The price is right: Japan’s best budget and blow-out eats
From cheap eats to gourmet gastronomy, in Japan it’s possible to eat well at every price point. Here’s some of the best dining experiences at both ends of the financial scale:
Eating well in Japan doesn’t mean draining your bank account of all your hard-earned dough. There are plenty of places to access top quality eats at bargain prices – you just have to know where to look.
Convenience store fare
Most people associate convenience store food with soggy sandwiches, suspicious mystery meats and overpriced baked goods with no nutritional value, but in Japan convenience stores can be relied on to provide low-cost snacks and meals that don’t sacrifice on quality. From perfectly-formed rice balls (onigiri) to fresh sushi, slices of cheesecake, bottles of sake, cans of local beer and more, stopping into a convenience store in Japan is an essential experience for budget travellers keen to save a buck but eat well at the same time.
Whether you’re heading to Tokyo’s iconic Tsukiji Fish Market, Osaka’s Kuromon Ichiba Market, or one of the new Western-style farmer’s markets that have popped up in Tokyo, markets provide fresh fare for a steal. From citrus bursting with flavour to delectable deep-fried fish balls – Japan’s markets are a boon for the budget-conscious traveller.
Food truck finds
Found in dedicated open-air food truck parks and modern markets, Japan’s food trucks offer low-cost meals that taste so good it’s hard to believe they’re created in the back of a tiny van or truck. Usually run by young, hip flavour-makers and trendsetters (check out Commune 2nd), global cuisine is the name of the food truck game, so don’t be surprised to find Indian, Mexican, Italian and Spanish cuisines on offer. A real winner for vegans and vegetarians, many food trucks are now also offering meat-free meals (something that has traditionally been a bit of a challenge in Japan).
Department store delights
While not strictly a budget experience, most department store food halls have a variety of savoury, sweet and fresh foods on offer that won’t break the bank. Of course, department store food halls in ritzy areas like Ginza (check out Ginza Mitsukoshi) you’ll also find high-priced gourmet foods like small blocks of elaborately designed chocolate going for mindboggling prices and rare seafood that commands high prices. But you’ll also find well-priced sushi, sashimi and oysters, soft serve ice cream, pastries, tarts, cakes and more. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to try some free samples too.
Sure, saving money by eating ramen every day is a good way to extend your holiday budget and not return home to a heart-stopping credit card statement, however there’s something to be said for splashing out every now and then. In Japan, a high-end dining experience is well worth investing your dollars in. Boasting a record-breaking number of Michelin-starred restaurants, chefs with impeccable knife skills, culinary traditions that have lasted for centuries and a commitment to providing levels of customer service unseen in most other countries, Japan’s fine dining scene is world-class. Here are some experiences worth splurging on:
Michelin star magic
Home to more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the world, Japan’s world-leading chefs know how to deliver again and again. In Japan, Michelin star dining is well within reach, with top-rated restaurants scattered throughout all the big cities (and many rural areas too). Whether you try lauded yakitori (chicken cooked over open coals) with a smooth jazz soundtrack playing in the background at Tokyo’s Birdland, the much-hyped tasting menu at Hajime in Osaka or out-of-this-world kaiseki cuisine (Japanese degustation style dining) in Kyoto at Hyotei, if you’re a foodie unafraid to part with cash in pursuit of the world’s best dining experiences, then Japan is a dream destination.
Food with a view
In high rise-centric cities like Tokyo, any restaurant with a view is going to attract a higher cost but the extra expense is wholly justified when considering the incredible experience on offer. The perfect option for a special celebratory dinner on your final night in Japan, heading to a restaurant with a rooftop bar, outdoor dining area or sweeping views of the city is an experience worth savouring. At 345 metres above the ground, Tokyo Sky Tree’s Sky Restaurant 634 is an exclusive dining experience characterised by Japanese-French haute cuisine served with unbeatable views of the city. At Two Rooms Grill and Bar, Australian chef Matt Crabbe has created an exceptional food and wine experience to match the impressive views of Tokyo available from the upscale restaurant’s dining room and terrace. Book ahead to avoid missing out!
If you’ve got some cash to burn and want to try some of the most sought-after fruit in the world, then Japan’s luxury fruit scene will appeal. Sure, you could pick up an apple from a supermarket like everyone else, or you could fork out thousands for a heart-shaped watermelon. Luxury fruit parlours selling high-cost melons, apples, berries and stone fruit can be found throughout Japan and while the prices are seriously eye-watering, fresh fruit aficionados with money to burn can pony up for a huge, perfectly-proportioned strawberry that is essentially both a work of art and miracle of nature.