It’s no secret that the food scene of Tokyo has many layers and facets, and while I have indulged in my fair share of fine dining, trendy coffee shops and hipster cafes, I yet had to explore the wondrous world of izakayas. For the uninitiated, izakaya is something similar to a gastropub, a bar that serves up food and drinks and is frequented by locals looking to decompress after work over small bites and a glass (or five) of sake. While some can be quite polished and roomy, I admire those old whole-in-the-wall spots that barely sit four people, their eclectic décor and yellow walls showing character and exuding quintessential atmosphere. Many izakayas can be a bit intimidating, some being notorious for not serving foreigners. That’s why when my lovely friend Ann from Arigato Japan invited me to join one of her Tokyo Food Tours I couldn’t type “yes” fast enough. I was more than keen to put my trust in expert’s hands who would take me to those little unassuming alleyways and show me all the ins and outs of izakaya world.
We met up at Yurakucho Station, the area near Ginza which is famous for its mom-and-pop little gadoshita (literally “below the girder”) yakitori and izakaya lined up under the brick arches beneath the train tracks, and once all the tour participants got together we headed out to explore following the lead of our charismatic young guide. I was quite giddy with excitement when we arrived at our first, rather convivial izakaya – Mampuku Shokudo, a snug, laid-back bar plastered with old movie posters and colorful murals.
Since everything was arranged ahead of time and pre-ordered for us, we were briskly served a plateful of appetizers: sashimi, grilled meat on skewers, tamago, grilled beef and potato salad which we quickly gobbled down. The delicious bites paired with a glass of soul-warming warm plum wine helped to melt the ice and our small group quickly became chatty and telling the stories of our travel and food adventures in Japan. After a little while it was time to venture out further.
Sadly, due to heavy rain the part of the tour didn’t go as planned and there was not much walking and sightseeing involved. However, it surely didn’t impede us from enjoying delectable food. We made our way through a maze of cozy restaurants all specializing in different things (seafood, horse meat, raw chicken, etc.), stopped by a Shizuoka specialty shop to sample a satsumage fishcake and stopped by the depachika of one of the glitzy department stores.
Although nothing sounded as exciting as another delicious meal, so we headed to Tsukada Nojo, a more polished version of Japanese izakaya located in one of the buildings in Ginza.
I liked everything about this place – from the farm-to-table concept (all produce is organic and sourced from their private farm in Miyazaki) to delicious food. Izakaya is also a place where you realize that Japanese cuisine expands way further than just sushi or ramen. It ended up being quite a feast with specialties like piquant miso paste with fresh cucumbers and cabbage, miso soup with chicken dumplings and yuzu zest, delicate eggplant tempura, pizza with chooped shiso leaves and shirasu (tiny white fish), delicious karage (deep-fried chicken) covered with hearty egg and mayonnaise sauce, yellowtail sashimi in miso paste, yakisoba topped with perfectly runny egg, and a perfectly cooked udon served with a dipping broth so flavorful it kept me coming for seconds.
Our tour ended on a sweet note at a local taiyaki spot where I opted for a strawberry custard filling.
Suffice to say I didn’t get hungry till lunchtime next day and the tour definitely inspired me to head back and explore of the quintessential gadoshitas tucked away under the train tracks. For those keen to do the same, here is my guide on where to find best izakaya in Tokyo.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Arigato Japan, but all opinions are forever my own.
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