Hungry? I know where you can find some great Korean food in the heart of Tokyo. Have you ever heard of Shin-Okubo? It’s one stop from Shinjuku station on the JR Yamanote Line.
And trust me, it’s worth a visit. So much to eat. So little stomach space.
Despite what many believe, Koreatown in Tokyo doesn’t have a long history. It didn’t really become “Koreatown” until the 1990s. There weren’t many Koreans living there back in 1994. A few shops opened in the area to sell Korean food, and then more came. In the 2000s an explosion of interesting Korean dramas and music caused Shin-Okubo to boom into a mecca of all things Koreans.
Korean exchange students gravitated to living in the area while they commuted to colleges in Tokyo. One thing fed into another. Shin Okubo is unique to other Koreatowns in Japan since all its residents are relatively newcomers who showed up around the 90s.
Now business is booming as this is the place to go for a taste of Korea in Tokyo. This is a great stops for yummy eats.
By far my favorite reason to visit is for delicious Bingsu (팥빙수) which is shaved ice. I prefer it over Japanese kakigori which is chunkier and melts too fast in my opinion.
The Caesar Cafe in Shin-Okubo serves really high quality Bingsu for individual or for two people. The flakes are very fine and thin, just the way I like them.
Available only during the warm seasons. Worth every penny if done right.
Dak Galbi 닭갈비
Spicy Chicken Stir Fry. As yummy and unhealthy as it looks!
Dak Galbi is delicious. Sadly, you need two to eat it. All the Korean restaurants in Shin Okubo only serve for a minimum of two. This was a common problem when I lived in South Korea. They were mystified by the thought of anyone eating alone. Instant ramen was for the single person.
I am that weird person that doesn’t mind going to movies and restaurants alone. Company is great, but you can’t always get friends together who want to see that show or eat that meal.
Unfortunately, Korean restaurants have no understanding of individual-portion-sizes of Dak Galbi. Either bring a friend or eat for two. And they don’t do To-Go.
Kogo 감자 핫도그
A deep-fried, mozzarella-filled Kogo
One of the weirdest things to come out of South Korea are potato-encrusted corn dogs. They’ve been around for a couple years, yet seemed to have had an explosion of popularity in Shin Okubo all of the sudden.
The biggest mystery is why these exist. Just whyyyyyy?
Although tasty, this one upset my stomach. It tastes like a cheese-filled donut battered in grease. So heavy. I ended up throwing the last third away even though I hate to waste food. It’s good, but I think it’s best to share one with a friend.
커피 한잔 주세요. Kuhpi hanjan juseyo. Please give me a cup of coffee.
Too much? Or not enough?
Korean coffee is part of the magic of Shin-Okubo. The flavor is nothing to write home about, and you’ve probably tasted better elsewhere, but the design and presentation are amazing. Where else will you find your favorite Kpop stars displayed in syrup and foam milk on top of your latte.
The drinks are adorable and worth the experience.
With so much to eat, you’re stomach probably can’t take much more. If you have a little room left over, I recommend the spicy chicken.
Burns like fire as it goes down
The spicy chicken drizzled with cheese is superb, but unlike other dishes in Japan, the spice is not watered down. No, the bathe it in molten tabasco sauce before serving. Call me a wimp, but this had me crying. It burned with every bite.
Tasty, but it’ll give you fire-breathing powers afterwards.
My list barely scratches the surface of foods to try in Shin Okubo. These were my favorites. What about you? What’s your favorite Korean eats? Anything to add?