When traveling to Tokyo, Japan, one of the most integral parts of your trip is tasting all of the delicious cuisines. But, of course, knowing where to start can be overwhelming if you're unfamiliar with the language, city, or food.
Tokyo has an abundance of delicious food offerings, enough to keep you satisfied and entertained throughout the duration of your trip. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in Tokyo's food scene is by joining a tour. Japan's capital has many food tours, including day tours, walking tours, after-hours tours, and everything in between.
A Tokyo food tour aims to provide you with some of the best Japanese food the city offers while educating you on the cuisine’s cultural significance. Whether you're interested in learning about the local food, tasting delicious street food, or want to experience bar hopping in Japan's capital city, there's a tour out there for you.
In this article, we've compiled the city's best Tokyo food tours, with enough diversity for just about anyone to enjoy.
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- What is the Most Famous Food in Tokyo?
- Best Food Tours
- Preparing for Your Tour
- Avoiding Large Crowds on Your Tour
- Common dishes in Japanese cuisine include sushi, ramen, tempura, udon, and soba.
- Food tours allow you to experience Japanese food from a local's perspective.
- Access to fresh seafood makes Tokyo one of the best cities for authentic sushi.
- Food tours in Tokyo are offered in a variety of languages for international travelers.
3 Fun Facts About Japanese Food
1. Sushi originated as fermented fish and rice. The dish was used to preserve the food, and today is a staple in Tokyo cuisine.
2. Most wasabi you've had isn't actually wasabi. Sourcing authentic wasabi is labor-intensive and expensive. So, restaurants use a wasabi dupe made of horseradish and mustard flour.
3. Don't shy away from slurping your food! In Japan, slurping your ramen or other liquid-based dishes is common and not frowned upon as poor etiquette.
What is the Most Famous Food in Tokyo?
If you've ever been to a Japanese restaurant, you know just how unique the flavors and freshness of Japanese cuisine are. You may only be aware of sushi, tempura, and ramen without diving into Japan’s food scene first-hand. While these dishes are staples in Tokyo, there are also a few popular foods that shouldn't go unnoticed.
On a Japanese food tour, your guide will take you to authentic Japanese izakayas, allowing you to taste traditional and unique dishes. Izakayas are non-formal Japanese bars that serve alcoholic beverages alongside small plates of delicious snacks.
As the number one food in Japan, sushi tops our list of the most famous food in Tokyo.
Sushi is a dish that typically consists of rice accompanied by various ingredients. White rice is cooked using vinegar, giving it a bright, sharp taste. Raw fish, seafood, egg, and vegetables are popular sushi additions. Sushi is wrapped in seaweed or rolled in rice to form the final product.
Throughout Japan, sushi is prepared and served in many different ways depending on the region and the chef’s preference. In Tokyo, you find countless sushi restaurants offering many unique styles of sushi-making which showcase the city’s diverse and innovative food culture.
Nigiri - sushi rice is formed into small bite-sized portions, topped with raw seafood.
Oshizushi - requires rectangular molds in which sushi rice and fresh seafood are pressed, forming delicious, delicate rectangles for you to enjoy.
Temaki - hand rolled, using nori sheets to form a cone shape. The cone-shaped structure makes it easy to eat with your hands or on the go.
Uramaki - this type of sushi type is a popular way to enjoy a roll. Instead of seaweed lining the outside of the roll, the rice is on the outside, with the seaweed surrounding the seafood and/or vegetables.
Maki - is one of the more popular sushi types in authentic Japanese cuisine. Using a bamboo mat, seafood and/or vegetables are rolled into rice, which is rolled into nori seaweed sheets.
Sashimi - even though sashimi isn’t technically sushi, you can find this dish at many sushi restaurants. Sashimi consists of thinly sliced seafood without rice. Instead, the dish is often accompanied by shredded daikon radish.
What's better than a delicious, warm bowl of broth, noodles, protein, and fresh vegetables? Authentic Japanese ramen is unmatched.
Traditional ramen consists of broth derived from pork bones, soy sauce, miso, chicken bones, fish, or vegetables. These bases create a flavorful broth that enhances the surrounding ingredients. Wheat noodles are most commonly used in ramen, having a long and thin consistency. For toppings, mushrooms, bamboo, seaweed, soft-boiled eggs, bean sprouts, and meat are added, making this meal satisfying and delicious.
When it comes to Japanese ramen, the most popular broth options are:
- One of the most common kinds of ramen broth is shoyu broth, which is prepared with soy sauce, chicken or pork bones, vegetables, and spices.
