Summary of content of this post
As part of our super guide to Japan and could not miss our post about what and where to eat in Japan.
Because although it is true that we have already talked a lot about Japanese food in this blog, we wanted to make a compilation with the most important aspects: more typical dishes, restaurant recommendations divided by city, prices, most typical Japanese food chains…
Without a doubt, Japanese cuisine is one of our favorites in the world.
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What and where to eat in Japan: ramen
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Where to eat in Japan: some things to consider
In general it is super cheap to eat in Japan, especially if you choose local options, you can eat a ramen or a bowl of rice for less than 500 JPY (a little over 4 euros).
Rice is one of the basic ingredients of Japanese cuisine.
In Japan it is not typical to have dessert after eating in the same restaurant, so it is not usual to find desserts in the menu. They do drink coffee.
In large cities, the top floor of large buildings and shopping centers is usually devoted to restaurants.
The menus of local restaurants are usually short and concise. They have few options but all are superb.
The Japanese are very good pastry chefs and confectioners, so be sure to immerse yourself in the sweet side of the cuisine.
Where to eat in Japan: takoyakis stand
In Japan it is not usual to tip, neither in restaurants nor in other shops/services.
The best way to save on food is to use combini, a neighborhood store where you will find many options for prepared food.
The Japanese make quite light meals, in general. You will eat very cheaply, but don’t expect to eat a lot of food.
Normally, restaurants in Japan specialize in one type of food: ramen, sushi, okonomiyaki, gyozas, takoyaki… You can find some that have ramen, and also gyozas or rice dishes and some other starters, but they usually specialize.
Where to Eat in Japan: Iwamura in Miyajima
The traditional Japanese breakfast has nothing to do with the Western one and includes grilled fish, rice and miso soup, among other things. But don’t worry, because you’ll find plenty of cafés, especially in the big cities, where you can have a coffee with some pastries.
What to eat in Japan: the traditional Japanese breakfast
You eat and eat dinner pretty early, so keep that in mind when you plan your day. Lunch is usually between 12:00 and 13:00 and dinner around 18:00.
In restaurants it is very common that tea and water are free.
Please note that some small restaurants, especially those outside the big cities, do not accept credit cards.
If you know how to eat with chopsticks and use them during your trip, remember never to stick them in your food, as it is considered in bad taste to remind you of Japanese funeral rites.
In Japan, after-dinner meals are not common. The Japanese sit down, eat (quickly) and leave.
Sipping ramen noodles (or any other dish) is not impolite in Japan. In fact, it is quite common.
Where to Eat in Japan: Ramen in Tekaippin, Nara
If you like sushi and you are going to eat it in Japan, keep in mind that it already has wasabi in it (between the fish and the rice).
Our videos tasting food in Japan
If you want to see with your own eyes everything we are going to tell you in this post, you can do it in these three videos (a little bit further down you will find four more about Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka):
Also, keep in mind that in the ryokans we were in, we also had dinner (what is known as kaiseki, a very elaborated high quality food and adorned with a wonderful ritual and aesthetics) and breakfast, so in the videos of those days we also talked to you about the food 😉:
If you get the chance, be sure to try one of these kaiseki dinners, because they’re worth a lot.
What to eat in Japan: what are the most typical dishes of Japanese cuisine?
One of the reasons why Japan is one of our favorite countries in the world is that it has a super complete and special gastronomy.
It’s very common for us to associate Japanese food with sushi out of ignorance. And no. The gastronomy of Japan has infinity of rich and varied plates. And the best thing of all… it’s a super cheap gastronomy!
In addition, it is very typical that each region or even each city has its own culinary specialty.
What is the most typical thing I can eat in Japan?
You must know it because it’s the best known Japanese dish around the world. Sushi is rice cooked with sugar, salt, rice vinegar and other ingredients. Most often it is accompanied by raw fish or seafood, although it is not the only way to eat it. The most common type of sushi in Japan is nigiri (an elongated rice ball with a fillet of raw fish or shellfish on top).
What to eat in Japan: Sushi
Sashimi is the raw fish or seafood pieces alone, without rice. They are usually cut into small square slices and served in dishes of different varieties.
