Shibamata Taishakuten Sando is a 200-meter road that leads up to Shibamata Taishakuten Temple. It is filled with street food stalls and little shops. Most of these shops have retained a traditional character and feature authentic wooden signboards that make this street one of the most beautiful in Tokyo.
As a foreigner it can be a bit overwhelming to decide what to eat on this street. It is pleasant to just choose whatever you see that is visually attractive. However, I felt after my first visit that a bit of guidance can go a long way, especially to not miss out on the best things that this street has on offer. Please note I put the following foods in order of importance, not in the order that you are supposed to eat them.
1. Kusa-dango (Japanese mugwort sticky rice dumpling)
If you only eat one thing, make it kusa-dango. Kusa-dango became popular here because it was a weed that used to grow plentiful in this area. Shibamata used to be very rural, far away from Tokyo. In the vicinity of the temple there was nothing but open fields. Kusa stands for Japanese mugwort and it gives a slight bitter taste. That is why it is often served with anko (red bean paste) to make it sweet.
One kusa-dango at Yoshinoya.
There is quite some variety between the kusa-dango offered at the shops on this street. My main recommendation is the one at Yoshinoya (see number 1 on the map below this article), freshly hand made kusa-dango with a deep rich mugwort taste topped with anko (sweet red bean paste) to sweeten it up. Available individually or in a box with 4 or more. Other interesting ones include the one at Kameya-honpo, which has kusa-dango on a stick with less mugwort or at Toraya, the famous store from the Tora-san movies that has a special menu on weekends with fried kusa-dango and nori seaweed.
Price: JPY 54 for one (summer 2017)
Yoshinoya shop name in Japanese: 吉野家
Kusa dango in Japanese: 草団子 or 草だんご
2. Kuzu-mochi (Japanese arrowroot rice cake)
Kuzu-mochi is one of those traditional Japanese sweets that is not really known outside of Japan. Kuzu-mochi are as the name suggests some sort of sticky ‘mochi’ cakes, but made entirely with kuzu powder, sugar and water. Kuzu powder is made from kuzu, also called Japanese arrowroot.
A plate of kuzu-mochi at Takagiya.
You can find the kuzu-mochi at about as many places as the kusa-dango, making it in my opinion the second most popular street food in Shibamata. I suggest to get them at Takagiya, Kameya-honpo or Ishii. At Takagiya they have a large dining room that looks pretty neat, mostly regular tables, but they also have a tatami area. They have a whole wall of photos that is quite interesting. If you want to eat the kuzu-mochi you will have to “eat in”.
Price: JPY 500 for one plate (summer 2017)
Takagiya shop name in Japanese: 高木屋
Kuzu-mochi in Japanese: 久寿もち
3. Dorayaki: pancakes to go
A dorayaki is made of 2 small pancake pieces with a filling inside, traditionally red-bean paste (sweet azuki beans). On this street at Ishii you can get them freshly made. They have 4 types: anko no tora (the traditional one with azuki red beans), sakura no tora (with pickled sakura leaves), rakudora (red beans and whipped cream) and aisu no tora (red beans with vanilla and green tea ice cream). This shop has also other types of more western-style pastries. The dorayaki are called tora, as a homage to Tora-san, the main character in the otoko wa tsurai yo movies. Ishii was established in 1862 as a sweets and Japanese pickles shop. Their kuzu-mochi is also pretty good.
Anko no tora from Ishii.
Price: JPY 190 for one (summer 2017)
Ishii shop name in Japanese: い志い
Dorayaki in Japanese: どら焼き
4. Hand-grilled senbei (Japanese crackers)
I was initially not planning to include senbei in my overview as you can get senbei almost anywhere, and there are more prominent senbei shops at other places in Tokyo. However, there are three pretty good senbei shops on this street: Asanoya, Kanekoya and Tachibanaya. All three offer hand-grilled senbei and are featuring the classic glass ball containers to store the senbei. Out of these three, Kanekoya is the largest and most beautiful with a large wooden signboard above the storefront and is about 100 years old. The second largest is Tachibanaya and is over 100 years old.
Senbei collection at Kanekoya.
There are a lot of different types these days, but the traditional ones that are there since the beginning:
- Soy flavour (しょうゆ): the classic senbei.
- Sesame flavour (ごま): with small sesame attached to it.
- seaweed flavour (青のり): with nori.
