Is it possible to eat for under RM50 a day in Tokyo, Japan? We put this to the test during a recent trip there and failed miserably.
However, the reason for our failure is not what you think. Sure, Tokyo is notorious for being an expensive city to live in, but as far as food is concerned, it is actually affordable if you are not too picky. Unfortunately (or fortunately, honestly) for us, there were just too much delicious food for us to try that we kept spending more than RM50 a day!
Here are just some of the things we ate:
Noodles and more noodles
There are so many noodle shops in Tokyo that it is really hard to pick a favourite or one that serves “the best” of this and that. If you’re adventurous, walk into a smaller shop that only has one or two cooks behind the counter serving as many as 20 people. These shops usually serve simple items – which are no less tasty and filling than more elaborate versions – and customers will need to quickly decide what they want, especially during lunch hour.
Don’t worry too much about it, though, as almost all these noodle shops have a vending machine somewhere in the premises that allows customers to order their food without having to speak to anyone. Just slide your money into the slot and press the button with a picture of what you want to eat; the price will be clearly stated on each button.
Then, hand your ticket to anyone behind the counter and wait for your food. While most ramen shops sell just ramen, you might need to tell the folks at other noodle shops whether you want soba or udon. It is also best to indicate to the folks behind the counter that you do not understand Japanese so that someone gives you a nod when your food’s ready.
The price range for a bowl of noodle (some also come with a bowl of rice with pork/chicken/beef) is between RM12 and RM30. Shops at more touristy areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku tend to be more expensive, although their portions are big. Water is free and you’re welcome to have as much as you want; some places even offer green tea.
If you’re on a smaller budget, we suggest you head to the nearest convenience store for some pre-packed noodles. A lot of the stores have a wide variety of pre-packed food, both hot and cold, and they are nearly just as good as freshly-made ones. If anything, buying a bowl of noodles from the convenience store is fast, cheap and, to some extent, a quirky travel experience that you can share later. There are microwave ovens that you can use to heat up your food too, while bigger stores will have a counter or some chairs for you to “eat in”.
Sushi, of course
You can’t go to Japan and not have sushi. Even if you don’t like sushi, you must still have sushi at the place it was invented. “Why, yes, I have had sushi in Japan before.” See how cool that sounds?
There may not be as many sushi restaurants in Tokyo as there are noodle shops, but you can find at least a couple of them in tourist spots. These are usually conveyor belt sushi restaurants and your best bet if you’re looking for something fast.
You can get the sushi chef to make special items for you but do be wary of the price as some items are only available during certain months or seasons and will cost more.
The best place to have sushi when in Tokyo is at the Tsukiji Fish Market. It is a wholesale seafood market which also holds the famous tuna auctions. But more than that, Tsukiji is also a place that has quaint sushi restaurants and a handful of ramen shops along the market’s alleys.
Don’t worry about not knowing which shop to go to – just find one that suits your budget! The seafod is really fresh here and there is no need to find the “famous ones” that you’ve been reading about on travel blogs.
The vendors are friendly and accommodating, and since the market is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Tokyo, it is very accessible.
However, you might want to make your way there fast as the market is set to relocate to another area by November this year to make way for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
ALSO READ: How to eat sushi
Tempura and pastries
It wasn’t that easy to find tempura shops in Tokyo (there are a few in Tsukiji) although you can get the dish itself in restaurants and supermarkets. We came across a small tempura shack in Ginza, one of the more upmarket areas of the city, and realised that tempura in Japan is pretty much the same as tempura in Malaysia…
Still, the seafood tempura was nice because the cuttlefish and prawns were fresh and big. Tempura does tend to be a little more expensive though – expect to spend around RM20 to RM40 a bowl (which usually comes with rice or noodles).
Even more expensive in Tokyo are pastries. Somehow, buns and bread cost a bomb, although most of them are delicious. A trip to an “artisan” bakery – yes, hipsters are in Tokyo, too – made me RM40 poorer after picking out three buns. A bakery at a supermarket was only slightly cheaper at RM28 for three buns.