7 Things to Eat & Drink in Yokohama
The City of Yokohama, located in Kanagawa prefecture just south of Tokyo, is the second-largest city in Japan, with over 3.6 million people. The Port of Yokohama, which opened in 1859, was one of the first places in Japan to allow foreign trade, which set the tone for Yokohama as a progressive city and one of the most internationally-minded cities in Japan. In fact, Yokohama was the gateway through which Japan first welcomed items like beer, beef, and jazz music—all of which play an integral role in modern Japan and have shaped Yokohama cuisine.
Today, Yokohama is a popular place to live for people who want the big city amusements of Tokyo without all the congestion, and offers a few unique entertainment experiences of its own. In 2004, the urban district Minato Mirai meaning “Port of the Future” opened on Yokohama Bay, bringing a wealth of food, shopping, and entertainment to the area and creating a distinct skyline for the city with its massive ferris wheel and towering skyscrapers.
Read on to learn more about the food to try when visiting Yokohama, this international city by the sea.
Yokohama Food & Drinks to Try
Chinese Food at Yokohama Chinatown
Yokohama is home to Asia’s largest “chukagai”, or Chinatown area, with several city blocks of shops, restaurants, and traditional landmarks stretching 500 meters in diameter. Yokohama Chinatown boasts over 500 stores, making it one of the largest in the world as well. Yokohama’s Chinatown dates back to 1859, the year the port opened and the city first welcomed Chinese merchants to its shores. As trade facilitators, these settlers played an important role in trade between Japan and western countries. This enabled them to create the unique community we see today.
This expansive district is the place to go for Chinese food, featuring the cuisines of various regions including spicy Szechuan cuisine, the balanced flavors of Cantonese cuisine, Peking duck from Beijing, and seafood from Shanghai. Taiwanese Chinese food and dim sum are also available, along with chuka-ryori, or Japanese-style Chinese food, which includes dishes like ebi-chili and mabo-tofu. The area also hosts one of Japan’s largest lunar new year celebrations each year.
Gyunabe is a beef hotpot dish that originated in Yokohama after the centuries-long Buddhist ban on eating the meat of four-legged animals was lifted in Japan. When Yokohama Port was opened in 1859, Japanese food culture was influenced by the foreign settlers' meat-intensive diet. Made with thinly sliced beef simmered with tofu and vegetables in a miso-flavored both, the dish was meant to entice people to eat Western beef by cooking it in a traditional Japanese manner. The cooked beef is dipped in raw beaten egg before eating for a creamier flavor. This may sound similar to another Japanese dish featuring beef dipped in raw egg called “sukiyaki”, and in fact, is believed to be a precursor to sukiyaki and sometimes referred to as Yokohama-style sukiyaki. Be sure to try it for a true taste of Yokohama.
Sanma-men is a type of ramen from Yokohama that demonstrates the Chinese influence of the Yokohama chukagai. While ramen has its early roots in Chinese cuisine, over the centuries the flavors and ingredients have evolved to become a distinctly Japanese dish. Sanma-men, however, is a noodle dish that was created around 60 years ago by Chinese chefs in the Yokohama area who were cooking for themselves with leftover vegetables and scraps from the kitchen. The result was a dish featuring ramen noodles and stir-fried vegetables in a thick soup--so if you’re wondering what to eat in Yokohama and looking for something hearty and nourishing, try sanma-men.
Napolitan spaghetti is a type of “yoshoku” food, or Japanese-style Western meal. Washoku foods became popular during the Meiji era when Japan sought to emulate Western practices by eating more Western foods. At the time, however, authentic ingredients were difficult to come by so dishes would be made with what was readily available locally, while other dishes were modified to appeal more to Japanese tastes. The result was dishes like Napolitan spaghetti, a type of pasta stir-fried with meat and vegetables sautéed in a sweet and salty tomato sauce. The dish was invented by the Japanese chef Shigeta Irie at the Hotel New Grand in Yokohama, who was inspired by the military rations eaten by American soldiers in Japan. The name of the dish refers to Naples-style cooking (Napolitan), which is heavily tomato based. Unlike Italian pasta, the noodles are cooked well past al dente until they become soft like udon noodles to appeal to Japanese tastes. Naporitan became a staple of hotel restaurants, yoshoku parlors, cafeterias, and even family dinner tables, and is a classic example of Yokohama food.
