Japan: Exploring the Food Scene in Asakusa, Tokyo

Asakusa is probably one of my favourite districts in Tokyo.

It’s a fabulous mix of traditional and modern and there are amazing food spots every few feet.

We chose Asakusa as our base for this trip and I’m so glad we did, because it couldn’t have been a more perfect location. You are very well connected to the rest of the city, but you’re just that little bit further out from the centre so there tends to be a much calmer and quieter atmosphere (outside of the Nakamise shopping street!). It is still a super vibrant place to be, full of that hustle and bustle that you can expect from Tokyo, however the district just has a much more chilled, less technological vibe about it.

The thing that Asakusa does really well is its mix of street food and great restaurants. There is honestly so much choice and there’s something for every budget – from 500 yen tempura bowls to 5000+ yen beef hot pot, so take your pick! Tokyo is a really affordable place to eat with all kinds of dishes available for under £10 (often under £5) and so I’m hoping to share with you some great inexpensive options. I really only scraped the surface of food spots in the district and I do still have about a million pins on my google maps still left to try! Obviously I’m not an expert on the food here in Tokyo, but I had a lot of recommendations from locals which I tried out, and these were the ones I enjoyed the most in Asakusa! Maybe there are other stores or areas that have better versions of these foods, but I loved everything I ate on this list. Plus, I’ve made sure that all of these recommendations are budget friendly. All of them come in under 1500 yen (around £10), with the majority between 100 yen and 500 yen (around £0.70 – £3.50).

I’m going to begin with some of the stalls on Nakamise (the street leading up to Senso-Ji) and then work my way out from there. As busy as that street can get, it has some real gems that are worth elbowing though the crowds for (definitely avoid weekends/holidays). Kibidango Azuma sells kibi dango (small mochi style balls on a skewer) covered in a layer of kinako (dry soybean) powder, which tastes a little like peanut butter! Step to the side of the stand to eat these little skewers out of their pink paper bags and you’ll leave with kinako all over you and a smile on your face.

Agemanju is a lightly battered and fried sweet bun traditionally filled with red bean paste, but Asakusa Kokonoe have such a wide range of flavours. They’re really famous for this product and as soon as you taste one, you can absolutely see why. I had the sakura (cherry blossom) flavour and there was even a sakura leaf wrapped around the bun! A really delicious snack, with both sweet and savoury options available, and only around 200 yen (£1.50)!

Just off of the Nakamise shopping street is Asakusa Menchi, a very popular food stand selling menchi katsu (ground beef & pork, chopped onion and seasoning which is then breaded and fried). This place was my first stop when I arrived in Japan and it was super delicious. Piping hot, juicy and fresh out of the fryer, these little beauties always have a queue of hungry customers waiting for them.

Continue down the same street until you come to a junction with Hoppy Street and on one of the corners is a small shop called Kaede selling mainly traditional dango treats. I tried a mitarashi dango here, which is a skewer of rice flour dumplings (like mochi), which are lightly grilled and then basted with a sweet soy sauce. It had a wonderful balance of sweet and salty flavours, plus a little charred taste from the grill. It was super affordable at only 110 yen (£0.80p), and they had a huge variety of other dango options too!

If you’re looking for more of a sit-down affair then I’ve got a few options. Firstly, my absolute favourite meal from the trip – okonomiyaki. Asakusa Tsurujirou is an amazing spot not far from the southern end of Nakamise that allows you to either cook your own okonomiyaki (or monjayaki) or sit at the bar and watch it be prepared for you. They were pretty busy when we went, so we couldn’t make our own, but it was so fun to sit back and watch while drinking some sake. Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake, which is composed of a flour and egg batter combined with cabbage and a variety of other ingredients depending on what you choose. It also traditionally comes topped with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, bonito flakes and seaweed, however mine came with green onions and a soft boiled egg. Amazing!

If you’re a gyoza fan, then the internet has a plethora of places that are ‘must visit’ spots, but everyone has a different favourite. We ended up visiting Tiger Gyoza Hall one night, next to ROX department store and had a delicious portion of their dumplings. Stuffed with pork and pan fried on one side, these beauties were washed down with a tankard of lemon sour! According to many, there may be better places for gyoza in Tokyo, but these really hit the spot after an exhausting day of walking around what felt like the entire circumference of the city.

Sukiya, one of Japan’s famous gyudon chains, was a perfect spot at any time of the day. Open 24 hours, they serve up some really yummy beef-over-rice bowls, and I was lucky enough to have one over the road from my hotel. It’s affordable (350 yen for a regular beef bowl), tasty and loved by tourists and locals alike. The bowls come in a number of sizes, from mini up to giant, and they also have a number of other things on their menu too. I visited for breakfast and picked up a set meal with miso soup, which was definitely a winner.

