Asakusa, a neighbourhood to the east of Tokyo, is noteworthy for its retro and traditional atmosphere. Besides enjoying the rich cultural history in Japan’s bustling capital, there is also a variety of local delicacies you can find in the old downtown. This article will guide you to a list of 8 mouth-watering delights so that you can enjoy a wonderful gastronomic journey while exploring the charming neighbourhood of Asakusa.
1. Ningyo-yaki - traditional baked doll cakes perfect for eating on-the-go
There are many interesting cultural sights to visit in Asakusa and you may find that it is a challenge to find time for a proper sit-down meal with so much to cover. Grab some sweet Ningyo-yaki (人形焼) to eat on-the-go for energy replenishment. Ningyo means doll in Japanese, so this sweet confectionery is made in an adorable doll shape, baked in small moulds and filled with sweet anko bean paste. It is a popular snack and omiyage (souvenir) you can find easily in Asakusa.
To taste the best Ningyo-yaki, you must go to Kibundousouhonten (紀文堂総本店), a traditional Japanese sweets shop that has been established for more than 120 years. See your cute Ningyo-yaki being made on the spot right before you and eat them fresh and hot. Besides cakes in the shape of Doraemon, Hello Kitty and faces, you will be able to buy Ningyo-yaki shaped in Asakusa’s famous landmarks such as the Sensoji Temple’s five-story pagoda and the big lantern of Kaminarimon too. They are not just great snacks to eat on-the-go, but also perfect souvenirs for family and friends back home!
Address: 1-2-2 Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Price: 620 JPY (5.35 USD) for a pack of 5; 1,030 JPY (8.90 USD) for a pack of 10.
Opening Hours: 9am - 7pm daily. Closed on Wednesday.
Access: 30-second walk from Asakusa Station exit 1 on Tokyo Metro Ginza line.
Contact: +81 3-3841-4401
2. Monja-yaki - if you love Osaka’s famous okonomiyaki you will love this too!
Osaka’s okonomiyaki is a very famous dish in Japan that has won the hearts of many. If you love okonomiyaki, a type of Japanese savoury grilled pancake with a variety of ingredients, you have to try monja-yaki when you visit Asakusa. Monja-yaki is similar to okonomiyaki but more water or dashi (cooking stock) is added to the batter so it appears runnier than its famous cousin. Those who love the texture of melted cheese will like monja-yaki very much because of the runnier bite.
During World War II, food was scarce so people created this yummy monja-yaki dish with the easy mixture of flour and dashi. As writing materials were also hard to come by during the war, the grill became children’s chalkboard to practise writing in the watery batter mixture while the dish was being prepared. That is why monja-yaki has remained as a popular Japanese comfort food with the locals all this while as they reminisce about the old days. Monja-yaki may not be aesthetically pleasing because of its gluey texture, but you will not regret trying it. For the best monja-yaki in Asakusa, visit Tsukushi (つくし), a cosy local restaurant for that addictive bite!
Address: 2-4-13 Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Price: From 1,000 JPY (8.60 USD).
Opening Hours: 11am - 12am from Mondays to Saturdays. 10am - 11pm on Sundays. Irregular holidays.
Access: 3-minute walk from Asakusa Station on Toei Asakusa line.
Contact: +81 3-3844-3343
3. Unagi don - satisfying meal of grilled eel with steamed white rice
A large bowl of steamed white rice, topped with grilled fillets of eel (unagi), makes a delicious and nutritious meal that many Japanese food lovers enjoy nowadays. This delightful dish, known as the unagi don, or unadon for short, was invented in the late Edo era. Since you are already in the old town of Asakusa, why not treat yourself to a satisfying meal of unadon and imagine yourself in the bygone era?
Unagi Irokawa (うなぎ 色川) is a 12-seater restaurant that has been serving the delish unadon since 1861, with a Michelin Bib Gourmand certification. It is not difficult to understand why such a tiny restaurant is listed on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list once you taste their unadon. Unagi Irokawa only uses fresh local eels, grilling them slowly with Binchotan charcoal that brings the flavours of the fish to the next level. Furthermore, only exclusively selected rice and sweet sauce are used to enhance the taste of this dish.
Unagi Irokawa (うなぎ 色川)
Address: 2-6-11 Kaminarimon, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Price: 2,500 JPY (21.60 USD).
Opening Hours: 11.30am - 2pm daily. Irregular holidays.
Access: 1-minute walk from Asakusa Station exit A1 on Toei Asakusa line.
Contact: +81 3-3844-1187
4. Tendon - savour the crispy fried tempura served with steamed white rice
Tendon, which is tempura rice bowl, is another classic favourite dish in Japan. The crispy tempura, made by deep frying battered vegetables or seafood, is eaten together with steamed white rice. This simple yet filling bowl of rice dish is served in many restaurants in Japan. For the best in Asakusa, make your way to Daikokuya Tempura (大黒屋天麩羅), a traditional restaurant established since 1887. Enjoy a sumptuous bowl of rice topped with huge portions of heavenly tempura here!
