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The best rice joints in Tokyo

Our top Tokyo eateries specialising in that most essential of carbs

Rice is so deeply ingrained in Japanese culture that the word gohan (cooked rice) has come to mean a meal in the general sense. Once used as currency in feudal Japan, the staple grain can be consumed in manifold manifestations: as onigiri, senbei crackers, sake, mochi or on its own in a bowl, the sine qua non of any Japanese dish. Don’t go against the grain – get carbed up here. 

The top rice spots

Akomeya Tokyo

Tucked away in a quiet backstreet in glitzy Ginza, both floors of this shop and restaurant are entirely dedicated to the preparation, consumption and appreciation of rice. The shop is particularly impressive, stocking a whopping 6,000 or so items, including a variety of grains and paraphernalia, while the ground-floor restaurant offers one of the best set lunches in Tokyo.

The fabled kobachi-zen (¥2,192), served from 11.30am to 2pm, comprises a selection of eight small plates prepared using seasonal ingredients sold in the shop, accompanied by pickles, miso soup and a daily changing variety of rice prepared in an earthenware pot. Nestle next to Ginza’s ladies-who-lunch and work your way through the kobachi-zen: it’s essential that you take breaks between each plate to savour the delicately moreish rice. Don’t worry if you get carried away and polish off the bowl too quickly – you can ask for a refill free of charge.

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Ginza

Kome no Ya Meguro

The good folks over at Meguro’s rice-focused eatery Kome no Ya are seemingly unfazed by the superstition of opening an umbrella indoors, since the colourful joint is decked with oil-paper versions in full bloom. Read through the menu and you’ll agree that the choice of decoration is pretty appropriate: it’s raining rice. In addition to several varieties of plain rice cooked in a clay pot, the menu features Iwate chicken raised on – you guessed it – rice, plus a plentiful selection of drinks: sake, and wine and craft beer that incorporate Japan’s staple grain in some shape or form. And if you still haven’t had enough of the sticky carb after all that, go for the rice ice cream – the mochi-like texture is delightful.

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Meguro

Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku

Located right behind Sensoji, the capital’s oldest temple, Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku has survived earthquakes, redevelopments and a multitude of foodie fads.  Founded in 1954, Tokyo’s oldest onigiri specialist began serving rice balls when the grain was a luxury item in the austerities of postwar Tokyo and is still frequented by some of its original patrons, who now drop in with their grandchildren to enjoy delicately moulded balls of rice. Take your place at the counter, pick your choice of filling and watch the onigiri master envelop the ingredients in a bed of sticky rice before wrapping them up inside a thick blanket of nori.

We recommend trying the tangy shoga-misozuke (ginger pickled in miso soybean paste) and the umami-laden shiitake-kombu (shiitake mushrooms and sweetened kelp boiled in soy sauce), both at ¥270. The lunch set, available from 11.30am to 5pm Monday to Saturday, comes with two (¥660) or three (¥900) onigiri served in a wicker basket, accompanied by takuan (pickled radish) and a bowl of thick miso soup.

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Asakusa
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Onigily Café

Keeping the ball rolling in the 21st century, this hip neighbourhood hangout in fashionable Nakameguro serves up delicious onigiri with a variety of fillings like bonito flakes, ume plum, salmon and kombu, all for ¥167 a piece. While the amicable staff will be happy to pack your onigiri in a custom-fit box for when you’re on the go, if you’re not in a rush, you should settle in on the comfy lounge chairs and thumb through the coffee-table books before sinking your teeth into a warm, made-to-order onigiri.

The breakfast set – a choice of two onigiri, pickled cucumbers, miso soup and a drink – is a bargain at a mere ¥540, while salads from their deli counter, including boiled pumpkin with minced chicken (¥378), sweet and spicy potato (¥324) and spinach seasoned with sesame (¥270), have many devotees among the health-conscious residents of Nakame.

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Nakameguro

Ginza Matsuzaki Senbei

The venerable Ginza Matsuzaki Senbei has been turning out senbei rice cakes for over two centuries. Head upstairs to the second-floor café to enjoy their signature tile-shaped kawara senbei with a cup of tea.

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Ginza

Sake Scene Masufuku

Hamamatsucho’s Sake Scene Masufuku stocks a variety of cold and warm rice wines from local breweries across Japan. Their diverse lineup, curated seasonally by resident nihonshu expert and owner Yukari Yanaba, will impress even the most seasoned sake sommelier.

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Hamamatsucho
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Gekko

The rice cake specialist Gekko draws crowds with its popular kinako mochi, delightfully chewy mochi cakes coated in a powder of roasted soybean flour. If you’re lucky, you may be able to catch Horiguchi-san’s mallet in full swing: the mochi master does his pounding in-house, several times throughout the day.

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Arakawa

Try some oden

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