Traverse the streets of Tokyo with Maggie Beer as she recounts her delicious and surprising food adventures.
It’s difficult to have a bad meal in Japan and, if you are just eating at one of the thousands of small restaurants or Japanese pubs, it’s surprisingly cheap! There are so many of these restaurants selling the classic dishes of Japan; ramen, udon or soba noodles, tempura, sushi, sashimi, hot pot dishes, yakitori and, of course, tofu.
On my trip to Tokyo, I first stopped at Golden Gai, but ate most of my meals at the small venues around Shinjuku station. I also visited the Tsukiji Fish Markets to taste the delicious fresh fish that Japan is known for.
Eating at an 'izakaya'
I started my Tokyo food trip in the evening at Golden Gai - an area of tiny streets and even tinier bars, where it is impossible not to meet your fellow drinkers and share some broken English.
Desparate to pack in as many dishes and venues as I could, I moved on from here for dinner, to an izakaya - a Japanese pub. This is a great place to start your introduction to Japanese food. As well as drinks, izakaya serve a variety of small plates - the equivalent of a gastro pub. The menu here was in English as we were close to a tourist area, but keep in mind this isn't the case for all izakaya.
I ordered a number of different things to share with everybody at the table; you can always order more at any time. The Japanese themselves normally start off with a round of draft beer (“nama biiru” – one of those essential phrases) and then move on to sake, which can be enjoyed hot or cold.
Izakaya are friendly and social places. They are very noisy, and often you sit on low stools or tatami mats, so I did feel at times like a big tourist, but everyone is so friendly and it is completely ok to strike up a conversation with total strangers - after a few drinks even the reticent Japanese start displaying surprising language skills.
Finding an izakaya isn’t difficult, partly because there are so many of them, but also because they are normally marked by red paper lanterns that dangle from the doorway and roof.
Shinjuku Station: quick and easy eats
There is a whole mini city of yakitori bars around Shinjuku station. Because we were filming Maggie in Japan, and because it was close to my hotel, whenever I needed a quick meal, I ate around the western and the eastern sides of Shinjuku station. Simple, satisfying and inexpensive.
Tsukiji Fish Markets
Another place to go is to the outer market at Tsukiji to eat the freshest of fish at one of the many little restaurants all lined up together in three rows. But go early, as they are so popular, and they are all very small. You select the one you want, get in the line, wait, then you have to go in-and-out and east fast! It’s not a meal to linger over but to savor as you eat.
Raw fish is one of the foods I love the most and this is the place to try it as you’ll never get fresher fish. I’d go back every day for an early breakfast. It’s so good! When you have eaten, it’s time to check out the rest of the market. Again there is so much food on offer, and I had a second veritable feast buying a sample of this and that as I wandered around from stall to stall. I also found some wonderful pottery shops, selling the cheapest, most beautiful pottery plates and bowls. I have to admit that by the time I got to Osaka I had to buy a suitcase to bring it all home!
Don't miss Maggie Beer in Japan on Lifestyle, starting on August 2 at 8:30pm
For more tips, see Maggie's restaurant guide to Tokyo.