Tokyobling's Blog

Eating in Tokyo Like The Locals Do

Posted in Places, Shops by tokyobling on July 2, 2015

One of the most daunting – and at the same time most interesting – aspects of travel is eating. The local cuisine can be both the curse and the blessing of any trip, a fabulous dinner can excuse the most boring city, and a terrible kitchen hovel can damn the finest resort spot in the world. I do not know how other people travel or how they eat when visiting Tokyo, but I was daunted myself. Having spent decades in Tokyo I am still slightly daunted by entering a new restaurant or trying out food and nothing I do seems to change this. I can only imagine how other (as nervous as me) travelers feel when visiting this country. While it is true that almost everywhere you go you are likely to get good food in the Japanese capital, tourists tend to be drawn towards the first floor establishments with the bright signs, photo menus in English and prices clearly marked! This, however, is not how locals eat out in the capital.

Today I had an errand in Shinagawa, which in the last few years seems to have attracted hundreds of times the number of tourists it had when I first visited many years ago. I saw scores of them, in small groups, families, couples, singles, young men that reminded me of myself, walking around by themselves with a camera and a guidebook in each hand. I started thinking about them, where do they eat, what kind of experiences do they have here? Passing through the station every restaurant I saw with even a barely understandable menu in English had at least a handful of foreign tourists seated inside. I thought I should write something about the other side of Tokyo eating that few tourists ever see.

Take this tiny neighborhood eatery for example, the Marusanshokudo (丸三食堂) in the Shimbamba district about 30 minutes walk from Shinagawa station (or three minutes from Shimbamba station). There is no sign, outside, not pictures and not a word in English or any other western language. I would forgive anyone for passing this kind of building (and there are tens of thousands of them all over Tokyo) and not understanding that there was a restaurant inside. If you can summon the courage to enter though, you will be lucky sometimes to even find a Japanese menu with prices. Sometimes there are just a few tables and a kitchen in the back. The Marusanshokudo has the menu written in Japanese posted on the wall, with everything from 50 to 600 yen. Restaurants like this would not be in business if they did not know what they were doing and Marusanshokudo has so far lasted over 80 years in this location! If you can read Japanese you can pick your favorites, if not you can just point at a few things with reasonable prices and hope for the best. The times I have had the courage to do just this I have always had interesting food – at best, a fabulous meal, at worst a cheap adventure. The Marusanshokudo however served up fantastic dishes followed by more fantastic dishes, even the simple edamame was superb enough to order in a second plate and the restaurant’s choice in sake (Japanese rice wine) was perfect for the season. Slightly chilled, sweet and fruity.

If you are ever in Shinagawa or Shimbabma, I recommend trying this place out, but these kind of mom and pop restaurants are absolutely everywhere in Japan, and almost always able to serve up a great meal, or at least an interesting experience far from the glossy chain store menus you see around the major stations. The address here is 2-12-11 Minamishinagawa Shinagawa Tokyo, 東京都 品川区 南品川 2-12-11 コーポマルサン 1F.

I am in no way a food snob and to be honest even the most glaringly obvious chain store cafes around the biggest tourists attractions of Tokyo almost always serve great food. Some people (like me) prefer to spend their few available hours traveling looking at dusty old statues in remote temples, for some people it is the opposite and I know many who travel only to try local food, some just want the experience of eating in a foreign country others are complete gourmands searching for the most obscure culinary experiences. It is all good.



12 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. valentina smoothie said, on July 2, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    looking forward to trying out hidden treasures in Japan. You are truly blessed to live in such a serene yet fast pace city. Great Post!


  2. amadl said, on July 3, 2015 at 4:40 am

    Last time, my traveL partner was so concerned about ‘halal’ and ‘safe’ food, so we had 3 out of 4 Lunches in Tokyo at Freshness Burger (-_-;)


  3. Madam Wanderlust said, on July 3, 2015 at 12:14 pm

    Thank you so much for this great post and recommending the Marusanshokudo. Cannot wait to try out japanese dishes there, though I don’t understand Japanese that good ^,^°. But because of this post, I really want to check this place out 🙂 thank you so much !!!!


    • tokyobling said, on July 6, 2015 at 7:54 am

      Thank you for the kind comment! I wish you luck! If it is any help, many Japanese too screw up their orders by mistake when they eat at unfamiliar restaurants! Take it as part of the adventure! (^-^)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. christiellen said, on July 3, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    My family (Mom and Daughter) have been to Japan twice. Each time we were a little leery about going into the neighborhood restaurants because our Japanese isn’t that great. There are two little joints right by the hotel we stay at and we pass them every day that we venture to Lawson’s. I always look in but never went in. We are planning on coming back next August/September so my daughter can tour some Universities and also to visit our favorite spots. I think I’ll have the courage to stop in at least one of those restaurants and check out the food. Thank you for posting this, it’s really got my mind going on checking some of the local places out.


    • tokyobling said, on July 6, 2015 at 7:57 am

      Hi! Thanks for the kind and interesting comment. It is always a challenge to try new restaurants, especially in a land as foreign and confusing as Japan! Still, it is very hard to make really big mistakes in Japan so be adventurous and have fun! I always find that the teishoku set are the easiest for beginners, if they serve any. 定食!(^-^)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Coal said, on July 9, 2015 at 8:20 am

    I still get a little nervous trying out new places too, alone at least. This place is actually about 2 minutes walk from my office, so I might give it a try. Any recommendations beyond the edamame?


    • tokyobling said, on July 9, 2015 at 9:15 am

      I wish I could remember all that I ate there! Everything that passed my lips was really good, so you are bound to find good stuff. I think they also do teishoku, should you feel less adventurous than hungry! (^-^)


  6. rudyhou said, on November 2, 2015 at 8:14 am

    i have always dreamt about the possibility to travel on my own around japan, visiting cities and rural areas and try out the many local small cafes/restaurants. too bad i don’t speak japanese 😦


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: