Street food in Asakusa: Indulge in culture and cuisine

One of the most iconic locations in Eastern Tokyo is Asakusa, largely cited as the main hub of Tokyo’s “Shitamachi.” Shitamachi refers to one of the two major historic districts of Tokyo, and the name, translating to “lower town,” is derived from it being the lower half of the city towards the bay.

Sensoji Temple, Asakusa

Sensoji Temple, Asakusa

@Wikimedia

Making its rounds around social media feeds as of late, Asakusa Unana specializes in a traditional Japanese favorite: unagi, or freshwater eel. A staple of the Japanese diet from the Edo Period, regardless of social class of that time, the dish is largely synonymous with Japanese cuisine to this day. Unagi Kabayaki is served charcoal grilled and glazed with a special sauce and served over rice, the dish is savory, sweet, and meaty with slight fishy notes.

At Asakusa Unana, the beloved dish is remixed and repackaged, with the classic, grilled eel cooked tender and plump and served atop a yaki-onigiri, a rice ball slathered with the same sauce and grilled, creating charring and introducing a smoky flavor. The combination is as appealing to the eye as it is to the taste buds! For those looking for a whole meal, a traditional unajuu (eel served atop a bed of rice in a box) is available as well.

Unagi yaki-onigiri, Asakusa Unana

Unagi yaki-onigiri, Asakusa Unana

Joshua Mueda

Asakusa Unana

Asakusa Unana

Joshua Mueda

Asakusa Unana

Asakusa Unana

Joshua Mueda

Traditionally, a curry pan is a fried piece of bread with a Japanese curry paste in the center. A classic umami bomb of a snack for many, but Tokyo Curry Pan does a few things to differentiate themselves from the norm. 

First off, the aroma emanating from the storefront hits passersby with prominent notes of truffle, as truffle oil is a unique addition to the store’s signature offering. Also noteworthy is the addition of panko bread crumbs on the outside of the curry pan and the preparation of the bread being baked rather than fried. The texture is doughy, and the curry filling is nice and complex, with a faint note of truffle that perfectly compliments the flavor without being overpowering.

Tokyo Curry Pan

Tokyo Curry Pan

Joshua Mueda

Tokyo Curry Pan

Tokyo Curry Pan

Joshua Mueda

Tokyo Curry Pan

Tokyo Curry Pan

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The plain jane melonpan at Kagetsudo is the most representative form of the treat possible, presenting the attributes of the snack at their best: white bread with a nice firm outside and fluffy, airy inside that is contrasted with crumbly cookie on top. For those wanting a bit more, Kagetsudo also offers melon pan filled with varying flavors of whip cream, as well as melon pan filled with matcha, vanilla, or seasonal soft-serve ice cream.

The plain melon pan goes for a modest ¥280, ones filled with whipped cream go for ¥600, and ones filled with soft-serve are ¥680. Kagetsudo also sells desserts such as kakigori (shaved ice) with a number of toppings, float drinks, and more!

Original melon pan at Kagetsudo

Original melon pan at Kagetsudo

Joshua Mueda

Cream stuffed melon pan at Kagetsudo

Cream stuffed melon pan at Kagetsudo

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Kagetsudo, Asakusa

Kagetsudo, Asakusa

Joshua Mueda

While the prototypical serving of individual takoyaki balls keeps things classic, the shop’s signature tacosen is likely the poster boy offering, and, in a way, creates a double-entendre meaning for the word “taco.” The tacosen is two pieces of freshly cooked takoyaki placed into a shrimp cracker, complemented with sauce and garnishings, then folded over, creating something reminiscent of a taco found in Mexican cuisine. The soft, almost pudding-like texture of the takoyaki contrasts with the crispiness of the shrimp cracker and allows for a fun, new way to eat the iconic Japanese street food. Seven pieces of takoyaki served in typical fashion go for ¥700, while the tacosen is ¥600. There are also offerings,such as the fried wagyu croquette for ¥300. Customers can eat inside the store or take it to go. There’s usually a bit of a line, but it tends to go by fairly fast. 

Tacosen at Asakusa Taco Taco Brothers

Tacosen at Asakusa Taco Taco Brothers

Joshua Mueda

Asakusa Taco Taco Brothers

Asakusa Taco Taco Brothers

Joshua Mueda

Though it is a far cry from traditional Japanese food, a food tour in Asakusa is seldom complete without a serving of carbs from Frites Bruges. As per the name, Frites Bruges specializes in Belgian style french fries (Bruges being a major city in Belgium). Thick cut with varying shapes and patches of potato skin still on, the hands-on approach to the shop’s golden, salty morsels of umami is very apparent.

Just as much a calling card of the shop as the fries themselves, the array of complimentary sauces is impressive, but may also cause a bit of indecisiveness when ordering. There are 9 standard mayonnaise sauces, including a classic mayonnaise, garlic aioli, and honey mustard mayonnaise, along with more Japanese-esque sauces such as mentaiko mayonnaise and shichimi mayonnaise. There are also a few premium sauces and non-mayonnaise sauces available, meaning there’s something for all palettes! 

Wash down the indulgent serving of fried potatoes with one of the signature drinks offered by Frites Bruges, including the Seto Inland Sea Lemonade and Peach Lemonade! There are three main serving sizes: “tall” at ¥540, “grande” at ¥640, and then a tray full of fries at ¥890. Additional sauces can be ordered for a small additional charge. Be mindful that the shop only accepts cashless payments!

French Fries at Frites Bruges with aioli

French Fries at Frites Bruges with aioli

Joshua Mueda

Frites Bruge, Asakusa

Frites Bruge, Asakusa

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Though it is often eclipsed by its more established cousin of a dish, okonomiyaki, monja is one of the few Japanese foods that sees its full origins within Tokyo. It was invented on Tsukishima Island, which remains the most popular and reputable place in the nation’s capital to go out and eat the dish. Much like okonomiyaki, monja is a batter-based dish with mix-ins that is cooked upon a flat grill called a teppan in Japanese. However, it has a more molten texture and is typically scraped off the grill to be eaten. Not something typically “street food” in nature, but at Asakusa Monja Croquette, the staple Tokyo cuisine can be held and eaten in hand!

Asakusa Monja Croquette

Asakusa Monja Croquette

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Monja Croquette

Monja Croquette with yakisoba

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Monja Croquette

Monja Croquette

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