Tokyo food tour

Japan, and Tokyo in particular, has been a major hole in my eating resume. I’ve eaten the best French cheeses in Paris, dug into bowls of pasta in Rome, and slurped the best soup dumplings in Shanghai, but never sampled a single thing within Japan (except once, in the airport during a layover but that definitely doesn’t count).

Last week, Julie and I stepped off a plane at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, ready for our eating adventure to begin.

The first thing on our agenda was a Tokyo food tour with Japan Wonder Travel. Instead of heading to the heart of Tokyo, with its towering skyscrapers and sensory overload, we headed east, to the more quiet, residential side of the city. This Tokyo food tour was all about getting off the well-worn tourist path of the city.

We met our guide Yeonmi at the Kinshicho Station, eager to explore Sunamachi and its market street.

Tokyo food tour

Tokyo Food Tour

Tokyo Food Tour

Yeonmi escorted us and one fellow visitor, a baker from Melbourne, to Sunamachi Ginza shopping district. Here, a narrow lane extends for almost half a mile, lined with small stalls selling food and goods to the community. Chain markets and Michelin stars find their homes elsewhere in Tokyo. Here, local family-run businesses feed the neighborhood like they have for generations.

Our first destination on the Tokyo food tour was a tempura stand, with three generations of family all present and working hard. The stand displayed its full array of freshly fried treats, from seafood to vegetables. The grandmother handled the money, using an abacus to add up the cost. Another older woman was busy sitting on a small stool at the frying station, methodically dipping vegetables into the tempera batter (check out this Serious Eats article for a great tempura recipe) and frying them to perfection.

Yeonmi handed us plates with diced shrimp and onion cakes. The batter was crispy and not oily at all. Tempura perfection.

Tokyo Food Tour

Tokyo Food Tour

Tokyo Food Tour

Next, we ducked into a small cafe specializing in inari sushi. We sat down in the tiny dining room and Yeonmi explained how this type of sushi is deep-fried tofu skin stuffed it with seasoned sushi rice. It is a perfect bite, with plenty of acidity and a hint of sweetness.

Imari makes for a great snack, and I took to eating it for breakfast for the rest of our time in Tokyo.

Tokyo Food Tour

Tokyo Food Tour

Tokyo Food Tour

Oden is a street food version of a hotpot, where a variety of fishcakes and vegetables are simmered in a dashi broth and eaten as a snack or as part of a larger meal. This particular dish has yet to make it into Japanese restaurants I’ve been to outside of Japan, so I was excited to try something new. I went for the daikon radish and the fishcake, which this stand makes fresh everyday.

Our bowls were topped off with a little of the umami-rich broth. The radish and fishcake took on the flavor of the broth, and were delicious.

Tokyo Food Tour

Tokyo Food Tour

Tokyo Food Tour

After our oden, we were distracted by a candy and junk food store, selling nothing but Japanese snacks. From the dozens of flavors of Kit Kats (I’m a huge Kit Kat fan and had to buy a bag of the green tea variety) to the unusual potato chip flavors (and yes, we had to buy a bag of pepperoni pizza chips too), it was a blast seeing what is popular among the Japanese.

I was especially surprised when a group of young school kids came in and skipped right past the candy bars, instead begging their parents to buy fruit jellies (kinda like a Jell-O cup). Definitely wouldn’t have been my first pick as a kid.

Tokyo Food Tour

Yeonmi declared that it was time for a drink, so after she showed us how to properly pay our respects at a Shinto shrine (donate money, ring the bell, step back, bow twice deeply, make your prayer, clap twice, and bow one more time) we hit a sake and liquor store, conveniently located across from the shrine.

I prayed for the existence of 5L plastic bottles of whiskey. I was rewarded.

Tokyo Food Tour

The small bottle of sake we purchased perfectly paired with our next snack, fried cutlets. The Japanese really excel at frying food, which sounds simpler than it is. Whereas fried food usually carries with it a heaviness, the Japanese have unlocked the key to keeping fried food light and tight. Which means you don’t feel gross after eating it multiple times per day. Which means my jeans get tight quickly.

For this stop, Julie went straight for the crispy beef cutlet, while I choose the shrimp patty. Both were excellent, light and fresh. The sweetened soy sauce was the perfect component to sauce up each bite.

And eaten with a few sips of sake? Best bar food ever.

Tokyo Food Tour

Next we moved onto yakitori, grilled meat, fish, or vegetables on a skewer. These are great late night snacks, or as one component of dinner. I chose the chicken thigh and onion skewer, along with the chicken skin skewer.

