the standard. Adventurous diners might want to take a shot at the chicken sashimi plate with its symphony of textures.

Pick and choose off the massive menu at Otsuka’s famed Souten, an upscale yakitori eatery that lives up to its fancy reputation. One can’t-miss dish is the shiitake-flavoured tsukune meatball, a juicy and powerful creation that rises above the standard. The adventurous among us might want to order the chicken sashimi plate, which includes some truly mind-boggling offerings. Don’t forget to hang around and order a cup of nihonshu orshochu from the impressive drink selection.

 Details

Address 

Saga Kato Bldg. 1F, 3-39-13 Minami-Otsuka, Toshima-ku, Tokyo

Transport Otsuka Station (JR lines), south exit; Mukohara Station (Toden Arakawa line)

Telephone 03 5944 8105

Open 5.30pm-11pm / closed Mon

URL www.kaze-w.jp/souten/

 

Ogawa

Opened in summer 2013 in Yotsuya’s Arakicho, this small yakitori place has attracted quite a following in the past few months. The ‘tasting course’ (¥2,000) is great for first-timers, and features an impressive variety of juicy skewers that go perfectly with wine.

Among the many small bars and eateries in Yotsuya’s Arakicho, this small yakitori place has attracted quite a following in the past few months. Full courses are recommended, particularly the impressive 10-course ‘Yakitori menu’ (¥5,000). The ‘tasting course’ (¥2,000) is great for first-timers, and features an impressive variety of juicy skewers. Wine-drinkers might want to combine a crisp white with the liver pâté (¥700), another silky smooth creation.

Details

Address 

Wind Arakicho 1F, 9-1 Arakicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Transport Yotsuya-sanchome Station (Marunouchi line); Akebonobashi Station (Shinjuku line)

Telephone 03 5315 4630

Open 5pm-midnight

Onitei

Onitei
Carnivores in the know might have heard of this Shibuya eatery, which lets customers grill every chicken part imaginable, yakiniku-style, in a homely atmosphere. The proprietress explains preparation methods and ingredients carefully, so even first-timers needn’t worry. Book in advance for the samgyetang soup (¥4,800), a dish best enjoyed in good company.

Details

Address 

1-9-4 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Transport Shibuya Station

Telephone 03-3797-1002

Open 6pm-11.30pm / closed Sun, holidays

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The Japanese secret to staying young for longer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wasabi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wasabi, the Japanese condiment which offers a delicious kick to the nasal passages with every bite, has long been embraced in Japan, and more recently other parts of the world. However, aside from accentuating sushi or playing jokes on friends, the pungent plant has been found to provide anti-aging effects in recent years.

 

For those who turn up their noses at the thought of a daily dose of wasabi, you may reconsider when you realize how easy it is to benefit from the sulfinyl found in it. That’s right: it keeps you pretty for longer!

 

 Sulfinyl

 

A lot of what goes on inside of a wasabi plant is accredited to a sulfur/oxygen bond called sulfinyl. When the plant is damaged the sulfinyl is combined with other molecules to make 6-methylthiohexyl isothiocyanate (6-MSITC). Stay with us. In short, this chemical group helps to give wasabi its unique taste, which is believed to be a natural pest repellent.

 

Studies are also finding that the 6-MSITC created by wasabi can lower the reactive oxygen in the body. Reactive oxygen is said to be related to cancers and the weakening of the body due to age. Other research is suggesting that wasabi’s unique sulfinyl compounds are also good for blood circulation and reflexes.

 

 Know your wasabi

 

So we know that wasabi is great but first you have to make sure you’re actually eating real Japanese wasabi. The wasabia japonica plant is a little tricky to farm and yields don’t tend to meet the demand for it. As a result much of the wasabi sold and served is actually mixed with horseradish known as seiyo wasabi (Western Wasabi) in Japan.

 

Although the taste is good, horseradish doesn’t have the same 6-MSITC health benefits of its Japanese cousin. So read the label before buying!

Wasabi explanation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorito's with wasabi

Obviously your best bet would be buying a fresh wasabi rootstock, but they can be rather pricy and hard to maintain. After grating, the taste of wasabi dramatically decreases in only minutes.

 

On the other hand, powdered wasabi would have had most of the 6-MSITC processed out of it. Unfortunately this means that Wasabi Doritos and Wasabi Beef chips, despite tasting awesome, will not prevent aging… they probably accelerate it.

