Where to find Israeli food and culture in Tokyo
Bona fide Israeli food and culture exist in Tokyo. It just takes some foraging to find it.
Eat to your heart's content
“There used to be many Israelis in Tokyo years ago and we would spend every weekend together but many of them have left," says Neta Gefen-Hahne, an Israeli who has lived in Tokyo for 20 years.
"If you are looking for a real Israeli food experience, you need to go to Shamaim (tel. +81 (0) 3 3948 5333) in Ekoda. It’s the best.”
Tal Kitaoka, owner of Shamaim, says the authenticity of his food comes from recipes he’s cultivated from growing up in Tel Aviv.
His cozy second-floor restaurant in Ekoda Ginza, a neighborhood of narrow streets near Musashi University, welcomes diners of all nationalities.
“My customers are about 70 percent Japanese. After they eat my food they become intrigued by the culture and food of Israel and several of them have even gone on to visit,” he says.
The menu is filled with typical Israel dishes from falafel to schnitzel. Shamaim has an all-you-can-eat-deal for ¥2,100 -- Tal guarantees you won’t leave hungry.
A Kosher vegetarian restaurant
If you are looking for a quick and easy way to taste the food of Israel, you need go no further than King Falafel (tel. +81 (0) 3 5441 4700) on Sakurada-dori in Minami Azabu.
Five years ago, Rabbi Benyomin Edery and his wife Efrat from the Chabad House decided to bring Kosher food to the people of Tokyo.
This is the only place in Tokyo where you can get Kosher vegetarian food. The menu is small and based primarily around the much admired falafel sandwich.
“Kosher food is in high demand these days, however we make our food slowly -- every falafel is made to order so it is fresh and hot. We serve about 20 a day and our food is strictly vegetarian,” Efrat Edery says.
When asked about the addition of pickles to a sandwich that doesn’t ordinarily include them, she says, “My husband decided to add them to give the falafel a spicy kick.”
A fantastic discovery
Rachel Smookler, the interim rabbi at the Jewish Community Center (JCC, tel, +81 (0) 3 3400 2559) in Hiroo from 2008-2009, remembers the first week she arrived in Tokyo and her husband going out for a bike ride.
He called her excitedly to say she’d never believe what he found nearby. A restaurant named David’s Deli (tel. +81 (0) 3 5441 1211) that sold all his favorite foods.
He came home with a backpack filled with bagels, hummus, matzoh ball soup and rugelach.
Fumio Iwaya, the manager of David's Deli is proud of their tasty food.
“Our own bakery feeds us with fresh bagels, pita, and burekas daily, along with a whole range of desserts and cakes," says Iwaya.
"Our menu includes matzoh ball soup, Israeli homous, falafel and chicken schnitzel, along with Middle Eastern lamb chops, a variety of fishes and old traditional Jewish and Eastern European delicatessens,” she adds.
Finding the community via food lovers
They also have live music several times a month and you can email Fumio Iwaya at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the mailing list.
“It definitely takes more effort to be Jewish in Japan but if I were on the moon, I would find challah. Between the synagogue, the international supermarkets and my mother, I get by. You must make an effort to gather community which is a big part of being Jewish,” says Smookler.
“Whether it’s breaking fast after Yom Kippur or eating latkes at Chanukah or having a big passover sedar, many families can come together to form a new sort of family. The JCC is a great place to start,” Smookler adds.