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Bangkok's Best Japanese Food: From Sushi to Sashimi and Plenty More



The list of Japanese restaurants in Bangkok is staggering, enough to fill an encyclopedia, which isn't surprising given that over 50,000 Japanese expatriates call Bangkok home. With this clientele and demand, it is natural that hundreds of new spots open up each year, but some really stand out for their fresh ingredients and preparation just like in Japan.

Of course leading the list are the top sashimi and sushi joints, all of whom fly in their fish from the prestigious Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, with deliveries to Bangkok several times a week. Heading this list is Sushi Ichizu, who's master chef Riku Toda studied under some of Tokyo's top sushi masters in Michelin-starred omakase eateries, and now runs the elite Sushi Ichizu. Mugendai Penthouse is also noted for its snazzy nouvelle sushi, with some amazing creations such as their Unagi eel foie gras and their Matsuzaka beef sushi. On their tails, Uomasa and Maru also get fresh cuts of tuna and other delicacies, and you wont be complaining about the bill if you are feasting on the top bluefin and fatty tuna slices that are melting in your mouth. Non-traditional sushi rolls have become all the rage but can be pretty hit and miss, but one place that stands out is Isao, which has to be the only restaurant in Bangkok with a line out the door 365 days a year!

Not that it has to be all sushi either. Bankara Ramen is also high on the expat list, with humongous bowls of traditional ramen keeping their tables packed through lunch and dinner. The tonkatsu stewed pork belly is made with the pork bones dissolved completely into the soup broth, extremely pungent and rich. For creative nouvelle Japanese try the new Kom-Ba-Wa or else the creative and sumptuous Zuma.

The listings of Japanese are so numerous, one could probably just stroll down Thonglor night after night and pop in to a new eatery for months and not go wrong.


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Tsu & Nami
Photo courtesy of Tsu & Nami


Actually two restaurants, Tsu is the sushi bar and Nami is the teppanyaki grill, so take your pick. Certainly not cheap, but visitors often remark that it is the best Japanese food they've had outside of Japan at this upscale affair in the Marriott Hotel, partly due to the fact that the restaurants use extremely fresh high end ingredients, with fish flown in from Japan regularly. Standouts include hairy crab, the extremely fresh otoro sashimi, oysters with ponzu sauce, and any of the teppanyaki grills. You get a lot of personalized attention from the chefs here, and they are well used to dealing with celebrities and VIP's who flock to Tsu & Nami for their Japanese imported fish cravings. The dining room is elegant, with a long wooden art piece resembling a wave, the restaurant's namesake, commanding attention across the room. Oddly enough, the restaurant opened just after the tsunami of 2004, yet kept its name, and it still delivers a powerful wave of fresh food today.


Maru Kaiseki Japanese Restaurant
Photo courtesy of pttaya


Given the sky high prices, you wonder why Maru is so crowded on Tuesday and Friday nights. Well, these are the days when the fish gets flown in from the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, and the faithful join the queue to get their fix of fresh sashimi. Granted, most of the customers at Maru are Japanese businessmen earning Tokyo salaries, but anyone who is willing to part with a bit of cash should come to Maru just to sample fish at its finest. The otoro tuna is the melt in your mouth variety, the freshwater unagi eel is as taste bud tingling as it gets, and they even have puffer fish on the menu, you know, the one that if it is not sliced up perfect by the chef, can end your sushi eating days within seconds. There are other items on the menu, like tasty zarusoba, cold soba noodles dipped in soy sauce and wasabi, but hey, you might as well join the masses and put your credit card on the table and dig into some of Bangkok's best fish, that is what you are here for.




Yes, you are going to spend a lot, but it's hard to complain when you've got bluefin tuna or king crab flown in from the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo sitting on your plate. Mugendai raises the bar for fine Japanese food in Bangkok, with some outstanding sashimi and sushi offerings in a fashionable lifestyle bar in the snazzy new EmQuartier Mall. The top eats here include the signature Aburi 7, which features fatty bluefin tuna, giant scallops, snapper, halibut fin, salmon, Alaskan king crab, and Matsuzaka beef, all of which are succulent, each one topped with its own bit of spice such as Ponzu sauce or miso. Even more alluring is the Unagi Foie Gras, in which wild freshwater eel is made into an inside out roll stuffed with foie gras. Another outstanding dish is the Matsuzaka Gyu which has superb Matsuzaka beef made into sushi and topped with a quail egg yolk.


