What to Eat in Tokyo if You Want a Break from Japanese Food Mandy Voisin October 23, 2019 Asia, Food & Drink, Personal Travel Essays Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of Japanese food. Number one, die-hard, sushi-loving, fish-eating, mocha-noshing fan. I find the food in Japan incredibly diverse, interesting, and oftentimes, even cute. Yes, they serve a lot of fish – but even for my fish-hating husband, there are plenty of options, including ramen, yakitori, tonkatsu, and more. Spend a couple of weeks anywhere though, and you might be craving something a little different. By our sixth breakfast of miso soup and sticky rice in Tokyo last spring, we decided we needed a change. And because Japanese food is so diverse once we started looking, we actually found plenty of options. While we could easily have found Western restaurants with a quick Google search, we didn’t want to give up Japanese food entirely. As a self-proclaimed foodie, I hate to miss out on an opportunity to eat authentic food in the country I’m visiting, even though a quick stop to McDonald’s or Subway would be quicker and cheaper. We just wanted to branch out from what we typically saw from street vendors and some of the more highly ranked restaurants around us. What we discovered as we began our search for something different in Tokyo, was that a lot of the Western foods we were seeking out actually are served regularly in Japan. They’re just often served with a twist Our Favorite Western Foods in Tokyo Pancakes Take their pancakes for example. In the United States I’ve come to expect pancakes to be somewhat flat, often sourdough, riddled with tiny holes and served alongside warm maple syrup. The pancakes in Tokyo however, are fluffy, almost like a souffle, made by beating eggs and whipped egg whites until they tower, almost like a huge English muffin. They aren’t served with maple syrup but instead topped with cream, caramel, and chocolate sauce along with fruit and nuts. To me, they tasted more like a dessert than a breakfast food – an eggy dessert, but delicious nonetheless, and a nice change from all of the miso. We started at Gram Kichijoji. They have a gorgeous “Premium Pancake” that was like a surprise in every bite (especially since we couldn’t read the menu.) The first tier was classic and fruit-topped. The second had the texture of a chocolate bar. Crunchy and sweet, sandwiched between cream. And when we cut into the third, a hot egg oozed out surrounded by hollandaise sauce wrapped into the pancake. I can’t remember the last time I was surprised by a new food like that. It was absolutely delightful. We also hit up Burn Side St. Cafe for dessert while in Harajuku. Their tiramisu pancakes with a side of hot chocolate were the ultimate for my sweet tooth. And because we hadn’t had enough by the time we left, we also went to Flippers, which has unique items like pancake pies and souffle pancake pudding. A must for any visit to Tokyo. Pizza The Japanese approach to pizza is similar – the same, with a twist. Okonomiyaki is made with eggs and flour – tasting more like an omelet than a pizza, since you’re missing the chew of the crust. The pork, which is almost never served on pizzas in the United States, was our favorite topping and was smothered in American mustard and mayonnaise. You can also find Neapolitan-style pizzas in Japan – but the toppings cater to Japanese taste buds, and while we were skeptical at first, we actually ended up loving some of the flavors. In the United States, a barbecue-chicken pizza is pretty much a staple on every menu’s list of “specialty pizzas”. Japan’s answer to that is the teriyaki pizza, with chicken marinated in teriyaki sauce or soy sauce, and served with seaweed and corn. Also featured on the menus we found were squid ink pizza, Natto pizza (pizza made from fermented soybeans) and mentaiko, or cod roe, a salty fish. But for all of you Western-pizza lovers, there is usually a pepperoni or at least a cheese-only option too. Our first pizza visit was to Seirinkan. Make sure you make a reservation because this is some of the most famous pizza in Japan for good reason. There were no weird flavors to be had here – just Margherita and marinara, but for our first visit, that was fine with us since we were really craving something traditional. Savoy Azabujuban has a fish of the day they often top their pizzas with. And for me – that really hit the spot. But my husband preferred Pizzakaya, with their garlic fry pie, and Yupanqui peppercorn pizza. Burgers No list of American foods in Japan would be complete without an overview of America’s (and my husband’s) favorite: hamburgers. Truth be told, by the end of our extended stay in Japan we were craving a good old-fashioned burger with fries. But we had a few rules for ourselves. First, it couldn’t be McDonald’s. (I feel it’s only fair to note that we eat at McDonald’s in nearly every country we’ve visited, often for convenience.) That being said, we felt that an American chain couldn’t do the Japanese food justice. Second, it couldn’t be “fast food” in the traditional sense. We loved what we found! We started with Freshness Burger – partly because we liked the name and it was close to our hotel. My husband ordered the traditional, no-fuss, classic cheeseburger. I opted for the veggie gyoza burger. Both came out on a pretty traditional looking bun, but with an orange hue that I later found out was because they are made with pumpkin. My husband ended up finishing all of his and going back to order the same burger I had because it was so good. Who knew? We also swung by Dom Dom Burger, since we were near it and it was well-reviewed on Yelp. It could be considered fast food, but it was actually a pretty decent burger. Our one critique is that the bacon wasn’t quite cooked enough – something we’ve run into in several countries, and the crab burger looked a little scary, though we weren’t brave enough to try. Our Favorite Western Restaurants in Tokyo And if the American food with a “twist” isn’t resonating with you on your visit to Tokyo, there are plenty of Western restaurants that serve strictly American food or an American menu alongside a Japanese menu. We ate at a few that are worth mentioning. Sarabeth’s – This New York City landmark is a favorite of mine and although it is very “Western” it did not disappoint. You may need to arrive early to get a seat but it’s worth it for their eggs benedict and pancakes (which are not fluffy, but still amazing!) Park Hyatt New York Grill – We splurged on our last night in Tokyo and I don’t regret it for a minute. I will be dreaming about those crispy duck fat fries for the rest of my life. At the towering top of the 52nd floor, the grill looks out on seemingly all of Tokyo. Famous for its feature in the cult-classic “Lost in Translation”, you will actually be transported by one bite of their Hyogo Kobe Sirloin, which you can only find in its pure state in Japan. It is not exported. I can’t remember a more magical dining experience. It’s a must-visit, a place I dream about going back to, for the ambiance, the energy, and especially – the food. Smokehouse – The smell wafting from the outside alone will stop you in your tracks as you traipse through Harajuku. We stumbled upon this gem and then checked Yelp and then quickly went inside to secure a table. You can find pizza, burgers, and bbq of course on the menu, as well as a beautifully designed beer pairings chart. We live in the south, and let me just say, their burnt ends can compete with the best of them in the USA. It might seem strange or even sacrilegious to some travelers to seek out non-Japanese foods in Japan. But after an extended time abroad, sometimes you just need a palate cleanser – and sometimes, you just need a taste of home. I think about the gyoza, ramen, and sashimi I consumed in Tokyo regularly. But I don’t feel bad about the fact that we branched out, as it were, to some more traditional (but still Japanese!) flavors. It turns out, I really like teriyaki chicken on my pizza. Pancakes are pretty good with nuts and caramel. And there’s nothing quite like biting into a burger dripping with a wasabi ketchup. Let us know if we missed anything. We’re hoping to return to Tokyo, and we’re always up for something new!