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Where & What to eat while in Japan

I am traveling to Japan for the first time in September. I will be in Tokyo, Nagoya and Kyoto and side trips. I am looking for budget friendly eateries but am willing to splurge every once and awhile. Off the beaten path and unique culinary experiences are what I am looking for. So any suggestions about markets, saki distilleries, miso making, really anything great culinary experience you had in Japan I would love to hear about it. Thank you.

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  1. For pure comfort food, it's hard to beat piping hot tamago on a stick, available at Nishiki Market in Kyoto.

    1. I very much enjoyed Gyoza Stadium, located within Namjatown, a two-story indoor theme park in Sunshine City Ikebukuro. Ostensibly a dozen or so gyoza vendors from throughout Japan selected for their excellent dumplings. At least one place there will offer a few other dishes like vegetables and soups and snacks as well, and this is what I recommend. But by all means don't limit yourself to one vendor. It will take you some sleuthing, but definitely seek out the vendor that makes shredded garlic gyoza.


      4 Replies
      1. re: Steve

        Wow, you REALLY love this place. Same post you've made like 10 times over last few years.

        1. re: Silverjay

          As a matter fo fact I enjoyed the experience enormously.

          I list this when people ask for unique and inexpensive, fun, etc. Seems to fit the OP to a T.

          I am flattered you're keeping count, though...... ;-)

        2. re: Steve

          Just to note that Gyoza Stadium has closed and reopened recently, and many of the vendors have changed.

          1. re: Robb S

            Good point. Namjatown was closed for renovation.

            Yeah, a place like this is set up on purpose to have turnover, even without renovation. It is not meant to be a permanent arrangement for any of the vendors. It is meant to be a showcase....but it is serious.

        3. Maybe you could be a little more specific about what you're looking for--what exactly is a "budget friendly eatery" (up to Y1000? Y1500? Y2000?), and what is a splurge? (Y30 000/person is not uncommon).

          and how long will you be spending in each place? There's no point in recommending something that's "off the beaten track" in Kyoto, for example, if you're only going to be there for a day or two.

          Also, what kind of food, specifically? I know a fantastic but slightly odd Indian restaurant in Kobe if you're interested, for example. Or is there anything you don't eat?

          And it's sake. The "e" is like the "e" sound in "kelp", not like the sound in "key".

          3 Replies
          1. re: prasantrin

            Budget friendly being around Y1000 for lunch and Y2000 for dinner. We will only be in each city for appx 3 days. I am specifically looking for Japanese food. I will try anything and have no dietary limitations. I am clearly a novice to Japan, as evident in my spelling error, and sadly my knowledge of Japanese cuisine is limited to sushi. I want to expand my knowledge of Japan's food culture while I have this wonderful opportunity to be over there.

            1. re: mlavelle

              Suggest you go through the archives of last 5 years or so and build an itinerary based on research. Consider sightseeing goals and get an understanding of basic geography of each city when you are looking at restaurants. If you post that itinerary here, you'll get far more responses. Other than random stray recs, these "start from ground zero" requests rarely go far.

              1. re: mlavelle

                Ramen at Ippudo in Kyoto (near Nishiki Market) is very good. Katsukura serves excellent tonkatsu in Kyoto in the Sanjo dori shopping area downtown. Omen, also in Kyoto, serves good udon. All three have English menus. Yakisoba and okonomiyaki restaurants can also be budget friendly. Also check out bento boxes for lunch or even dinner. Available at various price levels in numerous convenience stores, groceries, department stores and train stations.

            2. When you are in Nagoya, please try Kishi-men.
              I prefer Nabe-yaki style Kishi-men with Aka-miso soup.
              Nabe-yaki Udon is a food in winter.
              But never mind, It's tasty. Definitely.

              1 Reply
              1. re: irukaunyu

                Thank you for the advice, I am looking forward to trying Kishi-men!

              2. If you want to eat on the cheap for a few meals, your best bet are the bakeries. A lot of them have salads as well as bread, pizza, weiner-imbedded buns, etc. Some of them have sit-down service, and you can usually take-out and eat them in the parks, too (although, you have to take your own garbage back to the hotel at night -- no trash cans).

                The gift-shop in Meiji-jingu has a very reasonable cafeteria -- you can stock up on liquids, and I found the fried-stuff-onna-stick set really nice. I also liked that they had do-it-yourself kakigori (shaved ice) cups. Meiji-jingu is right next to the teen mecca of Harajuku/Takeshita-dori, so it's great for a break.

