As I am suffering from Japanese food withdrawal, I will in this post present three of my favorite restaurants in my old neighborhood of Asakusa (a famous Tokyo tourist spot). The three are very different in the kind of food they serve and also in their price range, and definitely worth a try if you happen to be around there! There is tempura from Daikokuya, broiled eel from Hitsumabushi and Sukiyaki or Shabushabu from Asakusa Imahan.
- Daikokuya (大黒屋) – Tempura
Daikokuya, conveniently located between Kokusaidori and Senso-ji, is definitely an Asakusa classic. Its tempura and tendon (tempura on a rice bowl) are a bit different from the usual (the batter is a little more…rustic) and famous all around. If you want to combine it with a visit to the Asakusa Kannon temple on a sunny weekend day, you have to arm yourself with patience, though. Daikokuya is notorious for its long line of guests waiting outside which usually bends around the street corner. On a rainy evening on a weekday, you’ll be more lucky. If it seems closed, don’t despair, probably their Annex around the corner is serving guests. You can eat for a reasonable price (~ 3000 Y) and enjoy a no-frills authentic Japanese food experience.
- Hitsumabushi (ひつまぶし）- Eel
Hitsumabushi is actually a Nagoya-style dish. But who cares, it also tastes delicious in Tokyo’s old downtown. Hitsumabushi is at the corner of Kokusaidori, right next to the entrance of the Tsukuba Express.
While its line is not as notorious as the one in front of Daikokuya, steer clear of weekend lunch time. During the workweek, you usually don’t have to wait. And, Europeans, take heart. The eel is not the way you imagine. Just pretend it’s not eel at all. It’s really good. Their signature dish, broiled eel, you have to eat in three ways: first, as it is. Second, with spring onions and freshly ground wasabi (remember the green stuff you get with your sushi? Forget about it! The wasabi you grind yourself from the root is the real deal (and only pale green)). And third, with dashi, the broth. it’s like three different meals in one. Reasonably priced and super tasty!
- Asakusa Imahan (浅草今半) – Sukiyaki and Shabushabu
Imahan is definitely an upscale place, good for a fancy dinner. We heard the claim that it’s one of the best Sukiyaki places in all of Japan. While I have no way of confirming this, the food certainly tastes excellent. Just across the street from Hitsumabushi, it’s located at the corner of Kokusaidori and Kappabashihondori. You are greeted by ladies in perfect make-up and coiffure wearing kimono. If you are seated upstairs, you leave your shoes and are ushered into an elevator with tatami on the floor. Prices start at 8000 Y, but it’s worth the experience. But: you have to cook your food yourself! The table has a gas burner built in and you are served with a plate of thinly sliced high quality marbled beef, some vegetables, tofu and mushrooms. Depending on your choice, you will cook these things either in a broth filled pot (that would be Shabushabu) or on a sizzling cast iron pan (in this case, it’s Sukiyaki). Once the items are ready they get dipped in sauce and eaten right away. Also a very Japanese experience, but at the other end of the price spectrum. Obviously, this is not a place were people queue outside, but on the weekend, a reservation may be a good idea.
I’ll be surely going back to these places next time I visit.