Your duas (prayers) have been heard: halal food has finally started going local in Tokyo, with a growing number of Japanese-style restaurants rolling out halal menus. No more relying on foreign foods while not being able to savour ramen, yakiniku or teishoku – with our dear city gearing up for the Olympics, more and more Tokyo eateries are attempting to cater to diverse dietary requirements, much to the delight of residents and visitors alike. Note that although the restaurants listed below have halal certifications for their ingredients or a specific part of their menu, alcohol may be served to customers who request it; as one owner put it, it’s virtually impossible to run a restaurant without boozy drinks in Japan.
1. Nishi-Azabu Hide
You’ll be able to transport yourself over a century back in time at this very refined ‘Edo-style’ restaurant, which also happens to be the first place to receive a halal accreditation from the Emirates Halal Center’s newly established Japan office (note that they still serve alcohol). In typical fancy washoku restaurant style, the walk to the entrance already preps you mentally for entering another world: to get to Nishi-Azabu Hide, you’ll need to climb two flights of stairs through a concrete-decorated building, before you suddenly pop out into a Japanese garden in front of the entrance – on the third floor.
The menu consists exclusively of eight-course set meals, including the Shabusuki, complete with dishes such as the ‘seasonal obanzai’, ‘morning-caught seafood creation’ and tempura, and the Ikiyoi (literally ‘imbibing’) in which the highlight is ‘the best Koshihikari hotstone rice in Japan’. We opted for the latter, and were indeed treated to a feast, both for the stomach and the eyes. Fresh seafood and vegetables, sourced from select farmers and fishermen from the Tokyo area (hence ‘Edo-style’), are used to draw out a very satisfying sense of umami. Two halal wagyu courses (one ‘premium wagyu’, one Kobe beef) were added to the menu in May 2017.
Our meal included sesame tofu with a pinch of wasabi, grilled and simmered seasonal vegetables brushed with soy sauce, delicate sashimi that was full of flavour (kudos go to the mackerel, served raw instead of the usual cured version), fatty skilfish (aburabozu in Japanese) that almost resembled char siu in form and depth of taste – even though there’s not a hint of pork to be found in the restaurant – and of course the hotstone rice, which was a bamboo okayu with salmon, salt, umeboshi and bonito flakes to add to taste. Everything was served and prepared with ultimate precision, and the staff are very friendly and knowledgeable – do have a chat with them (in Japanese) if you’re sitting at the counter.
In terms of drinks, although alcohol is served (try the sake pairing if you do drink), there’s also an extensive selection of soft drinks, including a very impressive list of exquisite green tea, served in… wine bottles. A meal at Hide doesn’t come cheap (dinners start from ¥8,000, without drinks, with the wagyu courses going from ¥15,000), but it’s a great culinary experience, and if you’re looking for an upscale place to celebrate or take any Muslim friends or guests to, it’s a very good option. Be sure to reserve in advance.
2. Tokyo Chinese Muslim Restaurant
It may be rather unimaginatively named, but this restaurant conjures up some extremely tasty Chinese food with a slight twist – it’s all completely halal, meaning that even the scrumptuous mapo dofu is served with certified beef mince rather than the pork-heavy variety you’ll get at most Chinese places in Japan. Their meat (mainly the beef) is sourced from both a halal-certified American company and a halal butcher in Saitama, and there’s a small prayer space on the premises as well. Alcohol is served, but needs to be ordered off the menu.
When we visited, the clientele was a good mix of Japanese and foreigners, while the extensive menu is in Japanese, Chinese and English to make ordering a tad bit easier for all comers. Definitely have the lamb skewers, which come richly seasoned with cumin and chilli (slightly spicy for a Japanese palate perhaps, but toned down from the originally fiery streetside version), the boiled dumplings with lamb and the aforementioned mapo dofu – all three made us feel as if we’d just been transported to Kashgar or Xi’an. As our previously Chinese-food-averse, non-pork eating dining mate put it: ‘If this is Chinese food, I’m a convert.’
3. Sumiyakiya Nishi-Azabu
Reopened after a month-long renovation in late March 2017, Sumiyakiya Nishi-Azabu is the go-to place for some very succulent halal yakiniku with a Korean twist. Our visit on a Wednesday night, a week after the reopening, wasn’t without hiccups – a tour group of 12 suddenly turned up with 18 people, meaning that we ended up having to wait outside for over 30 minutes despite having a reservation – but the food and value are good enough to make you somewhat forget any false starts (we’ll put it down to growing pains). You can order cuts of halal wagyu and side dishes à la carte, but it’s a much better idea to stick to their recommended ‘course’ menus.
We had their signature Sumiyakiya course set; for ¥4,000, you’ll get three different cuts of meat to grill, a generous salad, liberally filled bowls of homemade kimchi and beansprout namul, buchimgae (Korean pancake), fried rice, a side dish (croquettes on the menu, grilled, seasoned meat in reality) and, of course, salad leaves to wrap your meat in – in this part of town, we’d argue that is a rather good deal.
