A foodie's day in Tokyo
So you came to Tokyo to eat? You'd need a whole month just to make it through the highlights of this world-class – some would say world's best – food city. But you can do a lot in a day, from trawling the markets and department stores to splurging on sushi and sake.
Morning at the market
Not keen to rise so early? The outer market is where to go to find dozens of vendors selling essentials of Japanese cooking, such as the floss-like katsuo-bushi (flakes of dried bonito) used to make dashi (fish stock), the delicate sheets of nori (laver) used to wrap sushi rolls, and the tart, colourful pickles that complete the meal.
Scour the narrow lanes for takeaway counters such as Yamachō, which specialises in tamago-yaki, the rolled omelettes served at sushi restaurants (but also good for breakfast). It can get very crowded here, so it does pay to come earlier rather than later. Fortunately, Turret Coffee, nearby maker of excellent lattes, opens on weekdays from 7am.
Note that Tsukiji inner market is scheduled to move to a new facility in Toyosu in October 2018. It’s as yet unclear what visitor access will be like at the new market, so if the tuna auction has been on your bucket list the time to go is now!
You can't go wrong with Kyūbey, a Tokyo institution for over 80 years. Kyūbey offers a winning combination of reliable quality, welcoming service and cost performance. Go for the omakase (chef’s choice), which features a selection of the day’s best catch, prepared one piece at a time. Book ahead for the 11.30am seating (otherwise you’ll have to queue).
We also love Kizushi for its old-Tokyo vibe and old-Tokyo taste: the sushi here is salted and marinated using techniques handed down through the generations. Also, the shop is in a charming wooden house. Reservations are recommended (and required for dinner).
Gourmet shopping in Ginza and Nihombashi
Neighbouring Nihombashi – home of the original fish market, before it set up in Tsukiji – has several, venerable old gourmet stores. Hit up the Coredo Muromachi complex, which has branches of Nihombashi native shops as well as famous purveyors from around Japan. See demonstrations of gorgeous, seasonal wagashi (Japanese sweets) being made at Tsuruya Yoshinobu.
Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience may sound like a tourist trap but we assure you it is not. It's a gorgeous little space, with a minimalist counter, elegant tableware and a well-edited selection of teas served individually or as part of a tasting flight. They also do tea cocktails (the owner used to be a bartender).
On the more traditional side of things, there's Chashitsu Kaboku, run by Kyoto’s most famous tea purveyor, 300-year-old Ippōdō. Here you can sample koicha, ‘thick tea’ served in formal tea ceremonies (much thicker than ordinary matcha, powdered green tea). Both shops sell packages of tea and tea utensils to take home.
Shinsuke, near Ueno Station, is held up by many to be an ideal izakaya. It's been around for nearly 100 years, the menu is always seasonal (and the food never stodgy), the daiginjō (top-grade sake) always goes down smooth, and it always has a lively atmosphere. For something with a more contemporary edge, try cult favourite Narukiyo, in Shibuya, where you can tuck into decadent sashimi platters while listening to The Pogues and trying not to giggle at the cheeky decor.
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