I like to call it ‘the Japanese stew’. Although the ingredients are completely different, the concept is very similar.
Ramen is a noodle soup accompanied by other ingredients that vary depending on the type of ramen: chicken, pork, beef, only vegetables… The soup can also be of different types and is usually accompanied by a boiled marinated egg.
What to eat in Japan: ramen
Tonkatsu is a breaded and fried pork chop. It is usually served with rice. And don’t worry because even though it’s fried it’s not at all greasy.
What to eat in Japan: tonkatsu
Wagyu meat is a type of ox that comes from a breed that originated in Japan.
It is one of the most appreciated meats in the world and stands out for its taste, tenderness and fat marbling. There are many types of wagyu (in fact there is even a quality classification), but in general it is a rather expensive meat.
Still, we feel it is essential to try it out at least once during your trip to Japan. Of all the places we tried it (there weren’t many either), we recommend this one in Takayama, where we tried a variety of wagyu known as hida.
What to eat in Japan: wagyu
This dish, so typical of Japan and loved by almost everyone, is one of the options in Japanese cuisine that attracts the least attention.
To give you an idea, it’s like a kind of pizza with an omelet base (bridging a lot of gaps, like with ramen and stew).
Okonomiyaki is prepared on a hot griddle, and in addition to the main ingredient, which may be seafood, for example, there are plenty of vegetables.
What to eat in Japan: Okonomiyaki
It is originally a grilled chicken and vegetable skewer, but can also be found with other ingredients such as fish or seafood.
It can be eaten with just salt or with some sauce.
In some areas of Tokyo, like Omoide Yokocho, yakitori places have the grill on display as a lure for diners. And don’t you see how good it smells!
What to eat in Japan: yakitori
This is undoubtedly one of the jewels of Japanese gastronomy for us.
Gyozas are a kind of cooked and fried pasties that are usually filled with vegetables and chicken or pork. Seriously, a delicacy.
Besides, the best thing about eating gyoza in Japan is that it’s super cheap.
What to eat in Japan: gyozas
Raise your hand, noodle fans! These fried noodles (that’s their literal translation) originated in China, but the Japanese have adopted them in their cuisine as well and they are super common.
They are made with wheat flour and are usually accompanied by vegetables and beef, chicken or pork.
If you don’t like taking chances with food, this is your dish.
More than a dish itself, teriyaki is a form of cooking.
It is usually made with chicken or pork, which are roasted or grilled and then impregnated while cooking with a brown and sweet, shiny sauce made with various ingredients typical of Japanese cuisine.
Another typical dish of Japanese cuisine is tempura, which consists of breading and frying meat, vegetables or fish. Despite what it may seem, it is not such a greasy dish.
Usually the tempura is dipped in a sauce made with broth, soybeans, saké and ginger and other ingredients typical of Japanese cuisine.
What to eat in Japan: Tempura
Fugu is the word used in Japanese for blowfish and the dish prepared with its meat.
Besides being very expensive, it is a super dangerous dish because if it is not cooked correctly it can be poisonous. And not poisonous like I get diarrhea. No, you can die. Some parts of the fugu, especially the liver, contain a large amount of a toxin that paralyzes your muscles and you end up dying from suffocation.
Fugu can only be eaten in specialized restaurants authorized to cook it. Fugu cooking is controlled by law in Japan, to give you an idea.
Along with shabu-shabu, which I’ll tell you about next, sukiyaki is one of the dishes that caught our attention on our trip to Japan, maybe because it’s not a dish we’ve seen outside of Japan.
Imagine a very tasty broth made with vegetables in which you cook super thin slices of meat (usually beef), just with the heat of the soup, made with soy and mirin. It’s a great invention and it’s delicious.
Shabu-shabu is very similar to sukiyaki, but this broth is less sweet and more tasty.
In addition, on shabu-shabu it is customary to dip the meat into a bowl of beaten egg as well. We tried it with wagyu meat and… my goodness! Yummy!
What to eat in Japan: shabu-shabu
On our last trip to Japan I got addicted to yakiniku. I mean, to be honest, I love interacting with food. If, in addition to eating, I can participate in the cooking process, everything tastes infinitely better to me. Maybe that’s why I like yakinikus so much.