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Uomasa
Photo courtesy of Uomasa Bangkok


Uomasa is a long standing player on the Japanese food scene that has been serving up some of the best sashimi and traditional Japanese food in town, mostly aimed at purists and Japanese customers. Slightly hidden away in Nihonmachi "Japan Town" in Thonglor Soi 13, Uomasa is immensely popular with the expat Japanese crowd, and for very good reason. The fish here is some of the freshest in Bangkok, and this is one of the few Bangkok establishments to fly fish in from Tokyo's central fish market. Standouts include lobster sashimi, tuna maki rolls, and beef tongue stew, for which Uomasa is noted for. You'll pay a bit more here for all your fresh fish, but it is well worth the splurge, and Uomasa has a very pleasant vibe, with a crowded sushi counter or options to sit tatami style or at tables and chairs.




Kom-Ba-Wa leads the new wave of artistic nouvelle Japanese joints that are springing up right and left in Bangkok. Set in a fine dining shop-house adorned with 1920 photos on the wall and brass chandeliers, the restaurant serves both as a sushi bar along with some experimental high end Japanese. They advertise themselves as "serving traditional flavours and ingredients with modern cooking methods," and feature dishes like wagyu steak covered with ponzu jelly or squid ink ramen with Maine lobster, along with plenty of sashimi imported from the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. There are also premium sakes, beers, and creative cocktails like the Hokkaido Bellini, made with artisan peach sake and Prosecco. Acclaimed restaurateur Fred Meyer, of Issaya Siamese Club and Namsaah Bottling Trust fame is behind this project, so expect good things.


Bankara Ramen
Photo courtesy of Bankara


This is the first international branch of the famed Ikebukuro ramen house, and boy is it authentic. The interior and decor,along with all the ravenous Japanese expat regulars make one feel like one is in Tokyo, and even more genuine is the food, which features huge portions of the four signature ramen dishes that Bankara puts out. You can choose from the original Bankara ramen, Tonkatsu (stewed pork belly), Tsukemen (cold noodles dipped in soup) and Miso Ramen, and you can personalise your dish by choosing additional toppings such as egg, pork, seaweed, etc. Individual garlic presses are given to each diner, so you have a lot to say as to how your dish will taste. The gyoza dumplings are superb and make an excellent compliment to the ramen, and there are other dishes on the menu as well, but the ramen bowls are so huge and filling, you will be hard pressed to find the extra space.




Zuma, the posh Japanese eatery with branches in London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Miami, and Dubai, is just as successful at their Bangkok location, serving truly superb and creative Japanese cuisine. Based on a traditional Japanese izakaya, yet with a very sophisticated and elegant twist, and designed by Noriyoshi Muramatsu, the renowned architect and design head of Tokyo's Studio Glitt, Zuma features some of Bangkok's freshest and most innovative Japanese cuisine, in an immaculately planned urban setting. Signature dishes include the gyuhire sumibiyaki karami zuke- spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, red chili and sweet soy, as well as the gindara saikyo misoyaki, a fine black cod marinated for 3 days in miso and served wrapped in a hoba leaf




Thank goodness for shoulder injuries. Masaharu Morimoto was all set to become a professional baseball player in Japan, when an injury ended his career. Instead, he took up cooking, studying sushi and traditional kaiseki cuisine, and followed a stint in Japan by moving to New York, where he became an acclaimed television star Iron Chef, as well as opening top notch restaurants in the U.S., Mumbai, Tokyo, and elsewhere. The Bangkok branch is no exception, serving fusion creations like hamachi tacos and katsu burgers alongside of sashimi, sushi, and daily omakase chef tasting menus with 6-7 courses. There are also creative cocktails paired with the food, and the setting up in the snazzy Mahanakorn Cube, next to Bangkok's new highest building, the Mahanakorn Tower, matches the elegant food coming to your table.


