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Food Alleys/Night Markets and Food Courts?

We are going to Tokyo in a couple of weeks for five days. I've been reading chowhound posts for the last several days and I haven't come across any threads about food alleys/night markets and food courts.

One of our favorite things to do is graze and try all different sorts of foods while wandering around. Are there areas in Tokyo like the hawker centers in Singapore or the night markets in China? Our dream would be to visit a small alley or area teeming with food stalls like hot, fresh, and delicious ramen, yaki tori, etc.

Any leads would be greatly appreciated. THANK YOU!

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  1. Food stalls, night markets, street food - these aren't really a thing in Tokyo, although you might run into a few stalls at the big temple in Asakusa.

    Instead we have izakaya, where you can order lots of small individual food items from the menu along with your drinks. It's true that there are some alleyways filled with small izakaya, but even there you tend to settle in at one place for at least a drink and a few dishes before moving on.

    1. The prepared foods section of depachika, which are rather glamorous underground food markets of department stores, are good for grazing. They lack the gritty outdoor element and late hours but the food is very good.

      There is kind of a street scene in and around Ameyokocho south of Ueno. This is kinda as close to Tokyo gets to the rest of Asia for this sort of thing in a concentrated way...Tachnomi, which are standing bars are something to look into as these have perhaps the "urban" atmosphere you are looking for and are often found in bundles...There are many alleys and such throughout the city with small places tucked away, but without Japanese ability they might be tough to handle. Ebisu Yokocho (http://www.ebisu-yokocho.com/), which is right near Ebisu Station, is a modern retro-recreation of these type of alleys that might be more amenable to a foreign tourist.

      1. You could always spend a relaxing afternoon at Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari in Daiba. In between soaking sessions you can check out the "Edo period" food court, it's got 16 different restaurants. None of them are particularly good though, and they are all overpriced. Still a fun, relaxing time.

        http://www.ooedoonsen.jp/higaeri/engl...

        14 Replies
        1. re: od_sf

          Food alleys, hum, not really a tradition here. The only thing that came to my mind (besides shopping malls or highway resting areas ...) is the 'tachigui(standing bar)'. There is some specialised in 'horumon' in Shinjuku 3 chome, and in front of it there is wine bar Marugo for a stop. Or in Ginza, for Japanese grilled bamboo or soba karasumi, a place called Ginza Shimada. Or, beyond the outer market of Tsukiji on the side of the avenue, you have a series of standing shops, the best ones being the 'niku tofu' one and the 'cheek maguro roast donburi'.
          Ueno Okachimachi, is more like an Asian market, but I can't remember anything especially good !!

          1. re: Ninisix

            Thanks for everyone's input on this topic. Sounds like we will have plenty of grazing opportunities between the food basements, the standing bars, and the stalls outside Tsukiji.

            On a related topic (of walking around and eating, I suppose), is Gyoza Stadium worth it? The concept sounds fun, but not if all the gyoza are moderately good to mediocre at best.

            1. re: Ingrid Ingrid

              A note about depachika (which you called "food basements"), they are not meant for grazing. In Japan it's considered quite rude to eat while walking. If you're going to buy something to eat as soon as you buy it, you'd be better off to stand against a wall and eat it (although that would also be frowned upon by some--you should really find a place to sit). Depachika are meant for buying food and taking it home (though some vendors will have a counter at which you can order and eat).

              1. re: Ingrid Ingrid

                >Thanks for everyone's input on this topic. Sounds like we will have plenty of grazing opportunities between the food basements, the standing bars, and the stalls outside Tsukiji.

                Maybe it's just a question of semantics, but I wouldn't really consider any of these to be grazing opportunities, certainly not in the sense of a night market where you might purchase items from different vendors and assemble them into a meal to be eaten on the spot.

                As Plasantrin said, department store food floors are mostly set up to sell food to take home - typically there will be dozens of stalls selling prepared food that you can bring home to eat, and maybe three or four restaurant counters where you can sit and eat a meal of sushi or Vietnamese curry or whatever they happen to be serving at that counter.