Generally speaking, yakiniku means grilled meat, but the concept has evolved into restaurants with a grill in the center of the table where diners cook meat, fish and vegetables.
I especially like them because the meat and vegetables usually come to the table marinated in some rich sauce and cut into small pieces, which makes it much easier to handle. Normally, after cooking them (and if they didn’t have a sauce before) they can get wet with the sauces you’ll find on the table.
What to eat in Japan: yakiniku
Octopus lovers, the takoyaki has arrived! The quickest way to describe it is this: imagine an octopus-stuffed fritter. That’s it!
If you want to know how to cook, in the video of where to eat in Osaka, you can see the complete process 😉
After cooking the takoyakis on a specialized griddle, they put sauce, spices and katsuo-bushi on top.
What to eat in Japan: takoyakis
The udon is a thicker than normal type of noodle that was invented in Japan in the 6th century. You can find it cooked with a broth, such as ramen, or as yakisoba, dried and accompanied by vegetables and other ingredients.
What to eat in Japan: Udon
Small guide of ingredients and dishes to order in Japan
And after making a selection of the most typical dishes of Japanese gastronomy, we will make a small list with the concepts that you will probably find in the menus of the restaurants, so you can know (more or less) what you are asking for.
Shoyu: soy sauce.
Toro: tuna belly.
Uni: hedgehog eggs.
Ikura: salmon eggs.
Ebi-katsu: breaded and fried shrimp.
Katsuo-bushi: very thin slices of dried tuna.
Katsu-don: Breaded and fried rice with pork.
Oyako-don: Rice with egg and chicken.
Ten-don: rice with shrimp and vegetables in tempura.
Karaage: fried chicken.
Sashimi mori-awase: varied sashimi.
Tempura mori-awase: assorted tempura.
Chirashi sushi: rice dish covered with sashimi of some specific fish.
Wagashi: Japanese sweets.
Mochi: Rice cakes.
Where to eat in Japan: some basics
Where to eat in Japan: our selection by city
During our trip to Japan and after returning, we have done an exhaustive work of investigation in which besides speaking to you about all the places in which we were, we spoke about those restaurants that have recommended to us bloggers and travellers of our confidence.
That’s why we’ve written independent posts about where to eat in major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, which you’ll find below.
In all of them there are maps, usually divided by zones, which will be super useful when you are looking for a place to eat while sightseeing every day. You will also find videos of tasting food, a small description of each site, the typical food in which it specializes and the average price of each one.
In this post we tell you what and where to eat in Tokyo and I leave you with a couple of videos where we tried Japanese food in Tokyo:
In this post we tell you what and where to eat in Kyoto and I leave you with a couple of videos where we tried Japanese food in Kyoto:
In this post we tell you what and where to eat in Osaka and I leave you with a couple of videos where we tried Japanese food in Osaka:
In addition to all these posts, in which we have given you detailed and independent recommendations of each place, remember that in the guides of each place in Japan there is always a map with recommended restaurants and a section in which we talk about the places we tried.
Where to eat in Japan: the best Japanese food chains
If you want to ‘play it safe’ while traveling in Japan, there are several Japanese (and non-Japanese) food chains throughout the country (but especially in the big cities) that offer not only cheap, but also super tasty options.
*In addition to all these, you will also find the typical ‘Western’ ones like McDonalds, KFC, Burger King or Pizza Hut, but keep in mind that they will not be as cheap as the Japanese ones we will talk about next.
Sukiya is one of Japan’s best known fast food chains along with Yoshinoya. The concept is simple: rice bowls ‘with things’, as I say (so you all understand).
Fish, tempura, meat, many sauces… There are also soups and salads.
Where to Eat in Tokyo: Sukiya Okachimachi
Simple but very rich and also very cheap. The times we ate at Sukiya we spent around 1650 JPY both with soft drinks included. So it’s a great option if your budget is tight.
And we go to another of Japan’s most famous and cheapest fast food chains. Because if Sukiya was cheap, Yoshinoya is cheaper.
The times we ate in a Yoshinoya (which was several, because they are everywhere in the big cities), we paid less 1,000 JPY for both.
