Eating Cheaply in Japan   おいしくて安い

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Tasty and varied, bento meal trays can be purchased on the street for lunch.

Tasty and varied, bento boxes can be purchased on the street for lunch.

Tabehodai nomihodai and eat and drink as much as you can.

Tabehodai and nomihodai let you eat and drink as much as you like.

Instant noodles (noodle cup) are quick to prepare and very cheap.

Instant noodles (cup noodle) are quick to prepare and very cheap.

The vastness of Japanese depachika, basement became a paradise for food.

The vastness of Japanese depachika, basement became a paradise for food.

The fast food chain Yoshinoya offers rice bowls gyudon at low prices.

The fast food chain Yoshinoya offers beef rice bowls (gyudon) at low prices.

Itadakimasu!

Want to enjoy good food with less than 1,000 yen in your pocket, or just want to save a little cash? Follow this advice from Japan Experience on how to eat well at low cost, from street food to supermarkets.

  • All you can...

Hodai (放題) is a term that means "all you can". Add tabe (食べ), to eat, or nomi (飲み), to drink, and you get an all-you-can-eat or drink option at an affordable price. From between 950 and 2000 yen, the tabehodai or nomihodai are available in a lot of clubs, bars, restaurants, karaoke rooms and izakayas. But be careful, the clock is ticking (they usually have a time limit).

  • On the shelf

It's in the konbini that thrifty tourists choose their meals - sandwiches, instant noodles, curry rice, and onigiri riceballs. Konbini are great places to find snacks and light meals for less than 500 yen. Most offer oden, a kind of Japanese stew, in the winter.  For just a little more money, supermarkets always have a prepared foods section where there are salads, sushi, tempura and bento boxes at very reasonable prices.

  • Tasting in the basement

In supermarkets or depato (department stores), shops are often spread over several floors, but the basements (depachika) are always dedicated to food and drink. Offerings vary and are often pretty expensive - for example at Isetan in Kyoto, or Mitsukoshi in Ginza - but the trick is to enjoy the free samples. Note that all the dishes are prepared daily, so they might be sold out late in the day!

  • Street Food

While it is generally frowned upon to eat in the street in Japan, you can always find interesting street stalls and eateries. At morning markets (such as Nishiki in Kyoto) you can snack on something small; in the business districts of Tokyo like Ginza and Ikebukuro you can get a bento with the salarymen (costing between 500 and 2000 yen); in the busy streets in the evening you can find a food carts selling gourmet takoyaki and local specialties (for example at the famous yatai of Fukuoka).

  • Cup Noodle

Instant noodles are a tasty and fast way to fill up. And they have the advantage of being very cheap, rarely exceeding 300 yen. They are found in all konbini with a wide range of flavors and sizes. In Yokohama, there is even a museum dedicated to instant noodles, where visitors can create their own.

  • Chains

Japanese fast food (not including western-style hamburger chains) is found across the country and remains a good option to eat well at low prices. Some have machines that you order from (note that sometimes there is no photo), you pay, and then take your ticket and exchange it for a hot meal for about 500 yen. Some chains are household names like Yoshinoya, Matsuya and Sukiya where they serve gyudon (rice topped with beef and onions) and other donburi. At Coco Ichibanya they serve curry rice, at Tenya they serve tendon (tempura and rice), and Marugame and Hanamaru specialize in udon noodles.

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