Kaiseki dining is Japan’s traditional haute cuisine, a tasting course of small, elegant dishes precisely prepared to evoke the flavors and imagery of the season. While Kyoto is the birthplace of kaiseki, Tokyo, with its world-class dining offers its own inimitable kaiseki dining scene, influenced by the cooking styles of various regions across Japan. Here are 11 must-try kaiseki restaurants from Japan’s metropolitan capital city.
Yakiniku is a Japanese meal of grilled (“yaki”) meat (“niku”), and most often involves diners cooking meat around a grill on a table front of them. Adopted from Korean cuisine, yakiniku became widespread throughout Japan in the 20th century. Oftentimes yakiniku restaurants have other dishes that people can order, but the meats and sauces are the main components to a yakiniku experience. The grilled meat is then dipped by the customer in sauce and eaten. The sauce for these dishes oftentimes can be savory and sweet, but other flavor combinations such as sour and spicy can be added as well. The flavor of the sauce depends on the restaurant, and the variety of sauces at yakiniku restaurants can be a reason for someone to visit many of them. Osaka, historically a mercantile city located in the south-central region of Japan’s main island, is a place that has many fantastic yakiniku restaurants for residents and travelers to enjoy–read on to discover some of these!
Yakitori is a popular type of Japanese food consisting of skewered chicken meat cooked typically over a charcoal grill, where “yaki” means to grill and “tori” is bird. The meat can come from all different parts of the chicken–from the neck, crest, breast, wings, heart, liver, and more. Vegetables such as shiitake mushrooms, green peppers and cherry tomatoes may also feature either with the chicken or separately on skewers. Yakitori is often flavored with salt or a soy sauce-based sauce known as tare, and is usually eaten as casual-style snack or meal with drinks. Read on to discover some of the best places for yakitori in Tokyo.
Skewered foods, known as kushiyaki, feature delectable bites of meat and vegetables that go perfectly with beer or sake. “Kushi” refers to the bamboo skewers used to spear the ingredients, while “yaki” means grilled or fried.
Eating grilled meat on sticks is a Japanese tradition that dates back to at least the 17th century. Although for some time eating meat was forbidden in Japan due to Buddhist conventions, during the Meiji period of modernization people began to eat meat again and shops specializing in grilled meat on skewers took off. In the period between WWI and WWII, the battered and deep-fried skewers known as kushiage or kushikatsu also became popular. Today, both grilled and fried kushiyaki can be savored with all kinds of meat and vegetables.
Kanazawa, the capital city of Ishikawa prefecture, is located in the Hokuriku region on the central coast of Japan’s main island facing the Sea of Japan. Historically, the city’s prime location, equidistant from Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and Kyoto, offered Kanazawa easy access to both cultures. Many areas throughout Kanazawa still retain a traditional look, so much so that it is often referred to as “Little Kyoto”.
Tonkatsu is a Japanese dish of a pork cutlet that has been coated in flaky panko breadcrumbs then deep-fried. Similar to a German schnitzel, tonkatsu was first served in Japan around the turn of the 20th century when Japanese restaurants began to offer more western-style food, known as “yoshoku”. Over time, tonkatsu has become one of Japan’s most commonly eaten dishes.
Curry is one of the most popular dishes in Japan that has been enjoyed since the early Meiji period. During that time, Japanese people started to eat British-style curry and other Western foods as a way to emulate modern Western culture. Over time the flavor of British curry, which is based on Indian curry, became sweeter with a more mild flavor to suit the Japanese palate, and the dish came to be known as a Japanese dish called “kare raisu” (curry rice).
Shojin ryori is the traditional dining style of Buddhist monks in Japan, and grew widespread in popularity with the spread of Zen Buddhism in the 13th century. As the cuisine is made without meat, fish or other animal products, it can be enjoyed by vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.
When dining in Japan’s metropolitan capital of Tokyo, there are few foods more native to the city than sushi. Tokyo is the birthplace of nigiri-style sushi, the iconic ball of vinegared rice topped with a beautiful cut of fresh fish or other seafood, which developed as a lunchtime food for laborers, merchants, and artisans during the 1800s. Nigiri sushi is also known as Edomae sushi, after Tokyo’s former name, “Edo”.
With the days growing colder, nothing quite satisfies like nabe, a type of Japanese hot pot. Named after the traditional clay pot (“nabe”) in which this dish is cooked and served, nabe is a steaming broth filled vegetables, tofu and with meat or seafood. Nabe has been enjoyed in Japan for as long as clay cookware has existed, and today there are many regional varieties featuring local ingredients specific to different areas. A hotpot meal is often enjoyed at home cooked on a small, portable gas burner while gathered around a heated kotatsu table with family or friends. It can also be enjoyed at izakaya and other restaurants specializing in Japanese cuisine.