There’s nothing wrong with chuuka cuisine (Japanese-style Chinese cuisine), Panda Express will forever be in our hearts and Yokohama really has it nailed. But with the flourishing Chinese community in Ikebukuro, it would be a shame not to take advantage of Tokyo’s truest Chinese flavors.
Here are three restaurants to introduce you to your next food tour destination for the most authentic Chinese food in Tokyo.
火焔山 新疆・味道 Kaenzan-Xinjiang
Uyghur cuisine may not be the first variety of cuisine that comes to mind when searching to satisfy your Chinese cravings, but if you’re a fan of Middle Eastern flavors it shouldn’t be passed up.
Uyghur are an ethnic minority group based in the western Xinjiang province with large communities outside of China in countries such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This Turkic group has perfectly melded Middle Eastern spices and Islamic practices with Chinese sensibilities.
Entering Kaenzan Xinjiang, expect to be welcomed by the warm atmosphere and powerful scent of spices wafting from the kitchen. Red in all shades is represented across the menu. Leaning toward a more typical image of Chinese cuisine are a variety of noodle dishes. The spicy and scallion heavy Uyghur-style stir-fried noodles topped with sesame seeds gives it that Uyghur spin that makes it a must-try. Lamb is also in abundance, with notable dishes including spicy lamb hoof and Xinjiang-style lamb skewers.
If you’re overwhelmed by the selection, call Kaenzan Xinjiang a week before your visit. For ¥3,850 you can enjoy a Xinjiang Uyghur Cuisine Omakase Course!
1-20-11 Minamiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
海底撈火鍋 池袋店 Haidilao Hotpot –
If you’re looking to expand your shabu-shabu and nabe repertoire, Haidilao is the best place to explore Chinese hotpot.
This isn’t your average hotpot experience — Haidilao is a world-renowned chain with nearly 1,600 locations worldwide.
Typical hotpot broth options include mala, its blaze-red color a perfect indicator of its spice level. A tamer but equally pleasing herbal mixture is the pork bone broth that is sure to please fans of tonkotsu ramen. Don’t worry if someone in your group has allergies or dietary restrictions — everyone can share or order separate broths. After ordering, head over to the seasoning station to combine a variety of pastes and spices to add extra flavor to your personalized meal.
Haidilao has a great variety of thinly sliced meats to choose from – including Kobe beef and specially seasoned lamb. There’s no shortage of seafood either, including the all-popular Chinese fish balls, chewy and packed with flavor.
A visit to Haidilao is also the perfect opportunity to try ingredients less popular in Japan but widely enjoyed in Chinese cuisine, such as wood-ear mushroom (kikurage in Japanese) — which is black with a slick texture and light flavor profile to complement strong seasonings — or a side of sliced pig ear. You also may be tempted to grab a can of beer or try some Shaoxing wine, but you’ll find other classic hotpot beverages in the soft drink section as well. Try the sweet and refreshing Hainan coconut milk or the plum juice — an unexpectedly rich drink that is powerfully smoky.
1-21-2 Minamiikebukuro, Toshima-ku, 5th floor
撒椒小酒館 サンショウサケカン Sanshou Sakekan
Sichuan cuisine, sometimes written Szechuan or Szechwan, has experienced a boom in global recognition. Hailing from the province famous for being the home of the panda, this cuisine is known for its dried chili peppers and numbing peppercorns. But don’t fear, If spice doesn’t sit well with you, there are a number of other enticing options as well.
Entering Sanshou Sakekan isn’t as straightforward as one might assume. Facing the Nissan building, take the staircase on the left until you reach the 4th floor. Yes, you may face obstacles such as stacks of boxes or cleaning equipment, but do not let this deter you. Once you open the heavy door, you’ll be transported to a bright, frenetic environment with attentive staff and occasionally a DJ, or at least Chinese and English language music videos projected onto the wall.
Century egg and beef with green pepper would be a strong start on your journey at Sanshou. Century egg is known for its “ammonia” flavor profile that comes from the process of preserving the egg in clay. If that doesn’t tempt you, I highly recommend “drooled chicken”, more frequently rendered as “mouth-watering chicken”. It’s a cold, juicy chicken plate that is so delicious it was honored with the name “mouth-watering chicken” amongst all the chicken dishes.
For your main course, you’ve got your pick of grilled skewers, collagen-rich pig trotters, stir fries and the infamous stinky tofu. If everything on the menu appeals to you, don’t hesitate to try one of their many course menus with all-you-can-drink service.