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Tokyo Guide > Tokyo Restaurants
Review and discover all that is delicious, or not, in Tokyo. Japanese or international, for a romantic dinner or a family reunion, in a budget or a lavish meal, find the best Tokyo restaurants at Sunnypages.
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I know I’ve skipped on sake and shochu at one too many Tokyo restaurants and bars because the menus are intimidating. Often times I can’t read the kanji and if I end up ordering something, it tends to be the one that I was able to read.
Learning a bit of sake and shochu vocabulary can go a long way to make sure you end up with something you want in front of you. You don’t need to know the brands so long as you understand the categories and ask the bartender to recommend something within it (Ask for his/her “osusume” -- recommendation). I’ll start with sake and then move on to shochu.
Unlike the English speaking world where sake means “rice wine,” in Japan you need to order “Nihonshu” to receive rice wine. Sake by it self means alcohol, whereas nihonshu means Japanese liquor.
Within sake there are two variables that you need to remember. The first is how much the rice was polished before brewing the sake. Rice naturally contains proteins in its outer layers, which can add unpleasant flavors during fermentation. To avoid this, sake brewers polish the grains to remove the outer layers and keep the starchy core. As a general rule, the more a grain is polished, the finer the sake will be.
The second variable explains whether the alcohol in the sake came exclusively from the fermentation process or if outside alcohol was added to the final product. If no outside alcohol was added, the sake will be known as “junmai.” If outside alcohol was used, the sake will not be called junmai. Adding a small amount of external alcohol doesn’t mean the sake is of lesser quality; it can sometimes bring out subtleties in flavor that otherwise would be absent. In fact, many award-winning sakes cannot be labeled “junmai” because they had alcohol added to them.
The first sake category is called “Honjozo” and it stipulates that at least 30 percent of the rice must have been polished away. If no outside alcohol was added, sake in this category will be called “Junmai.”
Next is “ginjo,” for which the brewers must polish at least 40 percent of the rice away. If no outside alcohol was added, it will be called “Junmai Ginjo.”
The final category is “Daiginjo,” in which 50 percent of the rice was polished away. Again, if no alcohol was added, it will be called “Junmai Daiginjo.”
And that’s all you need to know in order to ask a server or a store clerk to recommend a sake within the category you want. Luckily, the price of sake is generally determined by its quality so if everything else fails, price is a relatively reliable indicator.
Within these categories and brands you’ll be able to find many variations and some oddball sakes as well (Nigori for example is unfiltered sake that looks a bit like buttermilk). Once you acquire a taste for sake, the sky is the limit in terms of subtleties.
A final word -- if having it at home, drink the bottle right away as sake doesn’t do well once it has been opened. And, drink it chilled (or at room temperature). Warm sake was invented to mask the unpleasant flavors of cheaper bottles. Unless you buy a cheap bottle, don’t heat it up.
Shochu is a distilled liquor that is stronger than wine or sake, but weaker that spirits like vodka or whisky. It is commonly 25 percent alcohol by volume. Shochu used to be an “oyaji” drink, which means that old men were known for being fond of it. Nonetheless, it has made a comeback in the last decade, spreading its appeal among the younger generations. Tokyo is now full of restaurants and bars with extensive shochu lists. Kyushu island is the home of shochu (though it is brewed now all over the country).
Under Japanese law, shochu can be distilled from almost anything and be called shochu so long as the brewer follows some specific steps in the process. In this guide I’ll focus on the most common shochus and how you drink them.
A shochu takes its name from the base ingredient it was made of. The three most common ingredients are rice, barley and potatoes.
Rice shochu is called “komejochu” and tends to have a fairly thick taste. Kumamoto, Niigata or Akita prefectures are famous for it.
Barley shochu is called “mujijochu” and has a soft taste that makes it easy to drink. However, if aged it can pick up stronger flavors and taste similar to whisky. Oita and Iki prefectures are famous for mujijochu.
Finally, potato shochu is called “imojochu” and is made with sweet potatoes. Its taste can be quite strong, a bit like almonds, making people either love it or hate it. Imojochu is now made almost all throughout Japan.
