Kiwi food YouTubers Thomas & Sheena Southam are on an eternal quest to find the most delicious local food the world has to offer. This week, they check out the best cheap eats in Tokyo.
Tokyo is where every gastronomic fantasy you've ever had can be realised. The city gets a bad rap for being expensive, and sure you can easily spend hundreds of dollars, thousands even, on a single meal. But you can just as easily eat well for chump change. Without sacrificing on atmosphere, service nor quality of ingredients, despite their value for money, here are a few spots to get you started…
1. Dojo nabe at Komakate Dozeu
If you're after a dining experience to remember then dojo nabe - loach hotpot - at Komakate Dozeu will deliver the goods. This restaurant has been serving up its menu of dojo nabe for over 200 years - since 1801! Loach isn't the most appealing fish, a freshwater species that looks like a small eel - they're grey and slimy. But one taste and you'll be hooked. Eaten whole, the flesh is tender and the soy and sake-based broth in which it's cooked is thick and full of umami. Sitting on the floor in the traditional dining room with the pan of dojo bubbling away in front of you over a charcoal fire - it's the kind of meal you'll be talking about for years to come.
Eat it at Komakate Dozeu, 1 Chome-7-12 Komagata, Taitō, Tokyo 111-0043. Open 11am-9pm.
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2. Sushi train at Hanamaru
Who doesn't love a good sushi train? Conveyor-belt sushi can be a really affordable way to eat your fill of sushi in a city where it can be eye-wateringly expensive. Eat at Hanamaru, a restaurant that occupies a corner of the 10th floor of the Tokyu Plaza building in Ginza and is floor to ceiling glass - you can imagine the view. Hanamaru balances affordability with fish of excellent quality. It's said that Hanamaru (fish) buyers are so well-respected in the trade that they have special access to top-quality fish at Tsukiji fish market (which moved to its new location at Toyosu in October 2018). Their aburi salmon, roasted eel and fatty minced tuna sushi are especially worth eating and the English menus and friendly staff make communication a breeze.
Eat it at Nemuro Hanamaru Sushi Ginza Shop, Tokyu Plaza Ginza, Level 10F, 5 Chome-2-1 Ginza, Chūō, Tokyo. Open daily 11am-11pm.
3. Tonkatsu at Ponchi-ken
Tonkatsu - breaded, deep-fried pork cutlets - are a must-eat when in Japan. Ponchi-ken holds a Michelin Bib Gourmand award for Okinawan pork cutlets which are breaded in a light panko crumb and deep-fried to golden perfection. Visit at lunchtime where the prices are easier on the pocket for their rosu katsu (pork loin) set meal and where their katsu curry is on offer: tonkatsu, half a soft-boiled egg, piles of thinly shaved cabbage, pickles, rice and a thick, spicy curry sauce that will have you weeping with pleasure after each bite. Don't miss this!
Eat it at Ponchi-ken, 2-8 Kanda-Ogawamachi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo. Open Monday and Tuesday, 11.15am-3pm; Wednesday to Saturday, 11.15am-2pm, 5:30pm-9pm. Closed Sunday and the third Monday of every month.
4. Seafood at Takamaru
If you want to experience an izakaya - a Japanese pub - and you love seafood, then head to Takamaru for dinner. The environment is boisterous and they're known for their thick, fresh cuts of seafood. Their seafood bowls are great value and include uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon eggs), tuna and salmon, but we found their a la carte offerings better in terms of freshness and quality. Try their raw octopus and wasabi and their minced fatty tuna with natto - the polarising dish of gooey, sticky, fermented soybeans.
Eat it at Takamaru, 7 Chome-15 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo. Open daily 11am-11pm. Note: the seafood bowls are only available at dinner.