Next up are a couple of other chain restaurants that you’ll also be able to find in other Tokyo locations aside from Asakusa; Ichiran and Tendon Tenya. Ichiran is originally from Fukuoka, but its delicious Tonkotsu ramen can be found throughout Japan and internationally too – it’s probably one of the most popular and most famous chains here in Japan. There always seems to be some sort of a queue (definitely come outside of peak hours), but if you’re happy to be sat at a regular table instead of an individual booth then you’ll be seated faster. The pork bone broth is deliciously thick, fatty and full of flavour and I enjoyed every single slurp (pay extra for the soft boiled egg – it’s worth it!). Tendon Tenya is a ‘fast food’ spot that specialises in tendon (tempura over rice). Tempura can be quite expensive, but this is possibly one of the most affordable places to try some. It’s actually very good quality, not at all oily, and they offer a huge number of tempura options. Plus, water and green tea comes free! If you fancy more than just tempura, then they have set menus with soup and soba too.

When it comes to sweet treats, ice cream is always one of my top choices, and in Japan it’s all about the green tea ice cream. Suzukien is a very old tea house located in Asakusa and it has become famous for its green tea gelato. Collaborating with Shizuoka based matcha sweets company Nanaya, they have created 7 levels of matcha gelato, from a light matcha flavour to a super rich taste. If you’re a matcha green tea lover or a gelato fan, you have to come here and try a scoop or two. I went for a mid level flavour (I think no 5) and it was perfect for me; a slight sweetness coupled with that undeniable matcha flavour.

My next spot is the perfect accompaniment to that green tea ice cream, or perhaps your morning cup of tea or coffee. The melon pan (melon bread) from Kagetsudo are like fluffy sweet bread clouds with a crisp sugary outer shell and at their best when warm from the oven. Don’t worry, they don’t traditionally have a melon flavour, but instead the name for these breads comes from the fact that they supposedly resemble a muskmelon! Each melon pan costs 220 yen (perhaps a little pricy for bread, but not for the quality) and you can find them in their multiple branches around Asakusa. It’s so worth getting one from a good bakery as the quality is amazing.

Taiyaki is a must try sweet snack when in Tokyo and there are a fair few places to find these little fishies in Asakusa. These fish shaped pastries are traditionally filled with red bean paste, and often custard, and are the perfect way to finish your night. I really like red bean (I had an amazing, freshly made, piping hot one in a little shop in Ningyocho before I headed back to the UK), but a lot of people don’t, so for those who prefer a different filling I would definitely recommend Kurikoan. They offer a wide variety of flavour options (including chocolate) depending on the season, so you might find various fruit creams, sweet potato or even sakura. I actually visited the one in Akihabara so I could get the Pokemon Magikarp taiyaki (it may be available in other locations?), but I’m sure the quality is the same throughout their stores. Don’t go right before closing though, as they won’t be making them fresh anymore.

Lastly on my list is Mister Donut or ‘Misdo’. This doughnut chain is not only on this list because of their limited run Pokemon collaboration, oh no sir. They’re here because of their amazing ‘pon-de-ring’ doughnuts, which are circles of chewy mochi-like dough with a sugary coating. These doughnuts are like a textural sensation, the likes of which I’ve never tried before. They’re much more like a bread than a regular doughnut, so nowhere near as sweet, and therefore balance perfectly with the icing on top. You absolutely must try one, whether it looks like a pokeball or not!! Plus, I just read that they’re doing a collaboration with Pierre Hermé, the famous French pastry chef, for some limited edition super fancy doughnuts!

If that’s still not enough for you, then you can always head to a ‘konbini’ like 7/11 for an onigiri or egg sando (the creamy egg sandwiches from here are to die for) or Family Mart for their famous Famichiki – their fried chicken is seriously juicy, delicious and hugely popular. Convenience stores in Japan have a reputation for selling fantastic quality food for extremely affordable prices and many are open 24 hours. Definitely pop in for a nikuman (steamed meat bun) as these are absolute heaven.

So there you have it, a selection of delicious, budget friendly places to try around Asakusa. As I said before, there are so many amazing looking places throughout this district and I barely scratched the surface. I still want to try fluffy pancakes at Benitsuru, shabu shabu from Nabezo, fancy tempura sets, monjayaki and all the wagashi I can find. But there’s just never enough time! Let me know in the comments if you have any Asakusa recommendations, so that anyone reading can pick up some more tips and I can gain some more hotspots for the next time I visit!

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