We were prepared for some serious stomach stretching in Tokyo. Having watched Adam Liaw’s Destination Flavour series (awesome show), I was bursting with excitement. And as our holiday unfolded we discovered there was more than dining out as such, we discovered a couple of interesting micro experiences, which I think our wallets thanked us for.
Foodie, avid cook, or thrifty buyer, there is some excellent food related shopping opportunities in Tokyo and the best thing is that home cooks and chefs can shop at same place. The quality is definitely high and it’s not at all difficult to find locally made products. It was incredible, say for one item, there is an area specializing in it, and at least 10 shops selling that same item. This is the sheer population to expect when travelling to Tokyo.
Here is a rundown of our encounters around the city, no doubt we only skimmed the surface of what this incredible metropolis city has to offer;
5 budget friendly foodie experiences
Ekiben (Train Bento Boxes)
A highlight of travelling on the long distance Shinkansen trains (bullet trains) is the delicious bento boxes. Each one showcases the regional cuisine of the departing town. Neatly packaged boxes can be found in the train stations or on departure platforms, and they are made daily.
Miyagegashi (sweet food souvenir)
Every region of Japan has its very own Miyagegashi, sweet food souvenirs packaged ever so beautifully and daintily, and just like the ekiben they feature the region’s local cuisine. We were hooked on the Tokyo Banana! The regions certainly do go all out in producing and presenting their special Miyagegashi. The best thing about the Miyagegashi is they pack really well in the suitcase for the home trip and make gorgeous gifts – if you can keep your hands off them!
Anything can be purchased from a vending machine and I mean anything, but for the sake of keeping it clean here, I’ll let you discover the unusual vending machines in your own time. Meals, drinks and more importantly beer can be purchased from these food dispensing machines, and, they peppered all around the city.
Depachika (shopping mall)
Not your regular shopping mall, in Japan, the very best of the best can be found in a depachika. Think Harrods in London. While there are no budget purchases, it’s still worth visiting the basement floor for the food market of exquisite and in some cases exotic food displays. Find the fruit and patisserie cake sections. Look out for Musk melon. We visited the one in Ginza called Mitsukoshi.
Wow seriously junk food. It’s something I didn’t think I would encounter to level that I felt worth mentioning on the blog. But yes, wow. Our first junk food encounter was on the bullet train to Nozawa, in a random act of kindness, a boy sitting next to us handed us two packaged waffles as he left for his stop. Plain waffles, they were delicious and every train trip turned into an opportunity to purchase something from the station. There is a mammoth amount of prepackaged sweets, chocolates and candy in Tokyo. The convenience makes junk food so accessible whilst travelling. There are places like the standing crepe stall in Harajuku and Canadian fries in Shimokitazawa. In truth, I’m not all that surprised there are defibrillators at train stations.
Three Shopping Areas
Before and after customs clearance, retail shops offer some decent last-minute food souvenir shopping opportunities. Waiting for our Air Asia boarding call, I watched one store cleared out of Tokyo Bananas, people were buying the beautifully packaged pink boxes with the same sense of urgency of stocking up on water post a natural disaster event. Mind you, we had just stocked up on the supersize Green Kit Kat box and more Tokyo Bananas.
Kappabashi “kitchen town”
Kappabashi Street is a heavily concentrated wonderland for some amazing kitchenware stores from patisserie to knives to chop sticks, it’s a place for both home cooks and professional chefs. This was one of my personal highlights of the Tokyo trip and I may have boarded the return flight home with a clattering suitcase of kitchen supplies. The stores open from 10am.
Where: Take the Ginza train line to Tawaramachi station and take exit 3#. Turn right and right again at the corner onto Asakusa Ave. Walk 3 blocks and turn right onto Kappabashi dori
Known for the largest fish markets in the world, there are also some good foodie stores in the area, especially near the touristy sushi restaurants in the outer markets. Naturally being so close to all the action, sushi breakfast is insanely delicious in the area. Be prepared to queue for an hour or so at the restaurants in the outer market, walk a little further away and you’ll find a few places not so crowded. Be sure to people watch in the area, fish monger riding bicycles in white lab coats or restaurant owners doing the daily rounds.
Foodie purchases in Tokyo
Tokyo’s miyagegashi, and melting in loveliness the Tokyo banana is cute and adorable, small cream filled banana shaped sponge cakes covered in the signature giraffe pattern and gift wrapped in adorable pink packaging.
Where: Haneda Airport or in the train stations
Kit Kat Matcha
Green tea Kit Kat is a bit of a rarity outside of Japan, although I expect for not much longer as they are really delish. Green in colour I thought they tasted similar to cookies and cream with a sharp flavour after taste, being the Matcha tea. You’ll find them all over the city, in particular at Seven Eleven Stores. The airport even sells super-sized boxes.
Where: All around Tokyo
Patisserie cake rings
The first patisserie store I stumbled upon in Kappabashi was the final one I went into, a cave of baking tools and equipment. I left with 10 small cake rings and 2 large ones as well as a spreading knife – all made in Japan. Continuing down the street we walked past a couple more bakery specialist stores including one store selling only cookie cutters and the next one, only cake tins!
Where: Kappabashi Street
Have you seen the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi? I highly recommend anyone visiting Japan to watch it. An apprentice under Jiro spent many years perfecting the trade of a Tamagoyaki (Japanese Omelet), now that is pure dedication and simply amazing. It inspired me to look out for a Tamagoyaki. A small sized copper pan works a treat in making small batches of the egg layer for egg nigiri.
The sheer numbers and types of knives on offer is out of this world. If I can offer tips here, have a general idea on what you are looking for. A Western or Japanese knife? Sizes? purpose ? The Japanese knife is sharpened on one side and does need more care for a longer life compared to the western knives. Food Sake Tokyo has an excellent post on buying knives in Tokyo here. The Kamaasa store offers free engraving with purchases.
Where: Kamaasa in Kappabashi
2-24-1 Matsugaya Taito-ku Tokyo 111-0036
Ginger/garlic grater in the shape of a turtle
A nifty and cute little tool, grating the ginger or garlic results in a paste consistency.
Where: Kamaasa In Kappabashi
Stores chock-a-block of rustic mismatching and oddly shaped ceramics, all handmade in Japan too.
Bamboo mat and chop sticks
Kitchen utensils made from local Bamboo wood is easy to find and reasonably priced. Bamboo mats for sushi making, chopsticks and rice spoons are a few staple Japanese cooking finds.
When I think of Japanese alcohol, I think of sake or Asahi beer. It wasn’t until the trip that we discovered shochu, a distilled alcoholic drink widely drunk in Japan, even more so than sake. Some Shochu beverages are super strong, they’ll knock your socks off.
Where: Anywhere in Tokyo
If you enjoy champagne, look out for sparking sake, (champagne sake!)
Where: Anywhere in Tokyo
While the majority of recipe books are in Japanese, a sushi one with extension photos of sushi presentation is fairly easy to work out.
Where: Tsukiji Market
During Cherry Blossom season, wagashi and condiments appear featuring the delicate flower. Look out for cherry blossom tea!
Kitsch style fake plastic food is addictive to collect, it’s cool and there are shops everywhere in Tokyo, especially in Kappabashi.
Head to Tokyo Character street for anime lover memorabilia, there are a couple of foodie purchases like cups, flasks etc.
Where: Tokyo Station, Tokyo Character Street, First Avenue Tokyo B1F