Isao
Photo courtesy of Isao Bangkok


Fusion Japanese food is always hit or miss, and fortunately for intimate Isao, it is a home run night after night. This small eatery just off of Sukhumvit is always packed with discerning diners coming to try out creations that just aren't available elsewhere in Bangkok, and is surely the only restaurant in town with a line outside 365 nights a year. The owner at Isao studied under the chef at Green Tea in Chicago, and obviously brought back some creative expertise. Try out some of the signature fusion specialties here such as the Volcano, a baked scallop in cream sauce served in its shell resembling orange molten lava, spicy and taste tingling. Or how about the Jackie, a caterpillar shaped sushi roll with egg, boiled shrimp, roe, and tempura, or the Chicago Spicy Crazy, which features salmon, tuna, white fish and vegetables. A most pleasant change from your average tuna and salmon sushi joint, and nobody ever walks out of here disappointed.




The Japanese have a word for master craftsmen or artisans, "shokunin," and the sushi shokunin master chefs in Tokyo have almost a cult-like following, considered to be at the top of world cuisine and gastronomy. The closest most Bangkok residents have ever come to experiencing such fish perfection has only been through a viewing of the famed documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, detailing the life of Tokyo sushi maestro Jiro Ono. Yet now, perhaps foreshadowing the arrival of the Michelin Guide in Bangkok and putting it forever on the world foodie map, locals and visitors alike have the chance to experience sushi and sashimi like they never have before, with the opening of Sushi Ichizu. Ichizu, which means "the way of" in Japanese, showcases the extraordinary talents of Chef Riku Toda, who trained under Hachiro Mizutani, owner of the 3 Michelin-starred Sushi Mizutani. Mizutani himself was a disciple of Chef Jiro, and when he bowed out of the sushi master class due to old age, Chef Toda continued his sushi apprenticing with Takaaki Sugita, owner of Sushi Sugita, another Michelin-starred omakase sushi restaurant that is booked out a year in advance and is Tokyo's top eating spot. Sushi Ichizu follows in these noble and elegant traditions, striving to show that perhaps the best sushi in the world is not only found in Tokyo or Ginza, but right here in Bangkok. There are two seatings per night at Sushi Ichizu, one at 5:30 and another at 8:30, and there are only ten coveted spaces available in the minimalist and traditional Japanese home, and walk-ins most certainly are not catered to. Chef Toda and his two assistants put on a fascinating display of skill and complete mastery of their craft, with their attentiveness to detail and the quality of the fish almost more akin to a theatrical production. The omakase tasting menu features 16 courses made up of whatever the best connections to the Tsukiji fish professionals from Tokyo have been able to source, but usually include the absolute top cuts of akami, otoro, and other sections of bluefin tuna. Other items like hairy crab from Hokkaido and black abalone stewed for 8 hours and then served with a risotto-like sauce made from the abalone liver are as mouth-meltingly delicious as they are photogenic, with the chefs presenting each item for photographing and discussing with the clientele before serving it up. Despite the complete attentiveness to detail and highly elegant atmosphere, there is plenty of interaction with the chefs, and a meal at Sushi Ichizu most certainly isn't a stuffy affair, instead more like a private workshop with one of the world's top food artisans. Even the uni (sea urchin) and tobiko (fish roe), often a bit too fishy or pungent for all but the most devoted seafood lovers are of such high quality here that you'll be left salivating in amazement. A dining experience at Sushi Ichizu does not come cheap at 8,000 baht for a tasting menu (although you can also opt for a smaller mini-tasting course at 6,000 baht), but then again, you're getting the best of the best served up close and personal by a culinary wizard. For that once in a lifetime experience, foodie splurge, or chance to experience the world's best sushi, Sushi Ichizu takes the Bangkok Japanese dining experience to a new level.


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Meet Dave Stamboulis

Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer/photographer based in Bangkok. Born in Athens, Greece and growing up in the U.S., Dave first discovered Bangkok while on a 45,000-kilometer bicycle trip and...  More About Dave

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