Where to Eat in Tokyo: Yoshinoya Shibuya
Just like Sukiya you will find a not inconsiderable variety of rice bowls with different ingredients. All the ones we tried were very good. A perfect place to eat if your budget is tight.
Just like Yoshinoya or Sukiya, Saizeriya is another of Japan’s typical ‘fast food’ chains. The funny thing about Saizeriya is that its specialty is Italian food.
And let’s face it, it’s not the best Italian food you’ll ever eat, but seriously, it’s all good and VERY cheap.
Where to Eat in Tokyo: Saizeriya
We visited several during our trip to Japan, but in this case, at the Ginza in Tokyo, we ate both for 1,567 JPY. That’s NOTHING (a little over 12 euros). It also has free refill for the drinks.
Saizeriya seems like a GREAT choice if you want to get out of Japanese food for a while at a super affordable price.
If you’re into tempura and batter, you belong here. This chain, just like the others, is cheap and the food is pretty good.
In Tenya they are specialists not only in tempura, but also in tendon (tempura on a rice bowl, what I would call rice with things :P)
Sushi Zanmai is one of the best known sushi chains in Tokyo and Japan.
You’ll find Sushi Zanmai in almost every major Tokyo neighborhood. Plus, some of them are open 24 hours a day.
This place is an excellent option to eat sushi without leaving the whole budget of the day.
To try authentic ramen in solitude (because the seating positions are individual and enjoy amazing privacy) Ichiran Ramen is your place.
You’ll find Ichiran in most of Tokyo’s major neighborhoods and also in Kyoto and Osaka.
In the posts and maps we have made about where to eat in each city you will find several Ichiran.
Where to Eat in Tokyo: Ichiran Ramen
We find it an interesting option because of the fast service and because it is cheap.
One of the most curious things about this chain is that you will have to choose the food when you enter one of their vending machines. Don’t worry if you don’t know any Japanese because every ramen comes with its picture so you can get an idea of what you are going to order. Besides, you will be able to personalize it as much as you want.
Mr. Donut is a fast food franchise founded in 1956 in the United States, which sells donuts (of course), coffee, muffins and other types of pastries.
Currently its main market is in Japan, where you will find more than 1,300 stores in total. So if you’re into doughnuts, this could be a great option for breakfast.
In the days before I went to Japan, all I saw on Instagram were people eating croissants from this chain that has become super typical in Japan. I won’t lie to you, the croissants are very good, but the truth is they’re not cheap.
Where to Eat in Tokyo: Choco Cro
You’ll find Choco Cro all over Japan, so you can’t leave without trying them at least once 😉
MOS Burger is another famous fast food chain in Tokyo and Japan. In this case it offers, as its name suggests, hamburgers.
But with a very Japanese touch in the flavor. They say Chicken Teriyaki is the best, but there are also vegetarian options.
Known as one of the most typical family restaurant chains in Japan, at Royal Host you will find a wide and varied menu at quite reasonable prices.
You can eat anything from hamburgers to tartare bowls to fried squid. As in Saizeriya, at Royal Host there is also free refill of drinks.
Matsuya is the direct responsibility of Sukiya and Yoshinoya. This chain specializes in what I call (as you may have read a few times above) rice bowls with things.
The things you can put oak from rice can be as diverse as tempura, meat, tortillas, sauces… It’s also cheap and the food is tasty.
Katsuya is very much in the style of Sukiya, Yoshinoya and Matsuya, but in their case it specializes in tonkatsu (meat pie) and tonkatsu rice bowls 😛
Like the previous ones, its main strength is its affordable prices.
You’ll love this network if, like me, you’re a fan of tabletop grills or yakiniku.
In Japan it is quite common to find restaurants that have a small circular grill in the middle of the table where you can cook meat and vegetables yourself – I love them! In fact, we were in a few of all kinds and classes.
Gyu Kaku is especially cool because in addition to the normal menu, it has options where you have an ‘open bar’ of food for two hours at a fairly affordable price where you can try a lot of different dishes.
Sushiro is a typical sushi bar where you order food on a screen and the sushi comes to the table on a tape.
The variety is huge and the prices are quite affordable.
