It seems like almost everyone is waiting with bated breath for the next big food trend to sweep the world.
And we totally get it, bizarre food combinations or funky flavours are a trendy topic, injecting new life into the food world that can get stale for an everyday person eating the same few selections day in day out.
In Japan, the country holds steadfast to its traditions and culinary heritage, and it’s typical to see small 15 to 20 seater shops that have been open for business for generations, unflinching in the face of rainbow grilled cheese or the latest food fad.
In today’s foodscape, funky flavours or Instagrammable food has become a thing, and if you’re not caught up with the times, it’s easy to fade out of the minds of people.
Traditional Japanese restaurants however, care not for the latest “in” food but focus on working tirelessly at perfecting their craft. If you’re looking for restaurants that have stood the test of time, serving decades old recipes, we recommend you pay these five venerable establishments a visit.
1. Asakusa Imahan
Asakusa Imahan has been serving traditional Japanese hotpot (Sukiyaki and Shabu-Shabu) for 124 years now, opening back in 1895. An institution in the Asakusa area, this historic culinary establishment is a stone’s throw away from the famed Senso-ji Temple.
The preparation and consumption of both hotpot dishes are generally straightforward and simple — for Sukiyaki, beef (usually, though there are pork options) and vegetables are simmered in a sweet-salty sauce before being dipped in raw egg and for Shabu-Shabu, beef (again, there are pork alternatives) and vegetables are cooked in a broth before dipping in various sauces and taken with rice or noodles.
What makes Asakusa Imahan stand out and continue to stand the test of time? The beef. The chefs at Asakusa Imahan insist on sourcing for the finest wagyu beef for its restaurants.
Whether you opt for Sukiyaki or Shabu-Shabu, the lush marbling of wagyu beef at Asakusa Imahan will ensure that each slice of beef has a good ratio of fat to meat, giving you that perfect mouthful.
3-1-12 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Daily 11:30 AM – 9:30 PM
2. Daikokuya Tempura
Tempura and Tendon are both supremely famous in Asakusa and there are honestly no shortage of restaurants you can choose from.
Daikokuya Tempura is not the oldest tempura establishment in Asakusa, that honour probably goes to Nakasei. Daikokuya Tempura is not the most popular one either, that would be Masara.
Upon entering Daikokuya, you’ll see it on practically every table, the tendon is what you’re here to order. Frying the Tempura exclusively in sesame oil, what makes Daikokuya Tempura special is that they dredge their tempura in dipping sauce before serving which results in it having a darker hue than usual.
Operating since 1887, Daikokuya Tempura has been serving the Asakusa crowd for over a hundred years now. Also located near Senso-ji Temple, it’s a popular meal spot for anyone visiting the temple.
1-38-10 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 111-0032
Sunday-Friday: 11 AM – 8:30 PM, Saturday: 11 AM – 9 PM
3. Asakusa Unatetsu
Charcoal-grilled to perfection and slathered with a sweet and sticky teriyaki sauce, a well-done unagi is certainly hard to beat. Asakusa Unatetsu is well known for their Hitsumabushi, which features finely chopped unagi before being placed on top of a bed of rice.
What makes Hitsumabushi unique as well is the eating process/method. Differing from that of a typical Unadon, the unagi can be enjoyed in three different ways, each giving you a different experience.
The first step would be to consume the unagi as it is, this will allow you to get a taste of the unagi without any added flavours. Next, add the various condiments (wasabi, chopped leek, etc.) and you’ll start to see how each condiment adds flavours and textures to the unagi. Lastly mix the unagi and rice with the dashi soup stock which would turn the dish into something of a rice porridge which is comforting and warms the body.
There are many versions at Asakusa Unatetsu and we hear that the Shiraiyaki (eel cooked in fired pottery) comes highly recommended. The eel is seasoned with just salt and there’s no tare (sweet) sauce added during the preparation which means you’ll taste the natural flavour of the eel. Of course, the well-loved tare version is available as well!
1 Chome-2-11 Hanakawado, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0033, Japan
Daily 11:30 AM – 10 PM
4. Asakusa Mugitoro
Asakusa Mugitoro has been around 90 years, serving up traditional mugitoro since 1929. Mugitoro features boiled barley and rice topped with grated Japanese yam (tororo).
Known for its sticky and slightly mushy texture, the tororo gives the overall dish a sweet taste. Mugitoro, however, is subtle and light, usually paired with side dishes that are generally stronger in flavour such as tuna pickled in soy sauce, or asari clams.
Asakusa Mugitoro offers a popular weekday lunch buffet that features their signature mugitoro which can be paired with a host of various ingredients from tamagoyaki (Japanese fried egg) to sashimi.
2 Chome-2-4 Kaminarimon, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0034, Japan
Monday-Friday: 11 AM – 4 PM, 5 PM – 10:30 PM
Saturday & Sunday: 11 AM – 10:30 PM
Tsukushi is the youngest establishment on this list, operating for just over 40 years. The restaurant’s specialty lies in Monjayaki, which is essentially Asakusa’s answer to Osaka’s famous okonomiyaki.
Monjayaki would be the furthest thing away from being Instagrammable. Cooking on a teppanyaki plate in front of you, monjayaki just looks like a gooey mess and far from appetising.
Take one bite with your mini spatula, however, and you’ll be floored with the flavour that is packed in that mouthful. One of the best sellers is “Gomoku” which means “five ingredients” and you’ll typically find seafood such as squid and Sakura shrimp amongst others.
If you want to give their version of okonomiyaki a try as well, the “Deluxe” is a crowd favourite, featuring squid, shrimp, minced beef, and even pork ribs.
2 Chome-4-13 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan
Wednesday-Monday: 11 AM – 11 PM
Tuesday: 11 AM – 5 PM
Top image by puravida.p on Instagram