When you think about Japan, you think about sushi. But the Japanese cuisine is more than sushi. In this blog I would like to share my secret in how to find the best restaurants in Japan with great service and mouth-watering food.
Where to go
If you arrive in Tokyo you see plenty of restaurants, sushi restaurants but also Indian and Italian restaurants. It is just like in any other big city, you don’t have to be afraid of not finding a restaurant. However, with such a big choice, it is hard to choose where to go. You can follow the crowd and find a good restaurant with plenty of tourists, but you can also choose to take a sideway. We did the latter. My boyfriend and I went off the main road. We went further away from the city centre and took several smaller streets. We ended up in a shabby neighborhood. The amount of restaurants became smaller. The first restaurant we encounter was full. It was full of Japanese people. Our experience is that where the more local people are, traditional food is the best. We entered the restaurant, but unfortunately, there was no table free. We left and walk further in this neighborhood. We found a few more restaurants, but even these were full. It was remarkable, because in the city center we did not encounter this ‘problem’. We made some kilometers until we found a restaurant in this neighborhood with one free table.
Help! No English menus!
We found a small restaurant with a terrace. It looked quite shabby but the terrace was full of Japanese people. We noticed one free table outside so there was place. We entered the restaurant. One of the Japanese waiters came to us and immediately said “No English menu”. That was almost everything he could say in English. The restaurant was small. There were tables and chairs but you could also eat at the bar. We told the waiter that we didn’t mind if there wasn’t a menu in English. The Japanese expect foreigners to leave when there is no menu card in English available. However, we are not the standard tourists…. We were hungry and would love to try some of their food. Our reply was a surprise for them. We showed the waiter the free seats at the bar and asked if we may sit there. We could. We were asked for drinks. My boyfriend asked for a beer. I noticed many people drinking sake, so I thought whatever, go with the flow and asked for sake. Again, the waiter was surprised. He came with a huge bottle which should contain the best sake of Japan. I told him that I only needed one glass. They were laughing. I received a square block with a shot glass inside. The shot glass including the block was filled with sake till the edge. I was wondering how to drink this properly without spilling the sake.
Now we had our drinks, we needed food. First, we received an appetizer from the restaurant. Then it was time to order. Ordering was the funniest thing we ever saw. We didn’t get any menu card since we couldn’t read it so the waiters passed us with food that Japanese people sitting in the restaurant ordered. We could say yes for good, no for we don’t want. I guess we said yes to almost everything we saw. All look delicious and beautiful.
We received several small dishes to which we said yes. Suddenly one of the waiters took his phone and opened Google Translate. He wrote a message in Japanese and translated this for us. It said “Change in order”. We actually didn’t know exactly what we ordered but we trusted the waiters that all would be fine.
After the appetizer and some small dishes with cucumbre, squid, fried oysters, etc. we received a plate with many different raw fishes, including oysters. It was the first time for me I ate oysters. Gosh, they were salty, just like the sea. Except for the oysters, which weren’t my thing, all the other dishes were incredible good. We thought to received all we had ‘ordered’ when a waiter passed us with the head of a Snapper. My boyfriend told me to make a picture of this plate. The waiter placed the plate in front of us. I took a picture and told him he could serve the plate to the person who ordered it. However, the plate wasn’t for anybody else. It was meant for us. We received it as a gift from the restaurant. We were already stuffed, but this we couldn’t miss. We noticed that all restaurant employees had their eyes on us. They were wondering how we were going to eat that and of course, what we would do with the eyeball of the fish. We had no clue how to do his operation. An employee came to help and made our plate ‘eat ready’. My boyfriend got the eyeball, which seems to be a delicacy. He said it was chewy but not as gross as he expected. The fish was delicious. I never had such a tasty fish like this.
We were completely stuffed when we were done eating. We expected this dinner would be the most expensive of the dinners we had before in Tokyo. But it was the contrary; this dinner was the best of all dinners we had in Tokyo so far, but also the cheapest.
When going to a restaurant where the restaurant people don’t speak English, don’t be pissed but try to communicate with them in any way. We met in several restaurants that foreign people were frustrated about the fact that the Japanese didn’t understand them. They ordered something, but they were complaining continuously. If these people have acted differently, they could have had a wonderful time and dinner. Although the restaurant employees tell you they don’t speak English, they understand some words like salmon, tuna, etc. So you can tell them what kind of fish or meat you like. And of course, if you visit regularly a sushi restaurant, you know some Japanese too, like unagi for example. Japanese people want to give you the best experience. It makes the personnel happy when you like something and you ordered it again. We had it a few times that the chef made something special from the dish we ordered twice or more. They like to see you eating from their food with joy. Your happiness and friendliness can give you surprising dishes for free.