- Miso broth is a common ingredient in Sapporo-style ramen due to its rich, savory flavor and its preparation from miso paste, chicken or pork bones, vegetables, and spices.
- Tonkotsu broth is a Japanese stock made from pork bones simmered for several hours to extract the gelatinous marrow and collagen.
- Clear and mild in flavor, shio broth is made from salt, chicken or fish bones, vegetables, and spices and is typically topped with seafood.
The choice of broth can vary from region to region in Japan and from chef to chef, as each broth has its own unique flavor and characteristics. Ramen chefs will often go to great lengths to protect their secret broth recipes because of how integral they are to the dish.
If you favor fried foods full of flavor, texture, and crispiness, you'll love Tempura. In Japan, there are many types of tempura for you to try. Unlike fried food you find in the west, tempura is carefully prepared to create a light, delicate coating that adds to the flavor and texture of the dish.
Vegetables and seafood are battered and fried, creating a warm, crispy dish. Popular ingredients used in temperature include sweet potato, eggplant, squid, shrimp, fish, and shiso. Tempura is accompanied by a delicious sauce called tentsuyu, made from dashi, soy sauce, and mirin. You can enjoy tempura as an appetizer or as a main dish.
Udon is a thick wheat noodle used in Japanese dishes. These noodles are savory and filling, accompanied by kakejuri, a mild broth. Udon can be used in a variety of dishes and broths and paired with vegetables and meat.
Soba noodles are a Japanese staple. These noodles are thin, have a nutty flavor, and are added to hot and cold dishes. The noodles are placed in a broth or alongside a dipping sauce, depending on the stir-fry or salad they’re used in. Soba noodles are a popular dish eaten during the New Year in Japan and also as a refreshing cold noodle dish during the summer months.
Whether you’re eating in an izakaya or wandering the streets of Tokyo for a quick snack, Yakisoba is a popular dish you can find throughout the city. Yakisoba consists of stir-fried wheat noodles, sliced meats such as pork, chicken, or seafood, and vegetables like onions, cabbage, bean sprouts, mushrooms, and carrots. All of the ingredients are tossed in a sweet or savory sauce and topped with bonito flakes, aonori seaweed flakes, or pickled ginger.
Miso soup is commonly found in the izakayas of Japan. Miso is a fermented paste derived from soybean and fungus. In general, miso is used in many broth dishes for its savory flavor. Miso soup is a staple in Japanese soup, consisting of dashi broth, miso paste, tofu, scallions, seaweed, and sometimes vegetables or seafood. It’s common for miso soup to be served alongside meals in Japan and even considered a breakfast food!
Miso soup is an iconic Japanese dish, similar to french fries in America or bread in France; you can find miso soup in just about every home or restaurant!
If you're frequenting izakayas, you'll become familiar with Karaage. Karaage is a Japanese cooking technique, often including chicken. The chicken is marinated in garlic, ginger, and other seasonings to flavor the meat. Afterward, the chicken is coated in potato starch and deep-fried. This dish is similar to fried chicken found in other parts of the world, but potato starch and marination are the main differences between the two.
Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake dish popular in Tokyo eateries. The pancake is made from cabbage, meats or seafood, wheat flour, and topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and ginger. Okonomiyaki ingredients may vary by region.
While visiting Tokyo, when you are out for dinner or pass by a bakery, Daifuku may be one of the sweets you see on the menu. Daifuku is a bite-sized, sweet rice cake dessert. The rice cake is filled with sweet creams, fruit, and red bean paste. You can find uniquely flavored Daifuku in some locations, such as matcha, chestnut, and pumpkin.
Best Food Tours
Here is our list of the best local food tours in Tokyo.
Eat Like a True Tokyoite
City Unscripted has multiple delicious tours for you to choose from. The Eat Like a True Tokyoite tour provides guests with fresh local food and drinks. Throughout the tour, you participate in 6-8 tastings, equating to a full dinner. These tastings are dispersed throughout multiple restaurants, which adds to the experience and diversity. While this may not be a ramen-tasting tour, you can enjoy yakitori, grilled seafood, sushi, traditional gyoza, and other popular izakaya foods.
Choose between beer, sake, highball, and unique Japanese soft drinks to accompany your meal. Restaurants include everything from 8-seater sushi shops to cozy Izakaya bars littered throughout lantern-lit alleyways. The tour lasts four hours, with customizable start times, and is suitable for solo travelers and small groups.
The Eat Like a True Tokyoite tour costs $317.10 for solo travelers and $191.10 per person for pairs.