To get the best of both worlds we recommend the wasabi sold in tubes like toothpaste. As long as you check the label, it won’t take much to begin lowering your reactive oxygen.

 Just a teaspoon a day

According to studies, one would have to consume a minimum of five milliliters (one teaspoon) of wasabi a day to begin recieving the effects of 6-MSICT. You might want to consider a spoonful of it in the place of your morning coffee for a truly potent pick-me-up. Besides, it’ll help clear those tubes during the cold season!

Also, if you happen to not love the spicy zing of wasabi, no problem! Since 6-MSITC is very durable against heat you can just cook it up with something and reduce the nose-burning taste while maintaining the health benefits.

These types of health studies can be shaky at times, so we can’t guarantee eating wasabi will keep you cancer-free. However, it takes almost no effort at all, so why not give it a try? In fact, I’m going to start putting it on my morning McGriddle to try and undo the years of damage it’s no-doubt done to me.

 

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Where to eat: Food worth the wait, restaurants and shops that keep Tokyo lining up for more

 

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Qeueing

Once a year, around the time that Michelin publishes its Tokyo guide, headlines roar about this city being the dining capital of the world. And it is. But it’s not just the arm-and-a-leg, mortgage-your-kids dining scene that makes Tokyo great. The fanaticism for detail and dedication to fresh, seasonal ingredients trickles all the way down to the places we actually eat at: the ramen shops, the gyoza dumpling joints, the udon noodle restaurants and the confectionary stores. And these everyday eateries have their own version of the fine dining restaurant’s waiting lists: lines. If a meal is good enough, Tokyoites will stand in sun or rain to get to it. Here are some of the current favourites.

Wating in line in front of Ramen Jiro

Wating in line in front of Ramen Jiro

Ramen, Ramen Jiro Mita Main Branch

It’s a ten-minute walk from one of the Yamanote Line’s dreariest stations. The façade isn’t pretty and the grease-stained interior is grim. Yet people line up around the block every day in every kind of weather for lunch here, because Jiro may well be the city’s best-loved ramen store. It serves a heavy, fatty soy-sauce soup loaded with thick noodles, cabbage and slices of pork. Since it opened in 1968, the shop has spawned thirty sister branches, run by former apprentices of the Mita branch, but each has its own recipe and none come close to the original for the hearts and stomachs of ramen lovers.

Wait: 30 mins for lunch, but can be up to 1 hr
Address: 2-16-4 Mita, Minato, Tokyo
Open: Mon-Sat 10am-4pm

Sushi no Midori

Sushi, Sushi no Midori Ginza store

There are six main branches of Midori sushi, and they all come with queues. The original branch opened in Umegaoka in 1963, but these days the Ginza branch usually has the longest lines. Courses start from as little as ¥840 for the ten-piece umenigiri plate, which is about as cheap as it gets for sushi in Ginza, but the biggest draws are the anago ipponzuke, a ball of rice with a whole eel draped over it (¥630), and the daimyo midorimaki, an oversized maki roll stuffed with cucumber, egg, and mashed, seasoned whitefish (¥1,890). In the winter months, the store hands out hot pads to customers in the queue.

Wait: up to 1 hr
Address: Corridor Dori 1F, 7-108 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo
Telephone: (03)5568 1212
Open: Mon-Fri 11am-2pm, 4:30pm-10pm (LO 9:30pm)
Sat 11am-10pm (LO 9:30pm) Sun 11am-9pm (LO 8:30pm)

Setagaya main store (Full details & map)

Niku no Sato

Beef cutlets, Meat Shop Sato

It’s a ball of beef, onions and lard, and it creates lines of up to 200 people in the middle of Kichijoji. To be fair, it’s juicy Matsuzaka beef and it’s cooked so perfectly that you need to wait a few minutes after purchasing the cutlet to let the heat reach the middle. So popular are Sato’s cutlets that customers are limited to 20 pieces each on a weekday, and 10 each on a weekend or holiday. They often sell out by mid-afternoon.

