The top rice spots
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.
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.
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.
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.