Traveling to Japan on Budget #3: Food
In general, eating out is not too expensive in Japan. The average amount used for the daily lunch eaten out is apparently less than 800yen – around 7 dollars or 6,5 euros. This average does not include those buying their lunch in convenience stores or supermarkets, and it’s also just an average amount: many of those eating out spend a lot less than 800yen a day.
So, where do you find these cheap places then? Many restaurants offer lunch for around 1000yen but some give you a chance to eat for about a half of this amount or even for less.
You have probably heard of this one before but if you get enough energy from carbohydrates, you can go for noodles. You probably know that you can get ramen for ridiculously low price from pretty much anywhere but did you know that you can also get thick wheat noodles, udon, for a very reasonable price? I personally like especially Marugame Seimen, where you can get different udon dishes starting from around 300yen. They also offer tempura to accompany your dish.
If you can’t find Marugame Seimen in the area, you can also search for a place called Hanamaru udon which has a similar concept. Their prices start from around 400yen. I also hear that a place called Mentsuudan is also pretty cheap but I have never eaten there myself so I don’t know about the taste – however, as pretty much everything I have eaten in Japan so far has been delicious, I would say that their udon is most probably delicious as well.
Gyuudon is a rice bowl topped with simmered and flavored beef, mixed with onion and egg. The unquestionably most popular places restaurant chain trio, Yoshinoya, Sukiya and Matsuya all offer this beef bowl for very budget-friendly prices. For example, Yoshinoya offers beef bowl for 380yen and pork bowl for 330yen. They also have sets starting from less than 400yen. Sukiya, on the other hand sells gyuudon from 350yen, offering also different variations of the dish including cheese for example. They also have nice sets for under 500yen. If looking only at the prices, Matsuya is the cheapest of the trio, offering normal size gyuudon for 290yen but all of these restaurants have their fair share of fans and if you fall in love with gyuudon, you ought to just visit them all.
Many other donburi restaurants such as Tenya selling tendon, rice bowl topped with tempura, are also rather cheap. You can find all the restaurants mentioned above in pretty much anywhere in the larger cities so they’re a great option when you’re hungry and want something to eat as soon as possible.
Many find entering these restaurants a bit intimidating as they are often packed with Japanese salarymen and other workers. I myself used to be one of those but I recently realized that the people inside these restaurants are all too busy eating their own lunches and most of them won’t even bother to take a look when someone enters the restaurant.
Conveyor belt sushi (kaitenzushi)
I actually wasn’t 100% sure whether I should include conveyor belt sushi in this post but thinking about it, many kaitenzushi restaurants really are cheap. There are many places where you get one plate of sushi for 100yen and this one plate often includes two or even three pieces of sushi. However, I must warn you that no matter how much you would like to take the delicious-looking pieces of sushi rotating around on the conveyor belt, I would honestly recommend you to rather place an order. It’s getting less and less common to eat the sushi rotating around as most Japanese people choose to order their sushi plate by plate with the touch-screen machines on tables. You’ll often get fresher and better tasting sushi by ordering instead of taking the ones moving past you. By doing this, you also won’t make the mistake of accidentally picking up an expensive plate – that’s really easy when just picking up the ones rotating around.
I would also recommend entering these restaurants during crowdy times because then the fish will be the freshest. Lining up for 15 minutes is often a sign of awesome taste!
If you are not interested in noodles, rice bowls or sushi, there are also other options. Family restaurants offer you a great variety of dishes, often focusing on Western style food instead of Japanese. Not everything in these restaurants is cheap but you can eat for a reasonable sum especially during lunch. These are also a great alternative for cafes as there’s often a possibility to order a drink bar including a great variety of soft drinks, tea and coffee drinks for around 200yen.
If you are going to eat, I suggest Gusto or Saizeriya – both offer lunch for around 500yen. If you are only going for drinks or have a raving for french fries, my recommendation would be Coco’s as they have an amazing selection of drinks and their french fries are best in the world. Jonathan’s is also a nice place but their prices feel a little bit expensive compared to ones mentioned above. They apparently have a nice choice of wines though – just as a mention, wine and beer tend to be rather cheap in Family restaurants as well.
Supermarkets and convenience stores
The last and also the cheapest option in this list. You can get lunch boxes or other dishes for a very budget-friendly price from supermarkets and convenience stores, latter being a bit more expensive but coming with a microwaving service. If you buy lunch from a supermarket, you either have to find a place to heat it or eat it cold: especially lunch boxes are tasty even without microwaving.
If you have a possibility for cooking in the place you’re staying, you might also consider cooking for yourself. However, you should remember that fruit and many vegetables are often expensive and you have to pay close attention to what’s in season in order to eat cheaply. I would also recommend grocery stories for breakfast shopping as you can find things like bread and yogurt for a reasonable price. You’ll save a lot buy buying your breakfast instead of eating in a cafe, for example.
There are numerous of other places to eat for a budget traveler as well but this post would get horribly long so that’s it for the budget travel tips this time. If you have anything you would like to add, feel free to share your tips in the comments!
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