Wait: around 30 mins
Address: 1-1-8 Kichijoji-honcho, Musashino, Tokyo
Telephone: (042)222 3130
Open: Mon-Sun 9am-8pm

Youkan_mizuyoukan

Youkan, Ozasa

They call it maboroshi youkan, which roughly translates as “bloody-hard-to-get-hold-of bean paste jelly”. Ozasa makes just 150 blocks per day, and if you’d like to try one, you’re advised to start queuing from around 5am on a clement day, or around 7am if it’s pouring with rain. At 8:30am, staff distribute tickets for the ¥580-a-piece jellies, up to five per person, and ask you to return between 10am and 6pm to pick up your purchase. Is it worth the effort? We’ve never been tempted to devote half a day to buying jelly, but we hear that they taste much like any other youkan.

Wait: 3-4 hours
Address: 1-1-8 Kichijoji-honcho, Musashino, Tokyo
Telephone: (042)222 7230
Open: Mon, Wed-Sun 10am-7:30, closed Tue
Website: www.ozasa.co.jp/

minatoya

Soba, Minatoya

In a piece of angular, modern minimalist architecture, with Chopin playing in the background and an interior that wouldn’t look out of place in a bar, customers stand to slurp soba. The setting is unique, as is the soba. The hot chicken bowl is the biggest draw, with lines around the block at lunchtime. Luckily it’s a fast moving place where customer slurp and leave, but if you really don’t want to wait, come for dinner, when it’s much easier to get in. Be warned though: the shop closes whenever they run out of noodles. (Full details & map)

Wait: around 30 mins

Yanagiya

Taiyaki, Yanagiya

Back in 1916, Yanagiya began making taiyaki (fish-shaped griddle baked pastries with fillings), and with over 90 years of practice, they’ve gotten pretty good at it. The batter is made fresh daily and is used sparingly, which gives the snack an unusually thin and crispy shell (so eat them fast, before they go soft). Inside, there’s koshian (skinless azuki bean paste): sweet but not cloying. Yanagiya is one of the Big Three taiyaki outlets in Tokyo (along with Wakaba in Yotsuya and Naniwaya Souhonten in Azabu Juban) and uses moulds that pre-date WWII.

Wait: about 45 mins
Address: 2-11-3 Nihonbashi Ningyocho, Chuo, Tokyo
Telephone: (03)3666 9901
Open: Mon-Sat 12:30pm-6pm, closed Sun

Tamahide

Oyakodon, Tamahide

This is the birthplace of oyakodon, the chicken-and-egg rice bowl. It was founded in 1760 as a chicken hotpot specialist, but the wife of the fifth generation chef created a dish that became a Japanese classic and came to define the restaurant. If you’re seated for dinner at Tamahide, you’ll need to wait until the end of the meal for the famous dish, when it stands in for the traditional miso and pickles as a finale. At lunch, though, you can dive straight into the oyakodon as long as you don’t mind the wait. If you don’t start queuing by noon, you won’t be getting in.

Wait: up to an hour
Address: 1-17-10 Nihonbashi Ningyocho, Chuo, Tokyo
Telephone: (03)3668 7651
Open: Lunch Mon-Sat 11:30am-2pm (LO 1pm)
Dinner Mon-Fri 5pm-10pm (LO 9pm), Sat 4pm-9pm (LO 8pm)
Website: www.tamahide.co.jp/

Baumuchen

Cakes, Ginza Department Stores

Matsuzakaya

Each of the three big department stores on Ginza’s Chuo Dori has a confectionary stand that draws big queues. Matsuzakaya has Nenrinya baum cake, which debuted in September 2008 and still draws lines of up to an hour. Last New Year the line stretched up to the fourth floor of the department store.

Website: www.nenrinya.jp/

Mitsukoshi

Mitsukoshi

Mitsukoshi has Mon Chou Chou, which serves a variety of cakes, but it’s the Dojima roll, an ultra-soft fresh-cream-filled Arctic roll, that the ladies line up for. It debuted in August 2007 and there has been a line during opening hours ever since. On peak days, they sell out within two hours of opening.

Website: www.mon-chouchou.com/

 

Gouter de roi

Matsuya

At Matsuya, the big draw is the Gouter de Roi, a sugared rusk from Gateau Festa Harada. For a while, the popular biscuits were also offered online, but sales were suspended when they became overwhelmed with orders.

Website: www.gateaufesta-harada.com/

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Only in Japan: Try this “dirt menu” at Ne Quittez Pas with actual, … dirt!

It reads like a palate-pleasing menu.

You start out with a truffle soup, followed by oysters and then a main course of flounder with risotto and vegetables. There’s a side of potatoes and you finish it off with a scoop of ice cream.

Here’s the twist — this all comes with a generous helping of dirt. Not normal, backyard variety dirt, special nutrient-rich soil.

