I’m delighted to share a guest post from Claire White of RubyOwl about the wonderful cuisine of Tokyo.
Tokyo is a wonderful destination for foodies, whether they are looking for a great dining experience or edible gifts to bring home. From noodle bars to Japanese fine dining there is something to suit all tastes and budgets. And, if you want to learn more about Japanese cuisine, you can even take a cooking class.
Budget Food in Tokyo
Many of Tokyo’s department stores have spectacular food-halls which are well worth a visit. The name for the foodhalls is “depachika”, taken from the Japanese words depato which means department store, and chika meaning basement. Like a Japanese version of Harrods food hall in London, much effort has gone into the presentation of the food, making any visit a feast for the eyes as well as the taste-buds!
Browse the different counters to assemble a picnic of delicacies to enjoy in one of Tokyo’s many parks. Choose from meticulously presented fresh sushi to bakery items such as melon bread, with its distinctive criss-cross pattern and yellow colouring. Alternatively, you will find lots of food stalls near the parks selling fragrant local delicacies such as octopus balls (on a stick).
If you’d rather be indoors an excellent budget option is one of the many eateries you’ll see around Tokyo with a vending machine outside. These serve staples like bowls of ramen soup. You don’t need to find a waiter: simply select your dish from the photos and insert your yen into the machine. The machine will give you a ticket which you usually hand to the staff at the kitchen counter. Take a seat and you’ll be called to the hatch when your food is ready. This is fast food Japanese style!
Exploring the Tsukiji Fish Market
An activity foodies should make time for is a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market. It is the largest fish market in the world, famous for its live tuna auctions at 5 am! You can still get a glimpse of this traditional fish market in action if you visit around 9 o’clock in the morning. It’s smelly, noisy and – with little trucks hurtling around the crowded stalls – at times dangerous, but shouldn’t be missed. You can see a wide variety of fish and seafood such as lobster for sale in this wholesale market (but don’t take any photos inside as the traders don’t like it).
Before visiting Tsukiji Fish Market check the opening times as it varies day by day. Entry is free of charge. Outside the wholesale fish market itself there are numerous stores selling foodstuffs such as spices and sweets. There is also a good choice of restaurants nearby.
A Japanese Cookery Class
One of the highlights of our Tokyo stay was the Cooking Sun cookery school in Shinjuku-ku. They run both private and group classes where even complete novices can learn to make authentic Japanese food. The school is in an unassuming building, tucked away in a side street a 10-minute walk from JR Shinanomachi Station.
The cooking studio is a bright airy, spotlessly clean, first floor room in a modern block. We had booked a group cookery class but my husband, daughters and I were the only students so we were given lots of attention. Fresh ingredients were laid out in front of each of us. Our tutor explained what each item was, from bonito flakes (a type of dried fish flake used extensively in Japanese cooking) to seaweed. Our friendly instructors started by getting us to make dashi, a soup base for lots of Japanese recipes. My vegetarian daughter had her own “special” set of ingredients so that she could make a fish-free version.
We then moved on to rolled egg, a popular sushi topping which we cooked in a special square pan. It requires a certain amount of skill to roll whilst cooking to create a delicate roll, almost like a swiss roll of scrambled egg. Once cooked it is shaped on a bamboo mat.
We were also guided through Inari, California roll, Nigiri sushi and miso soup. Rolling the sushi on the bamboo mats to make California rolls was particularly fun. There is a knack to making cylindrical sushi: the rice has to be of the right stickiness but equally important is how it is rolled, applying just the right amount of pressure. We had a variety of toppings for the sushi including sashimi, avocado and fish eggs. We were all able to make the dishes with the staff helping our youngest daughter with the tricky bits.
Once we had finished making our feast the staff rapidly cleared away the utensils and cleaned the counters. We were given placemats, chopsticks and a glass of sake for the adults to enjoy our creations with. A fantastic way to end our exploration of Japanese cuisine!
About the author: Claire White visited Tokyo in Spring 2018 as part of a tour by train of Honshu island using the JR Rail Pass. Claire is a digital marketing specialist and runs the website www.rubyowl.co.uk.