‘Below Deck’ Chef Rachel Hargrove Gives A Guide To Her Favorite Foods And Places To Eat In Tokyo, Japan

*Currently, travel to Japan for tourism and other short-term purposes is not permitted and according to the U.S. Embassy for Japan, there is no indication this is set to change in the short term.

The Omicron variant has all but canceled any immediate travel plans we might’ve had, but we can still dream can’t we? No really, we’re asking: can we still dream? Because we definitely need something to look forward to this year and so far 2022 just isn’t delivering.

Covid may be taking our ability to get out and see the world safely but it’ll never take away our lust for new sights, sounds, and experiences. To combine our longing for travel with the best comfort of all, good food, we reached out to Below Deck alum Chef Rachel Hargrove for a foodie’s guide to one of her favorite culinary destinations: Tokyo, Japan.

Chef Hargrove is no stranger to travel. Her job as a private chef on yachts takes her all around the world, and she’s definitely an expert when it comes to food. The chef not only attended the Culinary Institute of America, but she did her apprenticeship at the Michelin-starred Quatro Passi in Nerano, Italy, and spent time expanding her craft and picking up skills in Thailand, India, and Japan. When we reached out to Chef Hargrove and asked her for a guide to one of her favorite culinary destinations, she gave us a quick rundown of some of her favorite Japanese street foods, as well as neighborhoods that are guaranteed to provide a next-level experience — use her advice to plan your next trip (whenever that may be).

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What is your favorite Tokyo restaurant?

Sukiyabashi Jiro

Sukiyabashi Jiro. Three Michelin stars and omakase, only the freshest. Japan doesn’t chase Michelin stars they chase excellence — that’s why the food and experience is so different.

What district is a must-visit anytime you’re in Tokyo?

Tsukiji Outer Market

Tsukiji outer market, known for its famous Tuna auctions.

Where is your favorite outdoor area in Tokyo to explore? What should you do there?

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

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Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is my go-to park There are so many parks in Tokyo! I love strolling through the parks, people-watching is the greatest. Also the trees and flowers… even the birds. It’s breathtaking. There are so many places for food, each borough in Tokyo specializes in different things and each stall has these things that look like flags but actually represent what type of food they prepare.

What are your 10 favorite Tokyo street foods?

1. Takoyaki

Takoyaki are bite-sized balls of savory goodness, made from a wheat-based batter and cooked in specially molded pans at both streets stalls and tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

The balls are filled with tiny pieces of octopus, tempura, green onions, and pickled ginger, and fried until they are a delightful golden color. Watching the cook skillfully flip them with chopsticks is a mesmerizing sight, and almost as enjoyable as eating them.

2. Shioyaki

It may look like a simple ‘fish-on-a-stick’, but there’s more to shioyaki than meets the eye. The fish has been ‘salt-grilled’, a particular Japanese technique that sees the fish, usually heavily-salted mackerel, left to marinate overnight and then grilled over flames the next morning.

Be warned: shioyaki is super salty. But like similarly salty pork scratchings, it’s the perfect accompaniment to an ice-cold jug of beer.

3. Okonomiyaki

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A staple across Japan, okonomiyaki is a savory Japanese pancake made from whatever’s close to hand. The batter is commonly prepared with eggs, meat or seafood, vegetables, and cheeses, but ingredients vary widely.

The batter is poured on a griddle, flipped, and cooked on both sides. Then topped with a special sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes, seaweed flakes, and pickled ginger. In some restaurants you get to make your own, mixing the ingredients in a bowl and cooking it on a small grill in front of you.

4. Yakitori

Whether you’re coming home from a big night or a big match, you can always count on grilled meat on a stick to sort you out. Yakitori is the Japanese version, and while it is small and dainty, it does the trick.

Yakitori is grilled over a charcoal fire. Chicken yakitori is a firm favorite, but pork or beef is popular too.

5. Taiyaki

A fish-shaped waffle filled with red bean paste, custard, or chocolate. Made in specially manufactured molds, taiyaki is typically Japanese — designed to look as good as they taste. Warm, gooey, and very, very satisfying.

6. Yakisoba

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Tasty wok-fried noodles. Wheat noodles are stir-fried with pork and vegetables, seasoned with a special tangy sauce, and topped with the usual suspects of fish flakes, ginger, and mayo. Sometimes they’ll be topped with an egg. Some vendors offer them served in a hot dog bun.

7. Ikayaki

In Japan, nothing is quite as pleasing as the chewy texture of ikayaki — grilled squid on a stick. Served without tentacles, it is slathered in a sweet soy sauce and grilled over charcoal. Cooks often score aesthetic lines into the flesh

8. Dango

Popular during cherry blossom season, dango is a sweet Japanese dumpling made from mochiko, a glutinous rice flour. They are sweet, luckily, you get three or five per stick. Dango is eaten year-round, with different varieties eaten in different seasons.

Cherry blossom season, for example, sees the appearance of hanami dango, named after the blossoms and colored pink, white, and green to represent the flowers.

9. Yaki Tomorokoshi

Simple and satisfying, Yaki Tomorokoshi is the Japanese version of corn on the cob. Grilled over an open flame, the corn is slathered in miso, soy sauce, and butter, then served on a stick. It’s guaranteed to be the most delicious corn and it’s on a stick! That means yummy.

10. Yaki Imo

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A distinctly simple Japanese treat of a baked sweet potato served in a brown paper bag. Baked over a wood fire, the skin is pleasingly chewy, the inside soft and fluffy, and they taste… a little like caramel. Made from Satsuma-imo sweet potatoes, only found in Japan.

What are the five best destinations for street food in Tokyo?

Yanaka Ginza Shotengai (谷中銀座商店街)

Togoshi Ginza Shotengai(戸越銀座商店街)

Harajuku (原宿)

Amazing for people watching as well! Hello Kitty everywhere… I might secretly love Hello Kitty.

Nakamise Dori(仲見世通り

Ameya Yokocho(アメヤ横丁)

From a good breakfast spot to a morning activity, what is your favorite way to start a day in Tokyo?

A bowl of ramen

Always ramen! It was so yummy on the way to school I would always pass by the shop. I would put my Yen in and get my ticket and hand it to the guy. They would make it the way I ordered with scallion, raw egg, bok choy, noodles, and broth, Topped with Bonito flakes and togarashi.

Chef Hargrove
Rachel Hargrove
Chef Hargrove
Rachel Hargrove
Chef Hargrove
Rachel Hargrove
Chef Hargrove
Rachel Hargrove