It is no secret that Tokyo is a relatively expensive city to visit. However, the wide range of food available allows cheap gems that the Japanese embraces yet travellers miss out on. Curious about what you can try in Tokyo other than the mandatory sushi? Make the most out of your trip without feeling your wallet burn by having affordable and authentically Japanese food!
1. GYUDON CHAINS
Evident throughout Japan, gyudon chains stores are considered a type of Japanese fast food. Gyudon consists of a bowl of rice topped with beef cooked with onions, soy sauce and mirin. Yoshinoya (吉野家), Matsuya (松屋) and Sukiya (すき家) are the three large gyudon chains with restaurants typically open round-the-clock, 365 days a year.
With normal-sized gyudon pricing as low as 250 yen (SGD $3.30), it is no doubt a choice for budget travellers who want a piping hot meal at a steal.
Matsuya is the only chain that requires diners to pre-purchase their orders at the machine near the entrance, with Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean languages available. For both Sukiya and Yoshinoya, you will only order after being seated, and paying after you are done with the meal. English menus are also available in the restaurants when you request for it. Customizing your meals with additions such as soft-boiled egg, extra onions, and even natto is possible at a small price from 50 to 120 yen. Meals are also typically served with a free serving of miso soup.
While these stores are specialized in gyudon, they also offer meals served with chicken, pork or unagi, cooked in various methods and sauces. These meals cost 400 to 600 yen (SGD $5-$8) with a serving of miso soup and salad.
As rice is a staple food in Japan, even the breakfast served in gyudon chains comes with a serving of rice and is usually range from 300 to 450 yen (SGD $4-6). The meal is complete along with a serving of salad, miso soup, seaweed, as well as a choice of natto, salmon, beef and eggs, or sausages and eggs.
2. FUJI SOBA
Looking for soba or udon while in Japan? Famous for offering meals below one coin (500 yen/SGD $6.50), Fuji Soba (富士そば) is your place to go. With nearly 100 branches in Tokyo, they are mostly located near subway stations, making it easy to spot.
A typical bowl of kitsune udon cost 390 yen, and niku soba is only 470 yen. For the big eaters, a katsudon and udon/soba set will only set you back 720 yen (SGD $9.30). Despite their cheap pricing, Fuji Soba’s serving of noodles and meat is big, making it popular among Japanese salaryman.
However, it is best noted that this is not the restaurant where you would hang out and chat after meal, as the stores are typically small. Diners come and go relatively quickly to leave space for the other diners waiting for seats.
3. HARAJUKU GYOZARO
Be prepare to wait in line (sometimes for an hour or more) if you visit Harajuku Gyozaro (原宿餃子樓) during lunch or dinner times. Any other times, a bearable 15 to 20 minutes wait is a norm. A no-frills restaurant, the Harajuku Gyozaro offers a simple menu – pan-fried or steamed gyoza, with or without garlic and chives.
Priced at 290 yen (SGD $3.70) for six, the price is a steal for both the quantity and quality. The dumpling skin is thin and pan-fried to a light brown color. A bite into the dumpling yields the juice of the savory pork filling that will pleasantly surprise you. You can choose to have rice, pickled cabbage or beansprouts with meat sauce to go with your meal.
One of the best experiences that comes with dining at Harajuku Gyozaro is the view of the chefs pan-frying the dumplings in front of you. Watching the chefs at work is made possible with the open kitchen concept. Get the seats at the counter nearer to the back of the store for this treat. Opening hours are from 11:30 AM to 4:30 AM.
Location: 6−2−4 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo, 150-0001
TOTOYA UOSHIN (above $10)
Want something fancier? Though a meal here will cost above $10, it’s still a pretty good deal!
Located in Akazaka, Totoya Uoshin (赤坂とゝや魚新) is one of the Michelin Star restaurants in Tokyo. Despite being the least affordable amongst the list, lunch in Totoya Uoshin is surprisingly within means. Well known for its fish delicacies, seasonal fish grilled, or cooked in soup is comparable to their sashimi offering here. Lunch course is priced at 1,800 yen (SGD $23) inclusive of appetizer, main meal (grilled seasonal fish with rice) and dessert. Lunch is served 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM.
Dinner at Totoya Uoshin is, however, a different story. A dinner course with a fresh sashimi will set you back at least 10,000 yen (SGD $129) per person.
Location: 5-1-34 Akasaka, Minato, Tokyo 107-0052
Having an authentically Japanese meal in Tokyo does not necessary cost a small fortune. There is no need to scrimp and save by having food from the convenience stores if you know where to go for your meals. (We are not saying the convenience store food are bad though! They are amazing enough for a standalone introduction.) Immerse yourself in the bustle and hustle of a meal with Japanese salaryman during lunch hours at the nearby gyudon chain, or relax and lunch at the Michelin Star restaurant!
Help fulfill requests on Airfrov after you dine in these restaurants, especially since many are located in shopping districts such as Harajuku and Shibuya.