local dishes in Tokyo

13 Tokyo Local Dishes You Must Try

Last Updated on November 17, 2023

Tokyo is the bustling capital of Japan, and also one of the best places to try out authentic Japanese cuisine. Japan has made a name for itself in recent years among food travelers for having some of the best dishes in the world. The city of Tokyo in particular has an abundance of Michelin rated and specialty restaurants that showcase the best of local cooking. You might be familiar with some popular Japanese foods that often come prepackaged in grocery stores or sold at a restaurant local to you. Yet, nothing can compare to eating a fresh Japanese dish right in the heart of Tokyo. Read on to find out about some of the must-try local dishes in Tokyo for your next visit.

Sushi

Sushi is a favorite dish for many people around the world and has recently been the subject of many food hybrids. In Tokyo, you might not be able to find your sushi built into a burrito or taco, but it may very well be the best you have ever tasted.

A standard roll of sushi consists of rice combined with vinegar and filled with raw fish and vegetables. Tokyo has a fresh fish market where most restaurants buy from daily. You are guaranteed to be served the freshest seafood possible every time. Presentation is often as important as the taste, and an order of this meal will usually be neatly arranged and served on a wooden plate.

Shabu-Shabu

Shabu-shabu is not only a delicious meal, but also an interactive dining experience. Thin slices of beef are served alongside a pot of boiling broth or water for dipping. One by one, slices of beef are dipped into the liquid and cooked with tofu and vegetables.

TAKEAWAY: The namesake of the shabu-shabu dish comes from the sound that is created by the stirring of vegetables and meat in the pot.

After a few seconds, the thin slices of meat cook in the broth. It is then topped with sauce to eat with a side of rice. Once the meat is gone, the leftover rice and broth are combined to make a soup. This practice is as much a part of the experience as it is a way to prevent wasting any food.

Matcha

Matcha is a type of green tea. It goes through a rigorous growing and preparation process which eventually produces a fine powder. The bright green dust most commonly makes hot or cold beverages. However, in Tokyo you will likely see the ingredient in different kinds of desserts.

Pop into any café or bakery in Toyko and you might spot something that looks a little green in the display case. Popular matcha treats in Tokyo include pastries, ice cream, and even a special version of the popular packaged snack, Pocky.

Ramen

The west popularized packed ramen as a low budget meal and a staple food item for hungry college students. A brick of wavy dehydrated noodles and a seasoning packet is a familiar image to many people. Nevertheless, restaurants in Tokyo that serve ramen will usually make their noodles, along with all other ingredients, in house.

The meal consists of a salty flavored broth (typically meat-based) and noodles mixed into a soup that features several additional toppings depending on your tastes. Scallions, dried seaweed, a soft-boiled egg, and cuts of pork are standard ramen toppings.

Omurice

Omurice makes the perfect combination of breakfast and lunch: an omelet stuffed with fried rice. The recipe requires lightly scrambling eggs into a pan, cooking them into a thin layer, and adding fried rice in the center. Traditionally, omurice comes with ketchup, but other spreads may be added to compliment the fried rice contained inside.

The name omurice combines the words “omelet” and “rice,” which is based on western-style meals. The fried rice usually contains chicken, but it can be made with any meat, or without meat at all. The completed dish creates a neat little package. It easily cuts open to reveal the perfectly fried rice and an egg omelet cooked to your preference.

Tempura

Japan’s response to fried food is tempura. The technique of creating a tempura is similar to frying food. Rather than an oily and thick outer layer, tempura creates a lighter, flakier version. You will often find prawn and shrimp being battered and fried with this ingredient. Other meats and vegetables can also be served this way.

A popular way to eat tempura is with a dipping sauce called tentsuyu. The broth-based sauce contains soy sauce and rice wine. Both these sauces are popular cooking ingredients found in Japanese food. Moreover, tempura is a common item found in bento boxes. Tokyo serves it in fast food restaurants and in sit-down settings as well.

Yakitori

Yakitori is Japan’s variation on a chicken skewer. This common street food is a popular snack in many restaurants in Tokyo. The meat is prepared by inserting chunks of chicken into a long pin and cooking it over a fire fueled by charcoal. Usually, you will find the grilled meat skewers covered in tare sauce. The sauce is thick and tastes similar to soy sauce, only sweeter.

Spices provide another type of seasoning that adds more heat to the meat. This is a delicious alternative for those who prefer a more savory taste. These skewers and their varying flavors sell commercially as prepackaged snacks in stores all around Tokyo. However, the most common way to purchase yakitori are from small restaurants that specialize in the dish.

Okonomiyaki

While originating from Osaka, Okonomiyaki has become a beloved dish in Tokyo as well. Often referred to as a Japanese savory pancake, Okonomiyaki is made with a batter of flour, grated yam, shredded cabbage, and a variety of ingredients like meat, seafood, or cheese. Cooked on a hot grill, it’s topped with savory Okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise.

Gyoza

Gyoza, or Japanese dumplings, have become a ubiquitous part of Tokyo’s food scene. These pan-fried or steamed dumplings are typically filled with ground meat, cabbage, garlic, and other savory ingredients. They’re often served with a tangy dipping sauce and are a popular appetizer or snack in Tokyo’s many izakayas (Japanese pubs).

Kaiseki

For those looking for an elevated dining experience, Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal that showcases the seasonality of ingredients. It’s a culinary art form that originated from the Japanese tea ceremony, and many fine dining establishments in Tokyo offer their own modern interpretations of Kaiseki, presenting a delicate balance of flavors and textures.

Taiyaki

Satisfy your sweet tooth with Taiyaki, a fish-shaped pastry filled with sweet red bean paste, custard, chocolate, or even sweet potato. These delightful treats have become immensely popular as street food in Tokyo and are a perfect snack while exploring the city.

Tsukemen

Dive into the world of ramen variations with Tsukemen. In this dish, cold noodles are served separately from a concentrated broth, allowing you to dip the noodles into the broth before slurping them up. It’s a flavorful and interactive way to enjoy ramen, and many Tokyo ramen shops specialize in this unique style.

Kakigori

Cool off during the warmer months with Kakigori, a shaved ice dessert flavored with syrups, condensed milk, and often topped with sweet red beans, fruit, or mochi. It’s a refreshing and colorful treat that has become a staple in Tokyo’s dessert scene.

Tokyo’s culinary landscape is a dynamic fusion of tradition and innovation. Whether you’re savoring the classics like sushi and tempura or exploring the latest food trends, Tokyo offers an unparalleled culinary adventure that caters to every palate. So, don’t miss the chance to indulge in these delightful dishes on your next trip to this vibrant metropolis.

Japanese cuisine is international fare that remains familiar to many people around the world. However, nothing can stand up to the food the city of Tokyo has to offer. From the freshest bite of fish to the sweetest green snack, you can try some of Japan’s most popular and enjoyable meals on your next visit. Make sure to treat yourself to these delicious local dishes in the capital of Japan.

About Alison Whittington

Alison Whittington is a recent graduate, completing her B.A. in writing, rhetoric, and technical communications with a double minor in book arts and Asian studies at James Madison University. Aside from writing, her passions include watching Netflix, eating pizza, and petting as many dogs as possible.

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