Eating in Japan on a budget

tl;dr I hope you like eggs

Because I’ve spent most of the last week doing boring touristy stuff, and I can’t really be bothered writing long tedious posts about all the places I’ve visited here’s a blog post about what I’ve been eating recently. Woooooo

I’m living off my savings, and so my scope for $3000 bottles of sake is limited; eating cheaply now means more motorbiking times later. Japan is renowned for being a pricey place to stay, and in particular where I am now in Tokyo. Japan seems to me to be odd though, in that while some things are ridiculously expensive (ie. the same price as Perth) other stuff is weirdly cheap.

Take eggs, for example. Here, a 12-pack of strangely white eggs with brilliant yellow centres costs about $1.50. I was always told that bright yellow yolks means the chickens lived happy free-range lives; I am quite sure that isn’t the case here at $1-a-dozen, so I’m trying not to think about how you make a chicken artificially happy. But they are cheap and delicious.

The other awesome thing is convenience stores, which are everywhere. Here’s the things you can buy for about-a-dollar, my typical price point:

  • Large bottle of drinking yogurt <3
  • Various cans of iced coffee
  • Slightly artificial steamed buns <3
  • An enormous variety of cup noodles (and every convenience store provides boiling water and somewhere to sit to eat)
  • Various disturbing bread products; best not to enquire about whether they actually contain bread
  • Eggs <3
  • Quite a lot of icecream wrapped in a frozen waffle thing: delicious
  • Cans of really terrible beer (Asahi’s cheap brand which I assume they are too embarassed to export outside Japan)
  • Half-loaves of oddly sweet bread
  • CalorieMate

Oh, CalorieMate. This is something new to me, but apparently reasonably well known as a classic Japanese snack food. For ¥100 you get two sticks of almost-shortbread manufactured by a pharmaceutical company and sold as a snack food. These are supposed to contain all the vitamins, minerals, protein and fat you need to live: Soylent eat your heart out.

wpid-imag0634.jpg

wpid-imag0636.jpgLook at all those tasty vitamins! mmmm. This is the chocolate flavour, which is why it looks a little … brown

Whether you can actually live off this stuff is debatable, and I wouldn’t really want to try. It’s pretty tasty though, with  a variety of flavours including “maple syrup”, and is making up (I sincerely hope) for the complete lack of nutritional value in the rest of the food I’m eating.

I’m supplementing this diet by sampling various Tokyo noodle bars, where you can pick up a bowl of excellent ramen for about $4-5. This is not something you want to do too regularly, in the interests of not dying of a salt overdose, but is generally a pretty good meal.

Other culinary adventures have included takoyaki, the local speciality in Osaka. It was amazing. I ate it all. Just wow. Also the magic of sushi bars with actual sushi trains – you order via a screen at your table and a little train-shaped car shoots out along a track with your food when your order is ready.

Finally, one innovation in Japan and Korea which really needs to come to Australia is the concept of the meal-ticket machine. Say you own a small noodle joint, and your specialty is cooking and making awesome, cheap noodles. You don’t want to deal with the annoyance and hygiene concerns of dealing with cash, talking to customers etc, so you invest in one of these:

I was always too hungry to remember to take a photo, so here’s one I stole off the Internet

As a customer, you feed in your money and hit the button for the meal you want, just like a vending machine. The machine prints a ticket, which you give to the guy doing the cooking, who makes delicious noodles and puts them in front of you. The whole process is streamlined, no social interaction need take place and everyone is happy. This needs to happen in Australia.

So today is my last day in Tokyo, after which I’m spending tomorrow catching trains to head up to Hokkaido. Until next time :)

-Patrick

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