Daikokuya Tempura (大黒屋天麩羅)
Address: 1-38-10 Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Price: From 3,300 JPY (28.50 USD) for a set meal.
Opening Hours: 11.10am - 8.30pm from Sunday to Friday. 11.30am - 9pm on Saturday and national holidays.
Access: 8-minute walk from Asakusa Station.
Contact: +81 3-3844-1111
5. Sukiyaki - tuck into a delish meal of simmered tender meat with healthy vegetables the Japanese hotpot style
Developed during the Meiji era, sukiyaki is a Japanese hot-pot style dish, typically with meat and vegetables simmered in a broth. It is commonly found at Japanese year-end parties (bōnenkai) during winter. However, regardless of when you visit Asakusa, you will be able to find restaurants serving this classic winter dish now. It is similar to shabu shabu although it is considered sweeter than the former.
There is the ancient Yonekyuuhonten (米久本店) restaurant which has been serving this heartwarming dish since 1886 in the heart of Asakusa which you have to try. Fresh local ingredients are used in preparing the famous sukiyaki here, and you will be able to soak in the nostalgic ambience in the restaurant’s traditional Japanese decor as you dine at Yonekyuuhonten.
Address: 2-17-10 Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Price: around 5,000 JPY (43.20 USD) on average per person.
Opening Hours: 12pm - 9pm daily. Closed on Wednesday.
Access: 3-minute walk from Asakusa Station.
Contact: +81 3-3841-6416
6. Dojo - enjoy the working-class favourite dish since ancient times
Most people will be familiar with unagi, which is freshwater eel found in the ocean. Have you heard about the dojo yet? It is a type of freshwater fish found in deep muddy rivers, with a slender body shape like an eel. This was the most commonly eaten fish for the working-class Japanese since the ancient times. While the natural dojo population has dwindled due to urbanisation, you can still find restaurants serving this working-class favourite dish in Asakusa.
Founded in 1801, stepping into Dozeu Komakata (駒形どぜう) restaurant is like entering a time machine that brings you all the way back to a pub right out of the Edo era. The restaurant is fitted with traditional retro furnishings like zabuton cushions, tatami mats and low tables. To taste dojo at its best, order the dojo-nabe, cooked over charcoal fire so that its best flavour is retained. The simmered dojo is so soft it melts in your mouth, without leaving a distinctive after-taste.
Dozeu Komakata (駒形どぜう)
Address: 1-7-12 Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Price: around 5,000 JPY (43.20 USD) on average per person.
Opening Hours: 11am - 9pm daily.
Access: 2-minute walk from Asakusa Station exit A1 on Toei Asakusa line.
Contact: +81 3-3842-4001
7. Complete your Asakusa trip with a sweet chestnut red bean dessert
Having filled your stomach with so many delectable main courses recommended above, it’s time to hunt for some nice desserts in the old town. As we all know, the Japanese love their sweets and do it really well. In Asakusa, Umezono (梅園 浅草本店) is an age-old cosy dessert shop founded in 1854 where you can have your sweet fix. Umezono is famous for its kuri zenzai, which is red bean soup filled with sweet chestnuts. This is a must-try for the sweet tooth that has been enjoyed by many for more than 160 years!
Umezono (梅園 浅草本店)
Address: 1-31-12 Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Price: from 480 JPY (4.15 USD).
Opening Hours: 10am - 8pm daily. Closed on Wednesdays and irregular holidays.
Access: 2-minute walk from Asakusa Station on Tobu Skytree line.
Contact: +81 3-3841-7580
8. Hoppi Street - best way to end a great day over good beer and yakitori
After a hard day at work, the working-class Japanese like to head to an izakaya, a casual Japanese-style bar to relax and chill over some beer and street food. Since Asakusa was traditionally a working-class neighbourhood, you should follow the locals, and end your eventful day in town at Hoppi Street (浅草ホッピー通り). It is a short and modest-looking 80-metre long street lined with old-fashioned izakayas. Order some delicious yakitori (grilled chicken on a skewer) to complement the popular Hoppy Beer enjoyed since the Showa era at Suzuyoshi (鈴芳). It is an established izakaya that is frequented by friendly locals. What a cool way to end a lovely day in Asakusa!
Address: 2-5-1 Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Price: around 2,000 JPY (17.30 USD) on average per person.
Opening Hours: 12pm - 10pm on Monday, Wednesday to Friday; 9am - 10pm on Saturday and Sunday. Closed on Tuesday.
Access: 8-minute walk from Asakusa Station on Tokyo Metro Ginza line.
Contact: +81 3-3841-6081
Embark on a wonderful gastronomic journey in Asakusa
As you can see, there is a variety of great food you can enjoy when you relish in the rich historical atmosphere of Asakusa. Asakusa is not just a place for cultural and history buffs, but also a wonderful place for foodies. Make sure you go with an empty stomach for your next visit to Asakusa so that you will be able to sink your teeth into all these yummy delicacies. Itadakimasu (enjoy your food)!