I am personally not a fan of the new flavours such as the one with sugar (zarame) or the very spicy ones (togarashi). There are about 20 different types of senbei to choose from. I’d recommend though to go for the plain soy flavour! I found some more interesting flavours though such as miso flavour. Kanekoya and Asanoya also sell a special Tora-san senbei in honour of the famous movie character that made Shibamata famous.
Price: starting from JPY 50 for one (summer 2017)
Kanekoya shop name in Japanese: 金子屋
Senbei in Japanese: せんべい or 煎餅
5. Unajū (eel in a box)
My last recommendation is not street food, but will require you to sit down and have a proper lunch (or dinner). There are no less than three restaurants on this street serving Unajū (grilled river eel over rice served in a lacquered box). Kawachiya, Tanakaya and Yebisuya, all three beautiful old restaurants. Why is this a hot spot for Unajū? It’s all because of the nearby river that used to be full of eel. That is no longer the case now, but the restaurants, specialized in river fish have stayed.
Kawachiya shop front.
The eel in the Kanto region (Tokyo region) is steamed before it is grilled. It is very easy to eat as bones are removed. The flavouring of the eel is done with special soy-based sauced. Sanshō (Japanese pepper) can be added for extra flavouring. Out of these restaurants, Kawachiya is the oldest, its roots go back to 1770, with the fish restaurant being established in 1778. This restaurant is also beautiful inside, but that also means that this restaurant is rather pricey, but the price level is the same as Yebisuya (both JPY 2800 for regular Unajū). I did not yet visit Tanakaya.
Price: JPY 2800 for one Unajū, please note they have other cheaper things as well (summer 2017)
Kawachiya shop name in Japanese: 川千家
Unajū in Japanese: うな重
List of shops to look out for
This is a list of the 19 shops on Shibamata Taishakuten Sando where you can eat and their main item(s). Many of these shops also offer lunch and dinner, while the front is focused on the street food.
- Kameya-honpo (亀家本舗): Kusa-dango and kuzu-mochi (arrowroot cake). They also have seasonal dango: sakura dango (in spring) and chestnut dango (in autumn). Established in 1927. Closed Wednesdays.
- Kawachiya (川千家): Specialized in grilled eel (unajū). Over 200 years history. No closing days.
- Takagiya-rouho (高木屋老舗): Kusa-dango, yaki-dango (grilled dango), iso-otome (dango with nori). Also available: oden, anmitsu, kuzu-mochi, tokoro-ten and more. No closing days.
- Tanakaya (たなかや): Yanagawa (loach boiled in pan) and unajū (grilled eel and rice in lacquered box). No closing days.
- Monzen-Toraya (門前とらや): Kusa-dango, yaki-kusa-dango (grilled kusa-dango), kuzu-mochi and more. The famous place from the Tora-san movies. Established in 1945. No closing days.
- Funabashiya (船橋屋): Kuzu-mochi, kuzu-mochi-iri-anmitsu (anmitsu with kuzu-mochi), tokoro-ten and more. This is actually a small chain with the main store in Kameido. No closing days.
- Uguisuan-Yabuchyu (鶯庵 やぶ忠): Ten seiro (Soba with tempura).
- Yamatoya (大和家): Ten-don (tempura on rice), kusa-dango.
- Yebisuya (ゑびす家): Unajū (grilled eel and rice in lacquered box). Inside the building is a Japan’s largest kumade. They also have a larger restaurant nearby.
- Yoshinoya (吉野家): Kusa-dango.
- Asanoya (浅野屋煎餅店): Senbei. Closed on Monday.
- Ishii (い志い): Kuzu-mochi, 50 different types of pickles, but I guess most popular are the dorayaki. Store has been in business for over 150 years (oldest wooden building in Shibamata).
- Kanekoya (金子屋): Senbei.
- Daitoku (大德): Shijimi (freshwater clam boiled in soy sauce)
- Tachibanaya (立花屋): Senbei.
- Matsuya no Ame (松屋の飴総本店): sekitome ame (cough candy), anko ame (sweetbean paste candy) and kinako ame (soybean flour candy). Shop opened here in 1926 (business started in 1868).
- Marujin (佃煮 柴又丸仁): Tsukudani (foods boiled in soy sauce). Closed on Monday.
- Monden (もんでん): Sweet-potato. Business started in 1967.
- Yoyogi (代々喜): Monaka (sweet bean-paste-filled wafers)
Before Taishakuten Sando starts there are also a number of interesting places, from yakitori (Haru), sweets (anmitsu and tokoro-ten at Kanan-tei) and karinto (Karyou Hanakomichi).