What they're eating in Tokyo

From bonsai bubble tea to mango and melon sandwiches, the Japanese capital is full of surprises.

Shojin ryori at Sougo.

Photograph by Sougo
By Rob Goss
Published 8 Dec 2021, 15:00 GMT

1. Anago

While saltwater conger eel, or anago, has been on menus in Tokyo for generations, it’s never achieved the status of its freshwater cousin, unagi. However, with unagi now on Japan’s endangered list, the leaner anago, which can be caught in Tokyo Bay, is steadily growing in popularity. Anago specialist Hakarime, located in the Ginza district, serves the eel in all manner of ways, whether as sashimi, fried up tempura-style, as part of a shabu shabu hotpot or as donburi, where the eel is grilled or simmered and placed atop a bowl of rice. 

2. Tapioca Tea

Imported trends can sometimes be fleeting, but in Tokyo the craze for Taiwanese tapioca tea, or bubble tea, has taken root. There are plenty of options, including teashop chain The Alley, which has outlets across the city and specialises in such Instagramable concoctions as brown sugar tapioca matcha latte and garden milk tea — a tapioca tea topped with cocoa chips, from which a sprig of mint appears like a bonsai.

3. Shojin ryori

While Tokyo isn’t famous for its meat-free offerings, the choice is improving, with everything from plant-based burgers to  vegan ramen now on offer. An increasingly popular option is shojin ryori, a cooking style created by Buddhist monks over a thousand years ago that typically involves a number of small dishes featuring ingredients such as tofu, pickles and vegetables. At Sougo, in Roppongi, chef Daisuke Nomura serves up artistically arranged shojin ryori courses as part of both vegan and vegetarian tasting menus. 

4. Fruit sandwich

From the egg sandwiches beloved by Anthony Bourdain to meaty katsu sandos, Tokyo has plenty of signature sarnies. But perhaps the most memorable is the fruit sandwich, a calorie-laden combo of soft, white bread, fruit and whipped cream. Pick one up at a supermarket or splash out somewhere like Daiwa, in fashionable Nakameguro. It crams its sandos with wedges of high-grade fruit, such as Higo melon, Miyazaki mango and Yayoihime strawberries. Just be prepared to queue.

5. Michelin-starred ramen

Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants (212) than any other city. And while most are pricey affairs, the stars have been sprinkled on more budget-friendly establishments. Soba House Konjiki Hototogisu in Shinjuku is the third ramen joint in Tokyo to receive the accolade. For its signature shio soba ramen, chef Atsushi Yamamoto serves the noodles in a soup made with bonito dashi, clams and red seabream.

Published in Issue 14 (winter 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food (UK)

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