Enjoying Food in Japan
You can avoid pricy cups of coffee and overpriced hamburgers if you know what to eat and how to get it.
The Japanese diet consists of plenty of rice, fish, and noodles, all of which can be bought far more cheaply than expensive Western foods like burgers and pizza. Though it might take a while to adjust to the high-salt, low-fat content of most Japanese foods, eating a traditional Japanese diet will leave you with more change in your pocket and less cholesterol in your arteries. Try to keep your consumption of the more expensive Western-style foods at a minimum.
Curry rice. Rice with the Japanese version of Indian curry added. It can be ordered in varying degrees of spiciness.
Donburi. A bowl of rice with a hot entree, like stir-fried vegetables or deep-fried chicken, on top.
Kobe beef. A very expensive delicacy throughout Japan, Kobe beef comes from specially bred cattle, massaged and pampered throughout their lives to produce especially tender meat. The high fat content sometimes makes this meat unpalatable to Westerners.
Ramen. A popular and very inexpensive noodle soup. This is true Japanese “fast food.” It seems that everywhere you look office workers can be seen slurping down a quick bowl of ramen. It can be ordered in different styles with vegetables and/or meat.
Tempura. Lightly batter-fried vegetables and shrimp served with a dipping sauce.
Teishoku (or setto). This is a set meal that usually includes an entree, soup, salad, and a drink. Teishokus are great because you get a lot of food for a very reasonable price.
Udon. Very similar to ramen, but with thicker noodles. Udon is inexpensive and can be purchased at most ramen stands.
Yakisoba. The literal translation is “fried noodles,” but yakisoba can also include vegetables and meat. The ingredients are stir-fried in a wok and eaten like spaghetti.
The foods listed above can be found throughout Japan, and vary only slightly from region to region. You will find the best values on or near college campuses and train stations. Avoid restaurants in hotels because they inflate prices for naive tourists. Remember that there is no tipping in Japan.
Buy in bulk! Discount stores do exist in Japan and offer bulk goods at reduced prices. There is a very low sales tax in Japan.
Ask your employer for the store nearest you. For daily necessities, shop at a major supermarket, like you would in North America. Avoid food markets in major department stores – the food looks appealing, but the prices are outrageous. Instead, look for the local Japanese farmers’ cooperative. They tend to have the best prices on produce. Also, don’t overlook Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines; they offer the cheapest coffee prices in town and also dispense everything from french fries and vegetables to bottled beer.