Gyoza no Ohsho
Any gyoza lovers in the room? If you love this Chinese-Japanese delicacy like I do, you belong here. 6 gyozas for 300 JPY.
Where to Eat in Japan: Gyoza No Ohsho
I think there’s nothing more to say. Well yes, they are delicious 😉
Just like MOS Burger, in Lotteria you will find a lot of different types of burgers, most of them ‘japanized’ with typical japanese flavors.
Another highly recommended sushi chain. Not the best sushi in Tokyo, that’s for sure. But it’s cheap and it’s a great way to get rid of your cravings at a good price.
In addition, the roll on the conveyor belts always gives a fun touch to the lunch/dinner.
When you sit down at the bar, you will see a little sign indicating the price of the dishes according to their colour so that you can calculate what you are eating.
Curry house CoCo Ichibanya
I put this restaurant at the end for obvious reasons you should know if you know me.
I just don’t like curry, but I assume this network had to be on this list because there are so many people who love it, Fran for one. 😛
In this restaurant you will find currys of all types and classes because they have more than 30 varieties.
Where to eat cheaply in Japan
If you’ve managed to get here and read the whole post, you’ll have realized that eating cheaply in Japan is relatively easy.
There are options for all pockets, but if your budget is tight you won’t have any problems.
The key is to avoid ‘western’ options, because a breakfast at Starbucks will cost you twice as much as a meal for two at any typical Japanese restaurant.
Where to Eat in Japan: Gion Tanto in Kyoto
You can also buy prepared food in most combi’s and supermarkets at very good prices, including sushi.
How much do we spend on food in Japan?
To give you an idea, you can eat at any Japanese tavern for less than 700-800 JPY (about 6 euros) per person. The most expensive meal of the trip was the one we had in Takayama at Maruaki restaurant, where we could try the delicious hida meat for a bit more than 50 euros both.
I leave you a list with some prices of meals we made during our trip to Japan.
Fish cakes in Tokyo: 3.49 euros (410 JPY).
Lunch at Sukiya Tokyo: 14.05 euros (1,650 JPY).
Sushi dinner in Tokyo: 22.49 euros (2,640 JPY).
Breakfast at Starbucks: 14.34 Euros (1,684 JPY).
Yoshinoya Lunch: 8.43 Euros (990 JPY).
Lunch at Nikko: EUR 27.41 (JPY 3,218).
Dinner at a Shinjuku izakaya: EUR 28.96 (JPY 3,400).
Lunch at McDonalds: EUR 12.86 (JPY 1,510).
Sushi at Tsukiji: ?11.96 (1,404 yen).
Food at Saizeriya: EUR 13.35 (JPY 1,567).
Sushi Naritaya Kyoto: EUR 45.40 (JPY 5,330).
Okonomiyakis in Kyoto: EUR 22.66 (JPY 2,660)
Ice Cream in Kyoto: EUR 3.41 (JPY 400)
Kyoto Yakiniku Dinner: EUR 40.20 (JPY 4,719)
Ramen in Nara: EUR 14.91 (JPY 1,750)
Gyozas Sukemasa Kyoto Dinner: EUR 10.05 (JPY 1,180).
Lunch at Iwamura in Miyajima: EUR 24.53 (JPY 2,880).
Momiji Cakes: EUR 5.11 (JPY 600).
Hiroshima Chococro: EUR 10.39 (JPY 1,220).
Menme Himeji Food: EUR 11.50 (JPY 1,350).
Takoyakis Osaka: EUR 6.25 (JPY 734)
Tempura Osaka meal: EUR 29.34 (JPY 3,445).
Gyoza No Osho Dinner: EUR 15.62 (JPY 1,834).
Kanazawa Udon Lunch: EUR 12.78 (1,500 yen)
Saizeriya Dinner: 13.68 Euros (1,606 JPY).
Maruaki Takayama Lunch: EUR 50.94 (JPY 5,980)
Shabu-Shabu Airport lunch: EUR 40.48 (JPY 4,752).
We spent 959.37 euros on food for the two of us in Japan (for 21 days). This total includes breakfast and some other meals that we made by shopping in local supermarkets and 7Eleven.
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