The marinated meat (halal wagyu) was perfectly seasoned, and their homemade kimchi (to ensure all ingredients are halal) and pancake also scored high points with our tasting team. The only downside was that the salad leaves were presented halfway through the meal, meaning we’d already devoured part of the meat before we could start wrapping properly.
Sumiyakiya’s clientele is a mix of locals and tourists, and alcohol can be ordered on request. The menu is set to change slightly into a more Japanese fusion-style yakiniku version in the coming few months, but Roger, the owner, assured us that the meat cuts and kimchi at least are here to stay. It’s known to be popular with tour groups, so with a mere 25 seats or so inside, we’d recommend making a reservation – and perhaps be prepared for a wait, especially until the post-reopening hype has died down.
4. Honolu Ebisu
Honolu is set down a sloped street right next to the end of the skywalk leading from Ebisu Station. The counter can seat six people if everyone squeezes, but luckily they also have some Japanese-style low tables set away for small groups in the loft. The main attraction here is halal ramen, made with ingredients certified by the MHC (Malaysia Halal Corporation) and with quite a few options to choose from. These include some more creative ventures – Tom Yum or Karaage ramen, anyone?
We tried their pak chee (coriander) ramen, which at first glance looked like a bowl filled only with ample amounts of the green leaf and a lone blossom-shaped carrot; luckily, broth, noodles and extra toppings were hidden beneath the forest. The chicken-based soup was very light and refreshing, and the combination with coriander gave the entire bowl a slight southeast Asian feel; taste-wise, it almost felt more like pho than ramen.
The fried chicken ramen, on the other hand, was topped with good-sized chunks of chicken (more pan-fried than deep-fried, although there was definitely a hint of flour) and had a nice depth to it. The broth was denser and heavier than you’d expect from your average chicken soup, and was closer in taste to a classic miso or tonkotsu ramen – albeit a non-haram version.
A special mention goes to their halal-certified Nikkoken gyoza, which are made with chicken and tofu. As self-declared gyoza aficionados, we ordered a plate each (who wants to share?), and with the prices very reasonable (ramen is ¥780-¥980, gyoza ¥580), it won’t even put a massive dent in your wallet to do the same.
In the evening, their menu expands to include takoyaki, sukiyaki and other more substantial dishes. Honolu have a few branches across the city and one in their native Osaka, but note that only the ones in Nihonbashi, Ebisu and Osaka serve a halal menu. There’s also a small praying corner tucked away in the loft. Whether you’re Muslim or not, Honolu are worth checking out for their slightly different take on ramen.
Halal wagyu, that mythical thing, actually exists – and it’s served up as shabu-shabu at Hanasakaji-san in Shibuya. The meat is sourced from Miyazaki in Kyushu, where one of the few halal butchers in the country works his magic on the beef before sending it to be served in rather tasty form here. The nondescript entrance (we walked straight past it) belies its interior, which is quite a bit more upscale; as is probably the case for most good shabu-shabu or yakiniku, come here only if you have a bit of cash to splash. The seating is a mix of private tables and a counter: either one is a good pick, although opting for the counter gives you the chance to see the chefs in action up close.
When we visited, there were two halal shabu-shabu courses: one small shabu-shabu set alongside a bento filled with a variety of dishes (tempura, seafood salad, grilled mackerel and more), and another with only shabu-shabu. The flavours were bang on (it’s hard to mess up shabu-shabu, to be fair, unless you extremely overcook your own meat), and portions were just right, although big eaters might want to order a bit extra. Sets go for ¥4,000-¥4,500 at dinnertime, while meals consisting of three or more courses are available from ¥8,000. No alcohol is served, and all non-halal ingredients are outlawed from the place. Whether you’re looking for halal shabu-shabu or just an upscale washoku dinner, Hanasakaji-san is a safe bet.
6. Sekai Cafe Oshiage
Following the 2014 opening and success of Asakusa’s traveller-friendly Sekai Cafe, the eatery expanded to now equally touristy Oshiage in June 2015. Just like the first branch, this outpost aims to attract particularly vegetarians and Muslim customers, with the café-style menu currently including soy-based karaage, Japanese curry and vegan desserts. Everything’s put together with 100 percent halal ingredients, and those looking for meat-free options will find plenty to choose from as well – our meat-eating tasting team was fooled by both the soy karaage and the curry, which both tasted and looked closer to real meat than any veg version we’ve seen to date. Those with allergies will be happy to find complete ingredient descriptions of all dishes, while MSG, other artificial additives, trans fats and GMO products are completely off the table. Lunch sets go for around ¥1,000, everyone on the staff speaks English, and free wi-fi is available. If you’ve just landed in Tokyo, Sekai Cafe is a great place to find your bearings and fill up before heading out on your city adventure.
