Eels in your Rice? Tokyo speciality dishes you never knew about!

What better way to take in the local way of life than through food? In my opinion, the local cuisine is something that should be at the top of every tourists’ list. Tokyo, being a large, metropolitan city, is a perfect place to try all kinds of Japanese cuisine, including dishes native to Tokyo itself. Here is a list of its top speciality dishes!

Chanko Nabe

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Chanko Nabe is a type of Japanese stew, that is all cooked in one pot. Hot pots like Chanko Nabe are always extremely popular during winter. Protein rich and easy to make, this dish is commonly eaten in very large quantities by sumo wrestlers, as part of their weight-gain diet. Since Tokyo is the centre of Sumo, Chanko Nabe has become an integral part of Tokyo’s cuisine.

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Don’t be fooled though, as it is considered to be pretty healthy, with all kinds of vegetables, tofu, fish and chicken being added to a broth. This broth is usually a miso, salt or soy sauce broth. The meat of four-legged animals is rarely added, since one way to lose a sumo match is to put a hand on the ground (as four legged animals do).

Here are some popular places to try Chanko Nabe:

Kabayaki

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Kabayaki is a method of fish preparation where it is split, butterflied and cut into square fillets. These fillets are then dipped in a sweet soy sauce before being grilled. The most popular fish to eat in this style is the ever so famous Unagi eel.

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Since the Edo period, Unagi Kabayaki has been traditionally eaten during the summer to gain stamina. But summer or not, Unagi kabayaki remains very popular. There are regional variations to this dish, making the Tokyo version different from what you may get in, say, Kyoto.

Some popular places to try Kabayaki:

  • Unazen– This restaurant is well known among locals.
  • Ishibashi– A Michelin star restaurant specialising in Unagi. Do expect higher prices.
  • Miyagawa Honten– A fantastic option that is located near the very famous Tsukiji market

Monjayaki

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Monjayaki is pretty similar to the well known Kansai favourite, okonomiyaki. The key difference between the two lies in the additional dashi or water added to the monjayaki batter mixture, making it runnier. Other than that, the savoury pancake consists of egg, cabbage, meat and various toppings and sauces, as does Okonomiyaki.

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Many Monjayaki restaurants can be found in the Tsukishima district of Tokyo, where the dish is said to have originated. The restaurant Kondo, in fact, is the oldest Monjayaki restaurant in Tokyo. Like in the case of Okonomiyaki, you often get to eat directly off the grill! Restaurant staff will usually direct or instruct you on how to do this, and the experience is quite memorable.

Some popular places to try Monjayaki:

  • Iroha Nishinaka– You get to cook the Monjayaki yourself, guided by the staff.
  • Kondo– Famous as it is the oldest Monjayaki restaurant in Tokyo.
  • Maguroya– Very small but extremely popular with long queues, especially among locals.

Fukagawa don

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Fukagawa don originated in the Fukagawa area, Tokyo (hence the name) near the Sumida River. During the Edo period, fisherman started catching and cooking littleneck clams, and they became a sort of fast food. A bowl of rice was topped with a miso-based broth of clams and chopped leeks. These clams are very small, and are consequently less tough and chewy than the larger ones.

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Some restaurants in the Fukagawa area still offer Fukagawa don. The dish is especially popular in spring, when the clams are in season. Cheap and easy to make, Fukagawa don is a true Tokyo dish for those with little time.
Some places to try Fukagawa don:

  • Fukagawajuku– An old eatery with a wonderful atmosphere that has been selling this dish for generations.
  • Fukagawa Kamasho– An affordable restaurant that is popular among locals.

Nigiri zushi

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I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t sushi just a Japan thing? Why is it a Tokyo speciality dish? Well, as it turns out, the creation of the sushi that we all know and love today is attributed to one man named Hanaya Yohei in today’s Tokyo (then Edo). He created this fast food version as, it seems, people were rushing around Tokyo even in the 1800s.

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The sushi rice is first pressed to form an oval shape, covered in seaweed and finally a topping is added. Popular toppings include egg, eel, various fish and octopus. In Tokyo, there are hundreds if not thousands of sushi restaurants serving Nigiri zushi, ranging from cheap to insanely expensive.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll reccomend restaurants that serve sushi the way it was initially intended- as a fast food (but not of low quality!).

  • Nemuro Hanamaru– Originally from Hokkaido, an affordable and fun restaurant with a lively atmosphere.
  • Katsu seibu shibuyaten – Sushi toppings are famed to be high quality at lower prices.
  • Toriton– Once again, fresh fish at fairly affordable prices. It’s also conveniently located at one of Tokyo’s most famous tourists attractions

As you can tell, there are certain themes that stay constant in Tokyo’s local food. It’s quick, easy to prepare and easy to consume, which is really telling of the fast paced lifestyle of the city. And yet, quality is still kept high, and traditionally eaten foods are passed along today as they always have been. Food is one of the best ways to understand the culture of the places you visit, so eat lots!

Images are used for commentary purpose. [adapted from my now missing odigo page]

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