The idea of eating chicken skin may sound unappealing to some, but for me, the skin has always been the best part of any roast chicken. When you take the skin, skewer it up, throw it on a searingly hot grill, let it get crispy, then bathe it in a soy sauce glaze? Trust me, it is hard to resist.

Tokyo Food Tour

Tokyo Food Tour

After all of this savory food, we rounded out the day with a few traditional sweets.

First, we sampled rice balls. These dense, chewy skewed balls are made from glutinous rice, but by the time they make it to dessert stage, there are no rice kernels left. The balls are shaped and dipped in a variety of sauces to sweetened them up, like black sesame paste or sweetened soy. For most Westerners, Japanese desserts like this are a little challenging because of the very chewy texture.

Our final stop a tea shop that specializes in green tea and matcha. The owner showed us the precise (with a timer) way to make the perfect pot of matcha tea. The water should be below boiling temperature or else the tea will taste bitter and it should soak in the warm water for only thirty seconds. Only then is it poured.

Tokyo Food Tour

The Sunamachi tour was an excellent introduction into Japanese food and a great Tokyo food tour. We got to sample some of the Japanese classics, while learning about Japanese food culture. I love exploring an area like Sunamachi that is not crowded with tourists. This is a real street, with real residents going about their day.

I could totally see myself living just off the road, coming up every day to choose my tempura for lunch. It was a perfect first day in Japan.

Thank you to Japan Wonder Travel for the complimentary Tokyo food tour. As always, all opinions are our own.

Tokyo Food Tour

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  • October 7, 2017

    Aw man, I’m so hungry now! Japanese for always looks so delicious, and healthy too. I’m a huge fan of Ramen soup which I make at home. I always find a food tour is the best way to explore a new city, but that’s the foodie in me.

  • October 7, 2017

    Do you think Japan has enough options for vegetarians like me? This is one question that I always have on my mind when I think of visiting Japan.

    • October 8, 2017

      Japanese do a TON of things for vegetarians. They cuisine used to be almost entirely vegetarian for centuries, so they have a long history with it.

  • October 7, 2017

    This is a really interesting article, the tempura food sounds so tasty and sounds a little more healthier than you must get back home. The Kit Kat flavors must have been a real surprise and I certainly would not have been able resist trying those out.

  • October 7, 2017

    Some of this looks so delicious! I’ve always said I need to visit Japan with an empty suitcase and lots of money… I reckon I’d fill a whole suitcase just with the weird flavours of Kit Kats!!
    Clazz recently posted…Clazz’s 2017 Challenges: September UpdateMy Profile

    • October 8, 2017

      The Kit Kat variety is no joke. It’s insane.

  • October 7, 2017

    I’m a foodie myself and complete love to taste authentic food whereever I go. However I never had the fortune of attending a food tour myself but one like this is tempting. Loved all the dishes specially Inari as I love tofu!! Thanks for sharing. I’ll keep tempura in mind while in Tokyo!

    • October 8, 2017

      Food tours are always a great introduction into a new country’s cuisine! You should try one.

  • October 9, 2017

    My cousin spent two years in Japan for school and enjoyed the food here as well. Looks like a delicious tour that i would for sure consider when I visit Japan. Someday 🙂
    Karen recently posted…taking stock 25My Profile

  • October 11, 2017
    Megan Jerrard

    Woot to your first Japanese eating experience – the country has such a fabulous cuisine scene! I love that Japan Wonder Travel took you off the beaten path into the real neighborhoods. So much more of an authentic experience when you get to visit family run food stands and markets instead of large restaurants / chains aimed at tourists. Haha looks like those 5L plastic bottles of whiskey made your day!

  • October 11, 2017

    The food tour looks really interesting. I like the fact that the tour covered the tradition eateries because it is these kinds of places where you get a real taste of authentic local food.I was amazed at the fact that the lady was using the abacus to do the accounting.

  • October 11, 2017

    For me travel is all about hving authentic food. I believe food tells a story of history heritage of the place. Never tried Japanese food and it was an eye opener for me. Very well written article and I salute ur love for food. You have given more reasons to me now to travel Japan. We’re they offering some drink with Kit Kat flavour??

  • October 12, 2017

    What an intense tour; in the best way! I hope you went hungry 😉 I too am always curious about treats and I’ve tried some of the funky Kitkats in Thailand. I’m glad the whiskey gods answered your prayers! haha, I definitely will check thus tour out when I make it to Tokyo.

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