the sydney morning herald: tokyo street food


From footpath cooks to alcoves, bars and nooks, here's where Tokyo insiders stop for delicious, inexpensive meals, writes Kate Gibbs.

Tokyo's neon-lit alleys are packed with food carts and hole-in-the-wall haunts where queues of in-the-know locals and visitors seek ramen, soba, yakitori and tako-yaki. In a city known for its Michelin-star options and with 160,000 eateries - four times the number of Paris - street vendors win loyal customers by satisfying the desire to eat quickly, well and inexpensively.

"People in Japan are very particular, they are perfectionists," says Kazuki Watanabe, who manages an elegant izakaya-style restaurant called Higashi-Yama in Meguro-ku. "This includes eating the best possible food, no matter if it is bought by the side of the road."

Golf-ball size tako-yaki filled with tender octopus is the mainstay of food-on-the-run. Typically cooked in cast-iron custom-made pans by the roadside, the balls have a crisp exterior, are drizzled in a syrupy sweet and salty sauce, then mayonnaise, and topped with smoky, delicate shaved bonito fish flakes.

Some of the best food in Tokyo is found near or within train stations, as people like to eat before they commute home. Outside Shibuya Station, for example, a popular nook called Gindaco serves eight balls of tako-yaki for ¥500 yen (about $6).

Kerbside eating can involve ceremony, too. It's not uncommon to place an order by buying a meal ticket from a vending machine by the front door of a tiny bar and walk through two squares of fabric into a place that has served the same secret ramen recipe for the past 150 years.

Glutinous rice balls spiked on to a stick and grilled with a sweet cloying sauce are often served outside temples and train stations. Odango-ya is sweet and one of the best-value street foods in the city.

This is an extract of an article published in

The Sydney Morning Herald on 17 February 2012

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Photographs by Kate Gibbs