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  • Writer's pictureDonna Zabel

Eating Our Way Through Tokyo--with a little local help

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

The streets around our hotel were lined with little restaurants, always full of local people who knew when and where to queue, and how to read the printed menus. As the rare foreigners in the area, figuring out the rules was at first a little intimidating. It soon turned into a series of wonderful experiences, and newfound friends.

Our first culinary adventure was lunch. Hot and tired from an exhausting long walk back from the Imperial Palace, my husband’s request was for a Japanese burger and a cold beer. We were pretty sure what the beer would taste like, if not the burger. That mystery was solved by finding the Joy Full, with the necessary no-translation needed photos, up a flight of stairs from the busy street. The burger was tasty, served with a little cheese, exactly five French fries, and a little vegetable garnish. That part was easy. My lunch was more difficult. After finding the one English-speaking waitress, I ordered what turned out to be a rice bowl topped with chopped raw tuna garnished with seaweed, served with a little glass of miso and pickled radish. All very tasty, if not a meal that would be popular in a Texas steakhouse. However the cold beer was a very resuscitating reprieve from the stifling heat.

For dinner we decided on a mission. Unlike me, my husband is not a fan of raw food. He promised to endure a future sushi restaurant if he could experience a proper Japanese tempura meal. With so many little restaurants around our hotel, what could be the problem? The problem was that the little dark doors, with delicious smells emanating, only had sheets of paper with Japanese lettering in the windows, not the pictorial representations I needed. A friendly, very English fluent hawker outside a restaurant complex, pointed us in the right direction—only for us to be told when we tried to enter that the tiny restaurant was full, at least for foreigners that might require their own table.

Back to our friendly barker, and an experience of Japanese hospitality I will always cherish. We were seated at a table in a large, wood-paneled room with food available from six different small restaurant owners. My husband discovered a delicious local dark beer and tasty grilled mixed-meat skewers. My fish was less successful, but I was happy to be drinking a cold sake that reminded me of all the wonderful varieties from tiny breweries that never leave Japan.

Our server was obviously skeptical I would like the sake. When I ordered more he turned from skeptic to beaming enthusiast. Did I really like it? Yes, of course. Wait, don’t leave too quickly, he said. As we were paying our bill he returned with a lovely little bag, containing two little boxes. Inside each box was a beautiful hand-painted sake glass. He’d been saving them for someone, and that someone turned out to be me. My bow was more than a proper Japanese goodbye. It was to hide my tears.


· The Japanese eat early. The little restaurants fill up fast.

· In the Akasaka district the signs are in Japanese, but there is always someone who speaks English.

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