Food in Your City: Exploring Tokyo's Culinary Scene

“Food in Your City,” a new original mini-series umbrellaed underneath the Foodable Network's "On Foodable Side Dish" show, brings viewers into different cities around the world, painting a realistic picture of the local culinary canvas. An artistic interpretation that showcases various cultures’ approach to dining, “Food in Your City” shows food vendors, street markets, restaurants, and the people who have dedicated their livelihood to the craft of food production, in the most raw, original form. In this first installation, we visit Tokyo. 

Tokyo has long been a city celebrated for having the most Michelin-starred restaurants. Some even regard it as the world’s culinary capital. Known for its fresh seafood, interesting textures, and innovative cooking methods, this Japanese hotbed for culinary greatness has, in the past decade, been ripe for disruption. In a culture known for its rigid work ethic and mentality, it has undoubtedly become shaken up by the creative spirit of younger chefs — something Eli Gottlieb in a New York Times piece calls “the culinary second wave, a quiet in-house revolution that is afoot all over the country.” Married together, these traits — of maintaining a taste for tradition while executing on modern advancements — boast both menu consistency and the ability to produce at such an original level. 

While many would assume Tokyo’s culinary-scape to be littered with fresh sushi, the city is full of various flavors, and is also heavy in European-inspired restaurants — ones that are noteworthy enough to have gained a Michelin star even. But that’s not to take away from its Japanese culture, either. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” is a film that perfectly encapsulates the importance of precision, consistency, and ingredient simplicity of this Old World traditional art. Jiro Ono’s 10-seat restaurant will run diners $300 per plate, but it’s an experience — one that is simple in nature but complex in taste, where the food is the main event. “All of the sushi is simple,” says food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto in the film. “It’s completely minimalist. Master chefs from around the world eat at Jiro’s and ask, ‘How can something so simple have so much depth of flavor?’”

On the opposite side, in terms of the finished product, is Japan’s uprise of more modern approaches to culinary consumption, interpretation, and presentation. Take Le Musée, for example. While this restaurant is located roughly 20 hours north of Tokyo, it’s an establishment that showcases a new style of Japanese cooking, where chefs hone in on each seasonal ingredient in a dish, bringing out the flavors in refined ways by using innovative methods and processes to do so. It’s this type of avant-garde approach that expands into full-on movements within the region and, eventually, the country.

Perhaps adding to the sacredness of Tokyo’s dining culture is its exclusivity. Many establishments boast under 30 seats, some as few as eight, like Mibu, a restaurant monumental in reputation with obscure traits, like no website or reservations. In fact, this restaurant is invite only, and only allows new diners who have been invited by a member. Helmed by head chef Hiroshi Ishida, Mibu was recently visited by Rene Redzepi of Noma — and only because Ishida came into Noma for dinner during the Scandinavian restaurant’s pop-up stint in Tokyo. Then there’s Takazawa, the eponymous 10-seat restaurant steered by Yoshiaki Takazawa. As CNN reported, “each dish on the set menu tells a story with both unique techniques and unexpected tastes, making Takazawa’s menu one of the most coveted in the world.”

From molecular bars to minimal-seating sushi counters doling out the freshest catches of the day, and from nine-course Japanese-inspired Italian dinners to hole-in-the-wall ramen shops and izakayas, Tokyo is a smorgasbord of flavors that are rooted in appreciation and respect.