Let me begin with a disclaimer: I don’t have greatly specific Tokyo food knowledge. I’ve been there half a dozen times and have eaten well on every occasion, so obviously it’s not like eating well requires special powers, but the following may help if you think you can’t go to Japan because you don’t like whale or raw horse meat.
All you need to do is stay away from McDonald’s (unless you like green spring rolls and teenagers) and be able to point to whatever thing you want as represented by a plastic model. Endearing in that slightly off-putting Japanese way, lots of restaurants display virtual food in glass cabinets outside the door, like fishing-flies lure game fish. In the future, I imagine these will take holographic form but for now, they’re glistening, actual-sized plastic models that, in the case of chicken katsu curry, are the antithesis of appetizing.
So, broken down, here is what to look for:
Udon/soba. Noodles and soup ARE the foundation upon which your shopping expeditions should be based. Noodle bars are everywhere. My most memorable were along the main road up from Hachiko Exit Shibuy and in Shinjuku near the subway – I wasn’t even trying to find somewhere good! Slurp as much as possible as this enhances the flavour and cools the soup.
Kushi-katsu. This is a style of bar where depressed salarymen order fried things on a stick, like a skewer degustation menu.
Okonomiyaki. A type of savoury pancake covered in mayonnaise. I know it doesn’t sound great and it doesn’t look fantastic either (especially the plastic version) but you NEED to eat this.
Mos Burger. Mos throws weird seafood and sauce concoctions on a rice bun and calls it a burger.
TBC later as I just remembered a whole bunch of other stuff I ate in Tokyo that you, too, must eat…