Japan’s first brewery, the forerunner to Kirin Brewery Company, opened in Yokohama in 1869 followed by Sapporo Brewery in Hokkaido in 1879 and the forerunner to Asahi Breweries in Osaka in 1889. While Japan is known mostly for its pale-colored lager beers from these big three producers, Yokohama is home to a thriving craft beer scene featuring local brews on tap from around Japan and overseas. Microbreweries began to spring up in Japan in the mid 1990s, after the government relaxed restrictions on beer production. These microbreweries produce a range of tasty regional craft brews that are exhibited at Yokohama’s annual beer tasting event called “Beer Fes”.
Japan's first cocktail, "Bamboo," was originally invented in Yokohama in the year 1889. This dry cocktail blends dry sherry and dry vermouth to create an ideal pre-dinner appetizer. The "Yokohama" is a blend of gin and vodka with an anise fragrance and oriental flavor, said to have been invented on an ocean liner. The "Yokohama Beauty" was invented by the mayor of Yokohama in 2004, and is just another of the twelve types of seasonal Yokohama cocktails.
Jazz Coffee Shops and Bars
During the 1920s and ’30s, ocean liners carrying passengers from overseas brought jazz to the shores of Japan. Yokohama became the birthplace of jazz music in the country, hosting the first live jazz performance in Japan in 1925. Jazz “kissa” (cafés) offered a place for people who couldn’t afford a record player to go and listen to jazz records over a cup of coffee. After World War II, jazz bars and clubs sprung up as entertainment for the GIs in Japan, some of which even hosted full jazz bands. While many of the jazz kissa and bars closed after the 1980s, Yokohama’s jazz music scene is still famous throughout the country.
Yokohama is also known as the birthplace of Japanese ice cream, and is home to a number of long-established western and oriental pastry shops. These restaurants and cafes serve authentic western, Chinese, or Japanese sweets, the latter of which are concentrated in Yokohama Chinatown. Pastry shops and cafes line the streets of the Yamate, Motomachi Shopping Street, and Isezaki-cho areas.
Some are located near famous sightseeing spots, beautiful parks, or western-style buildings, while others are quietly tucked away in little alleys. Why not enjoy coffee, tea, and sweets in one of these cafes while viewing the beautiful terraces or attractive gardens?
Food Theme Parks
Yokohama provides a host of entertainment facilities where you can enjoy an array of different foods and experience many cultural events. There are three particularly good places to check out.
There’s the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum, which is the world's first theme park about ramen. There, you can learn about the history and make-up of ramen and sample some of the well-loved local variations of ramen noodles throughout Japan. On the two basement floors, you can explore a historical replica of the streets and houses in 1950s Tokyo.
Kirin Yokohama Beer Village is a huge beer factory with restaurants that feature a variety of freshly brewed craft beers. The brewery tour gives you a brief history of Japanese beer and a chance to observe the fermentation process.
Cupnoodles Museum showcases various cup noodle displays. In the Do-It-Yourself interactive experience, you can mix and match ingredients to create your very own unique cup of noodles. The museum also contains the Cupnoodles Park, where you can “turn into a noodle” and experience the whole production process from the factory to packaging and shipment stages from the food’s perspective.
Restaurants and Bars with Beautiful Night Views
Yokohama has restaurants and bars where you can enjoy fantastic night views of an ocean of light while dining and drinking. The scenery of the illuminated Yokohama Bay Bridge offers a romantic atmosphere for guests, while from a seat in one of the sky lounges you can sip a drink as you take a bird's eye view of the myriad of streetlights that lace their way across the city's nightscape. The lighting and atmosphere of each restaurant and lounge are uniquely designed, and provide an indoor environment, suited to light dishes, full-course dinners, or just a quiet drink.
Follow This Guide to Things to Drink and Eat in Yokohama for the Essential Dining Experiences!
Although only a short train ride from Tokyo, Yokohama has its own distinct character and vibe that make the city well worth visiting. Whether you're into craft beer or jazz music, or simply want to enjoy some tasty food with a good view, Yokohama is sure to offer what you're looking for. Check out Gurunavi for a full listing of bars, cafés, and restaurants in Yokohama and all throughout Japan.