Embarrassing to say, but I do tend to associate most of the places I’ve visited with food I had there. Giving example: Italy = gelato, especially that one place in Rome on Via Nazionale. When I’m old (or drunk) I might forget the way to Vatican or Fontana di Trevi, but you can blindfold me and I’ll get to the most delicious pistachio ice-cream on a blink of an eye (ok, I see a loophole here: how the heck she is going to blink under the blindfold). Also Italy = pasta with truffle. Oh yes, truffle is the key, in ideal world I’d carry it in my pocket like a hot sauce and just add it to every single meal.
Even now, when I try to draw Adam’s attention to a particular vacay day or sightseeing point, I say something like “that place we had four local cheeses for lunch” rather than “that town with beautiful renaissance church built by Pius II”. No way I’d remember such fact without help of Wikipedia, but gosh, I still recall that pecorino taste with fig jam in my mouth.
So now you know who you are dealing with… I ask you not to judge, I absolutely get it if you visit Paris for Notre Dame and Champs-Élysées. And I can as well appreciate the beauty of architecture and nature, it’s just that for me it is easier to value the ambience with glass of good wine in my hand and truffle risotto in my stomach.
Back to Japan!
(And this time I’ll attach links to all places we visited)
Let me run you through top three sushi places I found incredibly good (again it is very subjective and can be totally possible that there are better restaurants in Tokyo, even though I doubt it big time). And since I planned one more trip to Japan, I’d appreciate your recommendations for unforgettable dining experience in Tokyo/Osaka/Kyoto.
Average check: ~1200 yen per person
This is a chain restaurant that works 24/7. Don’t be discouraged by its rather suspicious availability. Because of the great turn-over, sea food there is straight off the fish market and stays fresh since supplied few times a day.
This restaurant saved us during first few days of jet-lag and encouraged to try all weird creatures of the sea that are only available in Japan. Just “off-the-boat” we hardly knew any local language or etiquette and it was not a problem there because of the convenient ordering system. You simply need to check big menu with pictures, remember a number for every pair of nigiri you find especially attractive and put amount next to that number on the blank that can be found on every table. Done!
Obviously, overwhelmed by the choice, we have ordered way too much for even 4 people to consume…
- Many places in Tokyo allow smoking inside. Sushizanmai is not an exception, and if you can’t stand the smell – go there 10.00-15.00 (no smoking time).
- Ask for ocha: green matcha powder tea that is served with every meal and 90% of the time is free.
- Don’t order salmon. It is delivered from Norway (yes, they fly the whole plane every morning to Tokyo filled with fish… Can you imagine the smell??), it is still fresh, but they most likely have it for tourists and I haven’t seen many Japanese people eat it. We did try it only once and it was rather mediocre compare to everything else.
- Do try tuna! Especially the fatty one, it will melt on your tongue.
- Eat sushi in a right way (I’m not trying to be a smart ass here, and we learned how to consume it properly only when one of the chef continuously corrected us until we pass his minimum criteria for handling his sea food “masterpiece”). Apparently, you should only dip fish in soy sauce and avoid getting any on the rice. To do that you have to jam it with chopsticks one on the top, pressing down the fish slice, and one on the bottom. Then turn it upside down to only slightly touch sauce to get a flavor. Avoid dipping it completely, also for the simple integrity purposes: rice ball will fall apart quickly and trust me, we tried it (unintentionally, of course) and it did not look pretty. After you master your dipping skills, you gotta put it in your mouth. And here is another trick, unknown to me before, fish have to go on your tongue and rice on the palate. This way you’ll get most of the fish flavor. Now you are a Pro sushi eater 😉
Average check: 3,600 yen per person
One of the highly recommended experiences in Tokyo is to try sushi in one of the small restaurants in Tsukiji Market. For simple reason, it is the freshest you can find. While there are few especially popular places like Sushi Daiwa and Sushi Dai, we decided to stick to a bit low key kinda place that was recommended, but not overly-advertised on TripAdvisor as other two. Mostly because we are not really a great sushi appreciators, I mean, we do love it a lot, but our skills are not sufficient to enjoy them to the point when we, for example, can feel the difference in 1 degree difference in rice temperature.
If you still insist on trying “best of the best” (though I think it is a matter of hype and people’s exclusivity feeling when they dine in such place) then prepare yourself mentally and physically to stay in line 3-6 hours. Yes, this is no joke, this small corridor looking like eateries have very limited space inside usually no more than 15 seats, so brace yourself and I hope your expectations will be paid in full!
- There are 2 places that called Okame in Tsukiji Market. The one that I am talking about is one inside of the semi-covered market. Pass by the entrance to Tuna Auction and keep on walking. I have made a very primitive map to find the place (because whatever Google Maps is showing isn’t correct) also marking the “other Okame” with red. And green line is the route how you can reach the place. Nearby you can find Sushi Daiwa and if you went there by any chance, please let me know how was it!
- Go there early! Utilize the time difference and your early get-ups to the fullest, so you can skip the line. Around 10-11 am you might need to wait for an hour or so, of course it varies based on day and season.
- Order omakase menu. It is a special way of serving sushi: chef will place nigiri to your plate one by one as they made and not all at once. He will also place necessary amount of the sauce and wasabi on each, so no need for you to bother.
- Don’t miss out on sweet shrimp and sea urchin sushi. Latter might be a bit weird looking, but its structure and taste is nothing you have tried before.
Kyubey in Ginza
Average check for dinner: 25,000 yen per person
Very traditional and quite pricey restaurant that you rather visit for experience, though food was also amazing. You will seat in a traditional dinery where you have a personal chef that will make everything just in front of you, explain every dish and answer all questions you might have. They do speak decent English (unlike many other places). I won’t spoil much for you and just say it was one of the most exciting dinner experiences I’ve ever had.
- Book place in advance. It is busy and popular.
- Warn chef upfront if there is a fish that you don’t like and they will change it with something else. Don’t pass it to your companion because you don’t want/like it. Oh, they will truly dislike that.
- Ask if you may take a pictures.
- Order cold sake with your meal.
- If just alive shrimp that was jumping on a table a moment ago was turned to a nigiri within 2 seconds – don’t hesitate, just eat it!
More places in Shibuya:
Average check: 1,500 yen per person
Conveyor-belt sushi for people with communication difficulties. You take seat and place your order via the pad in front of you. When your sushi are ready they will be delivered to you by… I won’t spoil it though, just try it yourself. Sushi were fine here and the whole eatery rather designed for tourists, you won’t see many locals here.
Average check: 2,700 yen per person
Located on first floor of the shopping mall behind Shibuja station, this place is a true hidden gem, cuz you going to spend some time searching for it. But it’s worth it!