Travel bites: The best pizza I've ever had was in the city you'd least expect

Travel News from Stuff - 27-11-2023
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Pizza is probably not a word you associate with Japan.

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In a country with – sushi, ramen, tempura – it might seem sacrilege to waste stomach space on foreign fare.

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But there I was one lunchtime, in a trendy neighbourhood in Tokyo, tucking into the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.

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Turns out, we should be adding the Japanese metropolis to the list of great pizza capitals, up there with and . The style that has taken off here in recent years is inspired by that of the latter destination – pillowy crust and simple toppings – but local pizzaiolos have put their own stamp on it, spawning a variety that food website dubbed “Tokyo Neapolitan”.

Susumu Kakinuma, the owner of a pizzeria named Seirinkan, is considered the godfather of the movement. He fell in love with pizza during a trip to Naples in the early 1980s, and returned a decade later with the intention of studying the craft himself. The problem was, no one was willing to hire a Japanese chef.

Instead, he learned by eating. He returned to Tokyo and opened his first pizzeria in 1995 – originally named Savoy, but later rebranded to Seirinkan, a name that translates to “the house of holy wood”.

In 2018, Seirinkan was introduced to a global audience, when it was featured on the Netflix show Ugly Delicious – with the show’s host, celebrity chef David Chang, making the bold claim that the best pizza in the world can be found in Tokyo.

So it was no surprise that when we arrived at the Nakameguro eatery ahead of its 11.30am opening time, there was already a queue of at least 20 people snaking out the door.

When it was our turn to enter, we made our way up to our table using the terrifyingly twisty wrought-iron staircase which connects the three levels of the townhouse. Photos and memorabilia of The Beatles (Kakinuma is reportedly a big fan) adorn the walls, adding to the incongruity of the experience.

Seirinkan’s menu offers just three types of pizza – margherita, marinara and bianca (also known as white pizza), as well as a selection of antipasto and pasta. Our group of four ordered a pizza per person, washed down with prosecco (we figured if we were going to have a “cheat day” from Japanese cuisine, we might as well lean into it).

The pizzas were served uncut, in the traditional Neapolitan style, with plenty of perfectly puffy crust on show. The margherita looked the most appealing, with its melty mozzarella and blistered basil, but it was the marinara that won me over – the tangy bite of the tomato and garlic was a heavenly match for the moreishly salty chew of the dough.

Later, when ranking our favourite meals during our time in Japan, we all admitted Seirinkan had earned a place on our personal podiums. Sorry, sushi – but when talking about must-try dishes in Tokyo, it’s time pizza got its slice of the pie.

Seirinkan is at 2-6-4 Kamimeguro, Meguro City, Tokyo. It’s a 5-minute walk from Nakameguro Station. See

Air New Zealand offers daily flights from Auckland to Tokyo. See

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