In the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics, it’s time to take you on a tour of Japan’s gastronomically diverse capital. Tokyo played host to the summer Olympics back in the summer of 1964 and now over half a century later, it continues to be a city where traditional and pop cultures collide, and restaurants steeped in history sit side by side with cute, colourful themed cafes.
Tokyo is a wonderful city to explore all sorts of cuisine and we’re here to show you to a variety of different options, including eating experiences that are particularly unique to Tokyo.
Whether you like to splash the cash, or are on a tighter budget, Tokyo excels itself by offering dining options from one end of the spending spectrum to the other. We’ll also introduce you to some of the Olympic venues that you might encounter whilst eating and drinking your way around this magnificent city.
Did you know that Tokyo has the most Michelin-starred restaurants of any city in the world? As of 2021 there are over 200 restaurants that have been awarded those coveted stars. With all this choice, it will be hard to choose where to get that Michelin-starred experience but there are options for a range of budgets and cuisines including Japanese, Chinese, French and Italian. Head to the online Michelin Guide (but prepare to leave hungry…).
If you’re on a modest budget and want to sample some legendary ramen, then why not try out Toy Box, Neiroya or Ginza Hachigo? These restaurants all top the TimeOut Michelin recommended Best Cheap Eats list and come in at under 1000 yen per bowl! Proof that you don’t need a huge budget to sample amazing food.
Pub Grub and Sports on the Big Screen
Tokyo has many pubs and sports bars where you can watch Olympic events on the big screen. HUB British Pub is a chain with many pubs dotted all over Tokyo offering reasonably priced drinks and British food such as fish and chips. The Shibuya area has lots of sports bar and pub options to choose from including the popular Dubliners Cafe, and Hobgoblins, which also has a branch in Roppongi.
Watching the Olympics in Tokyo may not be an option this year, but you can always pour yourself a chilled glass of Japanese beer and settle down to watch one of the many exciting Olympic events from the comfort of your own home!
Eat Monjayaki in Monja Street
Head to Monja Street for a unique Tokyo dish called Monjayaki (or monja). This is Tokyo’s answer to Okonomiyaki which literally means ‘grilled as you like it’ and is a pancake-style savoury dish made from seasoned flour, cabbage, and various fresh meats and vegetables mixed together and cooked in a frying pan. Monjayaki is similar to okonomiyaki but the batter has a thinner consistency and uses dashi stock.
Tsukishima Monja Street in Chuo is close to lots of the main Olympic stadiums and is lined with over 70 eateries where you can enjoy a delicious monja dish. Iraho has two branches on the same street and has been serving up monja to customers since 1955!
Sweet Treats in Harajuku
Yoyogi National Stadium was constructed for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and in 2021 the venue will host the Olympic Handball and Paralympic Badminton and Wheelchair Rugby events. To experience Tokyo cafe culture at its most cute and colourful, head out of the scenic tranquility of Yoyogi Park and head into the vibrant streets of Harajuku. Takeshita Dori is lined with all sorts of enticing cafes offering sugary treats in cute surroundings – enjoy fluffy pancakes, fancy parfaits, tasty doughnuts, and indulgent desserts.
Themed and animal cafes are also very popular throughout Tokyo, and Harajuku has several including the Harry Hedgehog cafe and Cat Cafe Mocha. There’s also the Pompompurin Cafe, dedicated to Sanrio’s cute golden retriever character (who was designed to resemble a caramel pudding).
Coffee lovers are spoiled for choice in Harajuku, so for something a little different, why not try Reissue, where you can request your coffee with latte art, in either 2D or 3D?
Eel, but only in Odaiba!
Odaiba Marine Park in the Tokyo Bay area will play host to the marathon swimming and triathlon events during the Olympics. Not only does this area of Tokyo offer amazing views of the Rainbow Bridge, it’s also a popular place to head to at weekends for shopping, museums, theme parks, entertainment arcades, and a myriad of places to dine out.
You’re spoilt for choice with restaurants of all descriptions, but if you want something unique to Odaiba then why not try anago (saltwater eel) which swims in the waters surrounding the bay. Anago has a firmer texture than freshwater eel (unagi) and is usually served as sushi or tempura.
Eat like a sumo
Chanko nabe is the staple diet of sumo wrestlers – a calorific yet nutritious hot pot filled with a protein-rich soup of meat, veggies, tofu. Although sumo wrestling isn’t represented in the Olympics, it’s renowned as being Japan’s most iconic sport, and will no doubt get lots of attention over the summer.
Sumo events in Tokyo are held in Ryōgoku Kokugikan (also known as Kokugikan Arena) an indoor venue based in the Sumida district which has been described as being the ‘spiritual home’ of sumo. During the Olympics the stadium will be hosting the boxing events.
You can find several restaurants serving chanko nabe in the area surrounding the Kokugikan, including the popular Tomoegata. Get in the sumo spirit by cooking your very own chanko nabe at home using our easy to follow recipe.
All the Mod Cons
We can’t mention Tokyo food without giving the humble convenience store a shout out. Konbini such as 7/11, Lawson and Family Mart are great for a quick snack-stop and there’s so much choice packed into the aisles of these small stores. Sushi, salads, rice and ramen dishes, deep fried savoury treats (oden), not to mention crisps and chocolate galore. They always seem to be open too, and are a great place to pick up a late night snack.
Tokyo also has many reasonably priced restaurants where you can simply turn up, choose what you want from the menu (or by gazing at the authentic plastic food in the window), place your order via a machine, pick it up from the counter… and enjoy!
For even more convenience, why not vend your way around town and grab a hot or cold beverage from one of Tokyo’s many vending machines. Japan has over 5 million vending machines in total so you’re never far from your next can of coffee.
A Taste of Traditional Japan
If things are getting a bit too fast paced for you, then why not switch down a gear and experience a taste of traditional Japan instead. Tokyo has many traditional restaurants which often specialise in just a few dishes with recipes perfected over the years and passed down through generations. One example is Koharuken, a restaurant which was established in 1912 and serves delicious bowls of katsudon with rice, deep-fried pork cutlet, vegetables and egg, using the same recipe as almost 100 years ago.
If coffee is your thing and you fancy a change from one of the chain cafes then head to an old school coffee shop (kissaten) where you’ll be greeted by a cosy, dimly lit environment, conjuring up feelings of times gone past. This is a very different experience from Starbucks or Doutor Coffee, and it can take around 20 minutes to prepare your delicious cup of coffee using slow-brew filter machines. It’s worth the wait though! Cafe de l’ambre is one of the oldest in town, dating back to 1948.
If all this talk of food has made you hungry, then head to japancentre.com for recipe inspiration. Our step-by-step recipe guides will give you meal inspiration for all seasons and we have you covered from starters and snacks to mains and desserts.
Enjoy all this and more by shopping in-store at Japan Centre Leicester Square, Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City. Alternatively you can get fresh produce delivered straight to your door by shopping online at the Japan Centre website.
Words by Emily Lovell
Tokyo cafe by Sinkdd via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/v9zDEN
Esquisse Tokyo by City Foodsters via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/qJid32
Monja by t-mizo via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/dHnPEr
Asahi beer by pittaya via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/8gY7CJ
Pompompurin Cafe Tokyo by serena_tang via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/HoeBj1
Sumo at Kokugikan Stadium by via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/yLz7t
Coffee shop by king jai via flickr: https://flic.kr/p/pcv4oN
Vending machines by Marc Buelher via Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/nsF7wS