Kamakura, a coastal trove of ancient temples, is a popular day trip from Tokyo. Barely an hour’s train journey out from the Japanese capital, the city is home to a smorgasbord of mouthwatering eateries, so there’s no reason for day trippers to head home with a grumbling stomach.
Kamakura doesn’t have a strong regional cuisine, but its bayside locale puts plenty of seafood – including local favourite shirasu – on the menu. In fact, with so many visitors, international flavours flourish alongside Japanese ones. Feast on French foie gras. Slurp soba noodles in a traditional Japanese home. Binge on burgers by the beach. Detox with meat-free monk meals in the leafy hills above the city. And save room for the weird and wonderful – hemp beer or sweet potato ice cream, anyone? Sink your teeth into the best restaurants in Kamakura.
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Kamakura’s most famous food is shirasu – tiny anchovies and sardines lightly boiled and dried, harvested daily in season (April to December), then served over rice with ginger and spring onions and a boiled egg on the side. This super salty seafood might be an acquired taste, but the best place to try it is Akimoto, only one block northeast of Kamakura station. This restaurant buys its whitebait from fishermen every morning as well as more seafood from around the country, plus farm-fresh vegetables from local Kamakura growers to fry in tempura batter.
A block north of Wadazuka station lies Kamakura’s finest French restaurant, and one of its elite upscale eateries. ETE is a fusion of France and Japan, bringing together Kamakura-grown citrus fruits, Hiraboku Kinka pork and Yezo venison with foie gras, Challandais duck and an impressive French wine list. Watching the show in the open kitchen is half the fun, and so is receiving the bill – expect to pay ¥3,000 (£23) for a good dinner, which is surprisingly affordable given the quality of ingredients.
This Italian restaurant’s breezy floor-to-ceiling windows frame an uninterrupted view of Yuigahama Beach across the road, and the restaurant offers a seafood-heavy menu to match. Ocean Harvest Cocomo dishes up Italian cuisine using local ingredients – pizza, pasta and countless varieties of oysters (broiled, grilled, baked, spicy ahijo, tomato sauce and cheese, stir-fried garlic butter, the list goes on). The simple dining room is quirky – think brown leather couches beneath Bob Marley portraits – and nightly live music adds to the atmosphere.
A row of trees and a chain of huge red torii gates line the walk from the coast to Tsurugaoka Hachimangū, Kamakura’s most important Shinto shrine. And in the shadow of the front gate sits the city’s most popular soba noodle joint. Minemoto plates up multi-course kaiseki meals, but its stock and trade is a huge variety of soba dishes – one speciality is black vinegar noodles with molluscs harvested from the nearby Kotsubo fishing village. Almost a century of history is ingrained at this location, particularly the washitsu private rooms upstairs, and there’s also a second location on Komachi-dori closer to Kamakura station.
Kamameshi literally means kettle rice in English – rice cooked in an iron pot called a kama over an open flame, then seasoned with soy sauce, mirin or sake, plus meat, vegetables, seafood and whatever other seasonal ingredients are lying around. In Kamakura, Kaedena is the place to go for one of these steaming hot pots. Close to Hase station and the must-visit Hase-dera temple, this tiny diner only has about 10 tables – it’s open from 11am for lunch, but dinner is by reservation only.
Occupying a staid private home just south of Yuigahama station, Matsubara-an prides itself on authentic Japanese cuisine. Snag a table outside to enjoy the leafy courtyard terrace with a drink off the carefully curated sake list or sit inside to admire the team of chefs in the open kitchen perfecting their soba noodles, made fresh in-house every day. Goma seiro soba (noodles with sesame sauce), tempura seafood and duck hot pot – all made exclusively with Kamakura ingredients – are a few favourites of this intimate eatery, a high-end affair that’s reflected in the price.
Kamakura brims with crowd-pleasing Western-style eats – pizza, pasta, hotdogs, kebabs and plenty of other fast food that’s not worth writing home about. But one burger joint that stands out as an exception is Good Mellows, just steps from the sand of Yuigahama Beach. This California-themed burger bar charcoal-grills its juicy beef patties before piling them with cheese and toppings between fluffy brioche buns. Wash it all down with imported US craft beers and a side dish of ocean views.
Perched on the west exit of Kamakura station amid the tangle of laneways that snake around Komachi-dori, Wander Kitchen is a retreat from the downtown bustle. The laid-back feel flows through the shabby-chic wooden decor – the menu is etched on big chalkboards above the kitchen pass, and changes daily. The dishes come from every corner of the globe: Indian curry, Thai green curry, Mexican chicken mole, Peruvian yellow peppers, gumbo and lady fingers are a few top sellers. Dogs are welcome on the al fresco balcony, too.
This place exudes beachy vibes – and not just from the sea breeze that floats through the windows opening up onto the Yuigahama sand. Another beachfront property with a foreign flavour, Magokoro is a hippie café that loves its hemp beer, its macrobiotic cakes and its impressive selection of vegan dishes like fried potatoes in vegan pesto and tofu-and-avocado salad. Three minutes’ walk from Hase station, the restaurant also has a little retail space selling ethical knick-knacks like soap and crafts.
Besides shirasu, Kamakura’s other must-try food is sweet potato ice cream. That’s right: soft-serve ice cream made out of sweet potatoes. The crop comes from Kagoshima on Kyūshū island, but Imoyoshi’s flagship store has sat just north of Kamakura station since the 1980s. Go for a cone of the original purple potato ice cream, the bitter Uji green tea variety or a swirl of the two called Ajisai. Deep-fried potato croquettes and imo kintsuba (sweet potato paste in a thin dough) are other spud-based specialities.
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