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100+ Year Old Restaurants in Asakusa That Will Send You On a Time Journey

Asakusa is home to the Sensō-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple dedicated to Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, and one of Tokyo's oldest (dating back to the year 645) and most significant temples. It comes to no surprise that it is one of the most widely visited spiritual sites in the world, receiving some 30 million visitors annually. The Kaminarimon (雷門 "Thunder Gate") with its large red lantern and prominent statues, is probably one of the most photographed landmarks of Tokyo and Japan. Chances are, if this is your first time to Tokyo, this area will be in your itinerary.  After strolling through the temple grounds, saying your prayers, viewing the pagodas, and shopping for souvenirs and local sweets at Nakamise-dori, you probably will be in the mood for something more substantial than individually roasted rice crackers.  Since you are in one of the most historically rich places in Tokyo, you might be keen to try eating at one of these restaurants that date back to the Edo, Meiji, and Taisho eras. 

1. Kaminarimon Sansada 雷門 三定 (since 1837)

Kaminarimon Sansada's tempura via blogs.yahoo.co.jp

This now prestigious tempura shop started as a food stall that a man started right in front of his house 170 years ago. He deep fried small fishes caught in the Tokyo bay with sesame oil. Deep frying tempura in fragrant nutty sesame oil results in a crispy texture that is light and never soggy. They have since maintained their traditional methods and tastes. It is the distinctive smell of sesame oil that wafts out of the shop and attracts patrons local and foreign. Try their kakidon, a rice bowl topped with a generously huge tempura made of mix vegetable strips , shrimps, squid and scallops. Before you balk at the price (meals range from ¥1,385 to ¥9,300), remember that sesame oil is one of the most expensive oils available. 
Menu is available in English. 

Address: 1-2-2 Asakusa Taitou-ku, Tokyo
Official website: http://www.tempura-sansada.co.jp/
Telephone number: 03-3841-3400.
Access: 2 minute walk from Asakusa Subway Station, Exit 1.

2. Unagi Irokawa  色川 (since 1861)

Unagi par excellence via en.seeing-japan.com

This beautifully laid out box of plump Japanese eels dipped in a secret sweet sauce, grilled over high grade charcoal, and topped over fresh rice costs ¥4100. Still, the cost does not put off customers who queue outside  this small (only 12 seats available), old-fashioned restaurant long before it opens.  The unagi sauce is specially aged, achieving a flavor that is unlike any other unagi restaurant you will visit. Seven generations of shopkeepers have preserved the precise and rigorous methods of cooking this exquisite dish, which has garnered its own reputation. Japanese fiction author Dazai Osamu was said to frequent this restaurant. Order the standard sized meal (namimori) which comes with kimosui, a clear soup with nutritious eel liver. Note that the restaurant closes once they run out of eels.

Address: 2-6-11 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo
TEL:03-3844-1187
Access: 1-minute walk from Asakusa station Exit A1, Toei Asakusa line

3. Dozeu Iidaya どぜう飯田屋 (since 1902)

Pond loach soup via tabelog.com

Of all the restaurants in the list, this one is not for the squeamish. Their house specialty is small slippery  pond loach called dojo swimming in a nabe or hotpot. Pond loaches have been consumed for hundreds of years since they were abundant, cheap and nutritious. They were considered the source of stamina for the working class. Before you get put off by the hideous looks of this fish, it actually has no smell and a mild flavor.  Dozeu Iidaya's pond loaches are carefully selected and stewed whole (be careful and make sure to chew the fish bones thoroughly). There are also other more familiar looking items on the menu such as dojo kabayaki which tastes like the familiar grilled eel, as well as deep fried lightly battered dojo which looks more manageable to eat (the frying process shrinks the fish)The restaurant is currently run by the 4th generation of the Iida family. A nabe with unlimited supply of green onions costs ¥1650.

Address: 3-3-2, Nishiasakusa, Taitou-ku, Tokyo, 111-0035
Telephone: 03-3843-0881
Access: 2 minute walk  from Exit A2 of the Tsukuba Express Asakusa Station.

4. Kibun Zushi 紀文寿司  (since 1903)

Feast from the sea at Kibun Zushi via tabelog.com

Kibunzushi is one of the oldest sushi eateries in Asakusa.  The old shop interior details reveal its age: window frames that don't use nails and the cash register that has never been changed. Highly refined sushi offered at Kibunzushi starts with the careful selection of fish sourced from Tokyo Bay, Chiba, Kashima and other places. The seafood is kept fresh with cold water drawn from a well, then marinated in salt, vinegar and other special ingredients. Wasabi is freshly grated (not from a ready paste packet!), a feature of first class sushi restaurants. The chirashizushi (sushi rice topped with tuna, squid, eel, scallops, and white-meat fishes) pictured above costs ¥2,600. 

Address: 1-17-10 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Telephone: 03-3841-0984
Access: 2 minute walk from Exit 1 of Asakusa Subway Station

5. Namikiyabu Soba 並木藪蕎麦 (since 1913)

Flavorful soba via www.ambassadors-japan.com

If you love soba, this is the one restaurant you must go to. This restaurant's soba is handmade from 100% freshly milled buckwheat flour sourced mostly from Ibaraki Prefecture and occasionally from Hokkaido or elsewhere, depending on which buckwheat crop is more fragrant and excellent that season.  Namiki is the name of the street near Kaminarimon and Yabusoba is a major type of soba during the Edo Period which features a thick dipping sauce that is salty and has a strong soy sauce flavor. As such, only the tips of the noodles are dipped into the sauce, although the soba master insists that you can eat it however way you like.  It is this dipping sauce that you will find most remarkable compared to the hundreds and thousands of other soba shops. The recipe has been handed down through generations of soba masters and consists of a mixture of dried bonito boiled in water, soy sauce and sugar and allowed to age for days. Zarusoba is cold soba served on a woven bamboo tray and a cold dipping sauce like the one pictured above (costs ¥760). Kakesoba is soba in hot broth. Yamakakesoba is zarusoba topped with freshly grated mountain potato. Foreigners might want to exert caution when ordering this as they may not be used to the gooey sticky mess on the soba. When you finish your zarusoba, it is customary to add sobayu (the water that the soba was boiled in and is very nutritious) to the remaining dipping sauce to make a delicious broth to drink. The building looks new having been rebuilt in 2011  but it retains the appearance and style of the original building.  English menu is available. 

Address: 2-11-9, Kaminarimon, Taito ward, Tokyo
Access: 1 minute walk from Exit A4 of Asakusa Suway Station
Phone: 03-3841-1340

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3 comments

I just started a new job in Asakusa, so I'm excited to try some of these during lunch!

Lucky you. Happy gastronomic time travels!

History and food all in one...I love it!