There are many more categories other than the main three, such as brown sugar shochu (kokutoujochu), buckwheat (sobajochu), or even milk. Awamori, which is known among American servicemen for being the drink with a snake in the bottle, is made exclusively in Okinawa and is a type of shochu made with Thai rice (unlike sake which is made with Japanese rice).
After you order shochu, the bartender will ask how you like to drink it. There is no set rule on how to enjoy shochu, but these are the most common ways:
• Straight (Niito)
• On the rocks (Rokku)
• Diluted with water (mizuwari)
• Diluted with hot water (oyuwari)
• Mixed with a beer-like drink (hoppi)
• Mixed with a fruit soda (chuhai)
• As a base for a cocktail (many sour drinks in Japan like lemon sour or grapefruit sour use shochu as the base).
And these are the basics you need to take full advantage of the excellent shochu menus that are popping up at Tokyo restaurants and bars all across town. Just ask the bartender for their “osusume” (recommendation) within the base ingredient you want to drink.
Tokyo is experiencing a boom in ethnic restaurants; Indian curries with naan or Pad Thai are lunch staples at many Tokyo restaurants already!
Ethnic doesn’t have a fixed meaning, but it usually means a restaurant with food from Southeast Asia or South Asia. A Tokyo restaurant billing itself as ethnic probably uses liberal amounts of coconut milk or coriander, which was traditionally not favored in Japan but staging a comeback at all the new Tokyo ethnic restaurants.
Ethnic foods often arrive via immigrants, which is for example what happened when large numbers of Koreans settled between Shinjuku and Okubo stations. A boom in Korean restaurants followed, making it a prime destination to eat Korean food in Tokyo. Likewise, Gotanda station is home to restaurants and stores that cater to Latinos living in Tokyo.
Another route for ethnic foods is via the hands of Tokyo chefs who learn to work with unfamiliar ingredients. As restaurants redo their menus, chefs need to find new flavors. Furthermore, many Japanese have traveled to Southeast Asia and are already familiar with these cuisines. Though sometimes Tokyo customers complain that these restaurants don’t serve authentic food, it was probably never the point since they are adapting foreign cuisines to the Tokyo market (Cafe Mangrove is an example).
Of course not all “ethnic” food comes from Thailand or Indonesia; other restaurants in Tokyo play to this theme as well. Examples include the Middle Eastern flavors of Luxor, the Mariachis at Fonda de la Madrugada, the Mexico-trained chefs at Salsita, or places like TGI Friday’s that play on American food.
Sometimes food fads go away, while others are incorporated into a country’s cuisine. Pasta was considered ethnic food in the US until it became a staple. Similarly, milk and beef were rare in Tokyo during the 1800s, but are now commonplace. It’s hard to tell if coconut milk will become Japanese food, but in the meantime there are lots of restaurants in Tokyo where to indulge in these tastes from afar!
Tokyo is the best restaurant city in the world, says the Michelin guide in its first guide to the city. Compared to Paris, which boasts 98 stars overall, Tokyo restaurants brought in a record 191 stars, and every restaurant featured in the Tokyo guide received at least one star, which is also a first for Michelin.
Eight Tokyo restaurants, won the coveted three stars. "Tokyo is a shining star in the world of cuisine", said Jean-Luc Naret, Michelin guide director, when explaining the record number of stars awarded. On this count, however, Paris still leads the pack with ten 3-star restaurants.
Prior to the guide's publication there was skepticism among native Tokyo food critics that Michelin could properly assess Tokyo's restaurants and Japanese food. In the end however, Tokyo's guide featured about 60 percent Japanese restaurants, putting to rest those fears.
One of the big time winners is French chef Joel Robuchon, whose three Tokyo restaurants won a total of five stars (3 stars, 2 stars and one star respectively), bestowing him with even more awards than he already has (he was once named chef of the century and holds a total of 17 stars worldwide). The sushi restaurants Sukiyabashi Jiro and Sushi Mizutani came out as Tokyo's best with three stars each, while chef Toru Okuda also won three stars for his contemporary Japanese restaurant Koju.
The guide sold out immediately in Tokyo, and eager dinners will have to wait to get their hands on either the Japanese or English version.
>>Find restaurants on Tokyo Michelin guide 2008