The Japanese phrase shokoyoku no aki, the fall appetite, brings to mind the bounties of the harvest such as chestnuts, mushrooms, potatoes, pumpkin, grapes and pears. But perhaps the phrase should be shokoyoku no Akiba, or the “hunger of Akihabara,” Tokyo’s most unique and possibly its best undiscovered gastric destination.
The influence of otaku is, of course, there in dishes from the gourmet to the grotesque. Maniacs frantic to purchase limited goods need quick, abundant, high-calorie, cheap food and often eat standing in lines or groups. This avoids the awkwardness of solitary sit-down dining. The imbedded culture of creativity and accelerated information sharing means a market ripe for experimentation to capture popular and media attention. Tourism and development in the area has accentuated the gentrified and gimmicky sides.
The must try dish of Akihabara is a humble one that has become synonymous with the local maid cafe boom: omelet rice. It is overpriced at 1,000 yen (plus 500 yen for seating), but then there is the service. The best is @home café and their Hiyoko-san Bowl, a.k.a. “Moe Omu Rice.” Heavily spiced rice is topped with a soft-cooked omelet that is cut open and spread as a pallet for the maid to write a message in ketchup.
If dining on foot is agreeable, there is the 270 yen canned oden” (Japanese stew) from Chichibu Denki’s vending machines. The origin myth has it the owner imported the idea from Japan’s north country in the 1990s thinking otaku waiting cold mornings for store or idol events could stay warm. Oden-kan, as it is called, is now so popular that Chichibu reports earnings of $850,000 a year from two vending machines and has starting carrying a variety of canned oden, yakitori, ramen, soups and even puddings. Oden is a racket – there is even competitors offering curry oden and “Oden-kan-chan” souvenirs. Similarly, Satake Corporation serves up souvenirs emergency rations, packet food and unique culinary inventions that play into the military otaku fantasy.
Another fantastic choice is tsundere rice. Tsundere, or “snub and melt,” is otaku slang for someone who is mean or insensitive but has kind intensions. For the gourmet rendition of the taste, a rice bowl covered in a smorgasbord of sliced, raw meats is liberally topped off with both cool cream dressing – the figurative melting – and wasabi – the snub. All that, and a hardboiled “golden egg” (literally, it’s painted) for 787 yen.
Desserts are abundant in Akihabara, from apple croquette (140 yen) to moffurutan, a puffy white waffle made out of mochi, a sticky Japanese rice cake. It is surprisingly cheap (250 yen) and edible, though a touch bland, thus the plentiful topping choices. A standout is cream and azuki, Japanese sweet red beans. Right next door is Akiba Noodle Sakura, which boasts 400 types of instant noodles gathered from across Japan and available for preparation in the hip postwar 1950s setting. Their claim to fame is the ”incredible transforming ramen,” which changes from tonkatsu to tonkatsu soy sauce noodles when a packet is added to the hot water. Yes, the packet is probably soy sauce, but most chose to be blissfully ignorant. For 180 yen take out and 310 yen prepared in store, regulars can afford that luxury.
For something more substantial, Tokyo’s most authentic cheese hot dog, a real American hotdog overflowing with cheese crispy baked onto the bun and served with pink lemonade and potato chips, can be had for 850 yen at Café Moco. Alternatively, chiocciol@pizzeria in the UDX Building has some of the best Italian oven-baked pizza around as a 980-yen lunch set.
The nearby Akiba Ichi food court boasts the Akiba Burger, a 22-centimeter tower of all-beef burger for 1,890 yen, and Akibayaki, a 30-centimer wide slab of Osakan okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza). Truly an eclectic and over-indulgent treat worthy of the Akihabara label. But like the rest of the town these days, the price – 2,980 yen – is a bit too rich for many an otaku’s taste.
Mitsuwa Building 6-7F, 1-11-4 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo-to, 101-0021
3-12-15 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo-to 101-0021
3-7-5 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo-to 101-0021
3-6-9 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo-to 101-0021
3-1-2 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo-to, 101-0021
3-15-6 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo-to 101-0021
Akiba Noodle Sakura
3-15-6 Akibako Tower 2F, Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo-to 101-0021
1-12-2 Shimura Musen Building, 1F, Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo-to 101-0021
4-14-1 UDX Building Akiba Ichi 1F, Soto-Kanada, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo-to 101-0021
Burger Café Asyl
4-14-1 UDX Building Akiba Ichi 2F, Soto-Kanada, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo-to 101-0021
4-14-1 UDX Building Akiba Ichi 3F, Soto-Kanada, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo-to 101-0021
EDITOR’S NOTE: As of writing, both Dragon Ice and Akiba Noodle went out of busines