The unique tasting menu is the creation of Toshio Tanabe, a former gymnast and boxer turned culinary inventor. Tanabe says the dirt menu was a logical addition for his quaint restaurant, Ne Quittez Pas, which is located in Tokyo‘s Gotanda neighborhood.

“This is a seafood restaurant, so we have the flavors from the ocean,” he says. “I was also looking for flavors from the earth.”

 

Chef Tanabe says the idea to use soil came naturally.
Chef Tanabe says the idea to use soil came naturally.

But this is not the typical dirt you’d find it your backyard. It comes from a garden wholesaler, which provides the high quality soil, taken deep beneath the earth’s surface — 10 meters down, in fact.

Germaphobes can take some comfort, perhaps. Tanabe tells us the soil is first lab tested, and then heated to extreme temperatures, to kill off any bacteria. After that process is complete Tanabe will work it into his menu.

This special fare is certainly not dirt cheap. The set course is about US$110 per person.

And how does it taste? According to one adventurous eater, who wished to remain anonymous the night of our visit, “I didn’t think it would be real dirt. I was a bit nervous. But it was a subtle taste.”

When we ask Tanabe, about his next key ingredient, he shrugs and says he’s not sure.

“This idea came about naturally.”

Whether diners dig into the dirt or not, it does take the idea of organic to a whole new level.

Ne Quittez Pas: 3-15-19 Higashigotanda. Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo;Nequittezpas.com

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What to eat: Summertime (ramen) noodles

Hiyashi Chuka: Ramen’s Summertime Sibling

Hiyashi Chuka, a dish of cold ramen noodles with a chilled tare sauce and vibrant toppings, is one of the best parts of summer in Japan. Characterized by pale yellow ramen noodles and colorful toppings of sliced ham, cucumbers, and fried eggs, this seasonal dish has become a culinary icon for the Japanese summer.

The name Hiyashi Chuka literally means “chilled Chinese food.” The dish first appeared in Sendai about 80 years ago as a combination of Western, Chinese, and Japanese influences. However, neither Japan nor China claim the dish as their own and, despite its commercial success, the origins of Hiyashi Chuka are virtually unknown. This dish of chilled ramen noodles and refreshing toppings has spread throughout Japan, becoming one of the most popular dishes to eat during the hot summer months. Some consider Hiyashi Chuka an iconic treat, especially in the southern areas of Okinawa, Osaka, and Kyoto.

Hiyashi Chuka itself is an aesthetically gorgeous dish. It is composed of springy, pale yellow ramen noodles, dipped in a light brown, sweetish tare sauce, and topped with sliced fried eggs, cucumbers, and ham. Other varieties of Hiyashi Chuka also contain sliced carrots, ginger, chicken, tomatoes, bean sprouts, sesame seeds, and barbecued pork. All of these colorful toppings are arranged methodically on top of the bed of chilled ramen noodles in a circular fashion, producing both a beautiful and delicious meal. The careful arrangement of the dish highlights the importance of presentation, as well as taste, in Japanese cuisine and culture.

Although convenience stores and ramen shops both serve this summer staple, the quality of the Hiyashi Chuka varies greatly depending on the shop where it is purchased. Most 7-Eleven or Lawson convenience stores sell pre-made Hiyashi Chuka in typical, plastic containers in the Bento lunchbox section. Since they are sold pre-packaged, the ramen noodles from a convenience store Hiyashi Chuka are typically chewier and less flavorful than if they were freshly made. At a ramen restaurant, on the other hand, the noodles are softer and almost melt in your mouth.

Since Hiyashi Chuka is such a simple dish, you can taste the price difference from a convenience store, a cheap ramen restaurant, and a more expensive traditional restaurant. For cheap Hiyashi Chuka, made freshly at a ramen restaurant Ban-Nai (also known as Bannai) is a popular choice. They have over thirty branches in Tokyo, as well as a few outlets in Osaka, Iwate, and Nagano prefectures. High quality Hiyashi Chuka depends on the location; there are many well-known traditional restaurants with popular Hiyashi Chuka offerings, it’s best to ask the locals where their favorite place is!

If you have a chance, try eating Hiyashi Chuka at many different places and prices to find your favorite. While the ingredients vary depending on the prefecture, these delicious yellow, springy noodles that have become synonymous with summer in Japan are guaranteed to make you smile.

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