                Convenience stores can be remarkably healthy places to grab supper to eat in your hotel or hostel. There are a variety of salads, fried chicken, main dishes . . . you can get "canned fruit" packaged in plastic single-servings, and there's fruit juice, milk and a variety of yogurts. Not to mention traditional oni-giri, and the oden (boiled stuff like daikon radish, boiled eggs, fish-paste formed stuff) might be tasty in late September if it's not that hot.

                1. While in Kyoto, you can combine a half-day trip to Fushimi Inari Shrine (JR Nara line: Inari Station/ Keihan line: Fushimi-Inari Station) with a visit to the impossibly small Fujioka Shuzo, brewers of the "Souku" label. They've set up a small tasting bar in the kura (Sakagura Bar En), where you can sample their junmai focused sake. Tastings are pretty reasonable: ¥420~ for a glass.
                  One of the young toji's innovations is the use of 500ml Venican glass bottles for their premium grade sake, which he has designed to work in with modern lifestyles - and tiny Japanese refrigerators. Definitely worth picking up a bottle, as its hard to find outside of Kansai. (Closed Wednesday)

                  Two minutes walk from there is Genya (玄屋 ), a ramen shop which specialises in sake kasu (sake lees) ramen. A bowl of sake kasu ramen (酒粕ラーメン) will set you back ¥780, or ¥830 for the spicier karami kasu ramen (辛味酒粕ラーメン). Add another ¥150 if you want it with chashu, or ¥120 for an extra serving of noodles. No English menu.


                  Both are a short walk from Keihan Fushimi-Momoyama station.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: wekabeka

                    Thanks for the advice. I think i'll make note of this as well. Last time I was visiting Fushimi Inari I stopped by at Kizakura Kappa Country and picked up a bunch of bottles from one of my favorite breweries, Higashiyama Shuzo.

                    1. re: wekabeka

                      Thank you, this is exactly the information I am looking for. I just got my Japan Rail pass, I am so looking forward to going to Japan for the first time!

                      1. re: mlavelle

                        Just for fun, if you do go to Fushimi Inari Shrine, look for fortune cookies. According to Jennifer 8. Lee's The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Fushimi is possibly the birthplace of the forebears of fortune cookies.

                    2. During your 3 days in Tokyo, it will be better ti choose by destination, here some ideas below :
                      - while in Ginza, you can stop before having a last drink in a bar at Nipponbashi Yoshicho : great 'kani chahan(crab fried rice)' served with a ginger bouillon, and great also old style 'chuuka soba(old style ramen)' Lunch and diner are at the same affordable price from 1000yens to 2000yens, unfortunately the last order is until 20:00. Before don't forget to buy some 'ogura anpan(little bread filled with sweet beans)' at Kimuraya Japanese bakery, located in front of Mitsukoshi Dept store, 150yens each.
                      - when around Ueno-Okachimachi, there, between the popular market of clothes, tea shop, retails, in the Ameyoko, there is small standing sushi referred as Magurobito. If you played cards, and you can remember your commands, then you are able to calculate your note !! Or for specialities of lotus roots, the very very cheap Izakaya Renkon-ya is nice though for a bite and sake. Reservation is not possible, you will have to wait, and ask for the 2nd floor(better seating).
                      - at Shibuya, go for yakiniku at Gyubei in front of Bunkamura, the lunch sets are very impressive good value. And after, few meters, there is a factory shop of Japanese candies Pappububle, you can see the confection of these small decoration candies..and certainly, you would have a feet close to Viron for there 'kouign-amann'.
                      - at Iidabashi, perhaps not a long pause is needed, but if you have time at lunch between Akihabara and Shunjuku, for a very short bite, the one star soba Kyorakutei have some soba at lunch around 1000-1200yens to splurge in a choice of different flagrance soup : curry (summer), or kamo&nameko (duck&mushrooms), or simple shoyu dashi. The tempura are expensive unfortunately, and the portion is too small. But, more than soba, of you like your egg to be soft smooth, I will recommend you to go for a good bowl of oyakodon(rice topped with chicken, and eggs) served with zaru cold tofu, Yakitori Abeya. Unique menu, lunch depending on the quantity is from 800yens to 1200yens. And on a parallel street, there is some Japanese sweets Makanai Pyatsubu that I like to eat frozen : the 'elegant monaka'. Flavors are matcha, kuri(chestnut), kuromame(black soybeans), the box of 6 is at 1050yens, and you can seat for a tea..

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Ninisix

                        Wow thank you so much! I am really excited to travel to Japan! On a completely different note, I understand there is going to be Sumo in Tokyo the week I will be there. If we purchase tickets is it custom to attend all day or would we it be ok to spend a few hours only?

                        1. re: mlavelle

                          you can go for as long or as little as you like. I went with friends from abroad--they went for the entire day, but I just went for the main bouts.