7. Ramen Ouka
The days of trundling around the city as a Muslim without being able to find anything Japanese and halal to eat are slowly coming to a tasty end. Owned and staffed by muslims, Ramen Ouka’s menu is very simple, and all the better for it: halal ramen, ‘halal spicy ramen’ and vegan ramen, all available in sizes from small to extra large, and a few extra toppings. At ¥1,200 for a regular-size ramen, which might not fill you up completely if you’re hungry, it’s not the cheapest place in town, but this is offset by the complimentary bowl of rice (to make ochazuke) and specialist tea at the end.
We opted for one spicy and one normal version: both came with a topping of roast chicken, some baby corn and an egg (note that the ‘roast chicken’ option on the vending machine is simply an extra round of toppings, not a side dish). The spicy version definitely had a bit of zing to it (although you might want to ask for extra chillies if you truly like it hot), whereas the normal version was more citrussy by virtue of the yuzu-based ‘meringue’ on top; the combination of the sea bream-based broth and relatively thin noodles meant that both versions were decidedly light and refreshing, and would not even feel out of place on a hot summer day.
The Muslim owners have definitely fretted over getting the tiny details right: even the oshibori (wet towels) presented to you at the start are free of alcohol-based hand sanitiser, and the ramen bowls are specially shaped so as to make pouring your remaining broth over the rice easier. They’ve also made sure there’s place for wheelchair users – enough to make this joint quite popular with the mix of both visitors and locals we saw on our visit.
Do note that prices have changed since they opened, which is especially relevant if you’re planning to go for dinner. They now have a dinner menu, with prices starting at a rather eye-watering ¥1,800, excluding tax. At least you’re getting a lot for that: an appetiser, a side and a complimentary drink alongside your main ramen dish. Just treat it as a full-course meal rather than a bowl of ramen. If you’re really looking to splurge, they even do halal wagyu ramen. Price? Around ¥6,000.
They do get quite busy, especially in the evenings and at weekends, so if you go at regular dining times, prepare for an hour-long queue. But if you’re looking for a proper ramen experience that also happens to be halal, definitely stay in line.
This small yakiniku joint is tucked away in an alley just off Meiji-dori, a ten-minute walk or so from Shibuya Station. What sets it apart – besides having rather scrumptious cuts of cow for you to grill – is that they offer halal courses, with the menu having been certified by the Malaysia Halal Corporation. Prix fixe meals come in three price tiers (¥3,000, ¥3,500, ¥4,000), with all featuring multiple cuts of meat, a side salad, rice and a drink. The ¥4,000 set is probably the best option, as it features three types of their signature beef cuts, but if you insist on having chicken, the cheaper options are just fine too. If you’re a large eater, you might want to order an extra round (check with staff for options), but the portions are just about right if you pace yourself. Out of all the halal restaurants currently found in Tokyo, we’d argue this is the most ‘authentically Japanese’ experience – smoky, intimate and slightly rowdy at times, just like all the best yakiniku places are. It’s popular with locals and tourists alike, so be sure to reserve in advance (by phone) if you want to be guaranteed a seat.
This teishoku-ya inside Shinjuku Station is the sister shop of the namesake, halal-certified Yoshiya in Kyoto, and offers an extensive range of Kyoto-style set meals, as well as three different halal teishoku. We didn’t find the latter to be exceptionally noteworthy, but they do serve their purpose as a halal-certified introduction to the world of teishoku. Far more interesting is the selection of croquettes, both their mahou korokke (magic croquette) and the tofu croquette. Both are soft yet packed with flavour, and most surprisingly, the magic croquette contains no meat at all – it was inspired by Kyoto-style veggie fare, which uses no meat or alcohol in the preparation process (counter-intuitively, the tofu version isn’t vegetarian and contains chicken). They can be had either with the ‘obento-style gozen’ teishoku, or ordered as separate side dishes. English-speaking staff are on hand to answer any questions, and no pork is used anywhere in the restaurant.
10. Asakusa Sushiken
When we found this sushi restaurant, our tasting team was initially somewhat surprised to see it stamped with a halal certification: the reaction by one of our own was basically ‘Why are we going to a sushi place? I can go there anytime, it’s fine!.’ However, if you’re very strict in your beliefs regarding vinegar use, then this is the place for you. Certified vinegar is used in the sushi rice, while mirin, often used for sushi such as unagi or to flavour the rice, is outlawed. The sushi is good enough flavour-wise, but if you ascribe to the view that ‘(uncertified) vinegar will kill you before it makes you drunk, therefore it’s permissible’, then you’ll be able to expand your taste sensations (and have tastier rice) by checking out our top sushi restaurant picks.
Note that the opening hours are somewhat flexible – our visit saw the shop stay open until 4pm at lunchtime.