On a Roll in Tokyo! The Sushi Experience
Japan is known for its sushi-making due to the availability of fresh seafood. If you're a sushi-lover, you haven't truly had excellent sushi until you've tasted what Japan has to offer. City Unscripted understands that quality sushi doesn't necessarily have to come from a luxury restaurant. In fact, some of the best sushi in the capital is found at the local conveyor belt and standing sushi restaurants.
On the sushi tour, you'll eat your way through plenty of Japanese dishes and street food and immerse yourself in the local culture.
Guide participants have an interactive experience at one stop, ordering sushi and having it delivered by train. Next, they head to an underground depachika (department store basement food court). Your host helps guide you along the way, showing you all of the best places where locals come to grab a quick and convenient bite to eat. Throughout the tour, you sample 8 unique sushi dishes, including sea urchin, otoro tuna, and slimy eel. Japanese tea is also on the menu, helping cleanse your palate between dishes.
The 3-hour tour starts at $246.35 for solo travelers and $154.72 per person for pairs.
Bottoms Up, Tokyo-Style! The Sake Experience
Sake is a rice wine alcoholic beverage and a staple in Japanese culture. If you're looking for a bar hopping tour, you'll enjoy City Unscripted's "Sake Experience." Tour Participants visit three of Tokyo's finest rice wine establishments, having the opportunity to taste real, authentic sake. Your host teaches you the differences between Honjozo-shu and Daiginjo-shu sake and the proper drinking etiquette.
The sake tour is perfect for couples looking for a romantic evening in some of Tokyo's finest bars, including KURAND, where you can choose from 100 different types of sake. Another exciting excursion is visiting a Nemoto Liquor Store and experiencing the vibrant nightlife that often thrives right outside of the shop. Overall, this exciting sake tour allows you to experience various atmospheres, including intimate, traditional, and informal pubs. The tour also includes small plates of tasty food to enjoy alongside your drinks.
The three-hour tour starts at $264.60 for solo travelers and $170.10 per person for pairs.
Preparing for Your Tour
City Unscripted tours provide an authentic exploration of Japanese foods in Tokyo. Your local guide can answer any questions you have regarding Tokyo and help you plan for the rest of your trip. Ask your tour company about sightseeing, such as the Tsukiji Fish Market, the outer market, local specialties, and other hidden gems.
Always wear a pair of comfortable shoes throughout the duration of your tour. Public transportation is available, but each tour requires you to be on your feet for an extended period of time. Every private tour City Unscripted offers is personalized and able to meet at your accommodation or a central location for added convenience.
Your guide will also facilitate ordering and ensuring you understand the menu, as many restaurants only print their material in Japanese. Don't be afraid to ask questions; your guide is there to help you!
Avoiding Large Crowds on Your Tour
City Unscripted allows you to choose the start time of your tour. The tours are offered most hours of the day, but if you're looking to avoid rush hour or busy crowds, there are a few key timeframes you should avoid. The streets are busiest during rush hour from 7 am - 9 am and again from 5 pm - 7 pm. While the streets may be busy during these times, shops and other facilities are usually less crowded.
For food tours, start early in the afternoon to make lunch times or later in the evening for dinner. Of course, many restaurants are open at all hours of the day. You can find eateries offering delicious Japanese food open 24 hours. Regardless of the time you decide, there are plenty of stops for you and your guide to make.
If you have a dietary restriction, such as gluten intolerance, soy allergy, or vegan preference, get in touch with City Unscripted and see if your accommodations can be met. In Japan, you find plenty of allergen-friendly options and many restaurants offering vegetarian and vegan options. If you find a tour that appeals to you, you may be able to have it customized to fit your dietary needs.
Tokyo is a famous hotspot for travelers all-round the world. While some of these travelers are English-speaking, many speak other languages, such as German or Italian.
City Unscripted understands the importance of providing an informative and comfortable tour experience for people from all walks of life. While these tours are standardly offered in English, if you speak another language, you can special request a guide that meets your needs.
By request, City Unscripted provides a guide for Arabic, Bulgarian, Cantonese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, and Spanish speakers.
Things to Consider
Before choosing a tour to experience Japanese food culture, decide how long you want the experience to be, how many restaurants you want to visit, whether you want to participate in a day or night tour, and if you're a solo traveler or traveling with a company.
Who knows, maybe you'll even want to book multiple tours to experience all Tokyo, Japan's food scene, has to offer! No matter your preference, you can choose from the excellent options outlined above.
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