                There are more sit-down stalls in Tsukiji Outer Market, but they're also basically restaurant counters where you can sit down and order a meal. And standing bars (which there seem to be fewer of every month) are quite casual, but they're basically izakaya without chairs - you stay put at your table and drink and eat what you order there, you don't wander around from shop to shop with yakitori skewers in hand.

                >On a related topic (of walking around and eating, I suppose), is Gyoza Stadium worth it?

                Again, there's no walking around and eating at Gyoza Stadium - it's set up with individual restaurant areas, although portions are small enough that you can probably try out two or three in succession. That said, some of the gyoza there is quite good, and many different gyoza styles are represented.

                1. re: Robb S

                  Yeah, I agree, in terms of walking around and eating out of your hand or at a central table like the Singapore hawker centers, the depachika aren't practical. But there are usually nearby public spaces with public tables where you can settle down and eat. I do this every time I'm back. The food at depachika really is, I think, one of Japan's specialties for eating so I think it is quite worth scouting out a location to settle first and then making the rounds. They will do small portion sizes. The good depachika are well-spread around town so there are multiple options....I personally never got into Gyoza Stadium. It was something to do on a Saturday when there was nothing to do.

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    Hmm, I guess I never noticed public tables anywhere. Are they generally inside the depachika, or outside on the street?

                    Thinking about a few of the depachika I frequent (Isetan and Takashimaya in Shinjuku, Tokyu FoodShow in Shibuya), I just can't imagine where you'd find one.

                    1. re: Robb S

                      Well there is a rooftop picnic area at the Takashimaya in Shinjuku, isn't there? I haven't been...But I usually find stuff outside the depachika. No, they are definitely not food courts. But in Ikebukuro, there is a public covered plaza with tables near the Tobu or Seibu (can't remember which)- like on the ground level. There was also some tables in the actual department store. In Shibuya, I think it was up in Mark City I took my stuff, but there might be tables in that other food hallish place across the street next to the Tokyo Mitsubishi branch- like to the left of the fruit shop. Can't remember what it's called but I think it is Tokyu something or other. And I found someplace in the department store at Mitsukoshi in Nihonbashi with tables...I think the takeaway I just want to leave is that depachika are good places to get lots of different good food. The intrepid traveler should be able to find someplace to consume whatever they pick up.

                      1. re: Silverjay

                        You're right about the picnic area in Times Square - I guess I'm pretty oblivious to public seating areas. But yes, depachika are well worth a visit, even if you end up bringing everything back to a hotel room.

                  2. re: Robb S

                    tachigui (standing bar) is more a rally stop, convenient and cheap ... and very local popular food !! For something popular, but quiet different from izakaya or other drinking places, tachigui have their own atmosphere and customers. I think they are worth a try.

                    1. re: Robb S

                      If Gyoza Stadium appeals to you then the Niku Yokocho (Meat Alley) might too.

                      http://www.shibuyayokocho.com/

                      As a disciple of the meat-ly arts I was always on the lookout for places like this and I think I went at least twice with coworkers since it opened. Our favorite place in there was Pig Pirates, one time I convinced the poor staff girl to let me wear one of their idiotic paper pirate hats for the evening and as it frequently did with my coworkers it got stupider and drunker from there (e.g. the basement 300 yen place around the corner, etc. etc.). No idea who the furriner in the shop page pictures is.

                      1. re: kamiosaki

                        Holy shit, I'm definitely going to this place next time I'm back.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          It's worth one trip at least. Yes it's almost in the middle of ganguro/spiky hair/pointy shoe central but we are all used to averting our eyes for short walks from Shibuya Station. I think there's a decent pool/darts place in the same building or next to it for afterward (if you want something respectable).

                          1. re: kamiosaki

                            According to the staff photo, I think they hired a few of those girls at the gyu-tan place.

                            1. re: Silverjay

                              Would be interesting to know whether this place is really a bunch of little independents (some of the kitchens looked a bit nasty) or whether some of the shops are fronts or test stores for larger chains.

              2. I think maybe the closest to a grazing experience that you'll find in Tokyo would be a shopping mall food court. The food court at the newly opened DiverCity Tokyo Plaza in Aomi is enormous, with dozens of different shops to graze from.