Where and what am I going to eat? For every new place you travel to abroad, these are two very important questions to consider. In a perfect world, the perfect answer is “everywhere and everything.” However, when you consider the endless bad endings achievable in the real world, having a good meal becomes a daunting task. どうしょうかなー (what to do?)
Luckily, in Japan, putting together a good food ‘spot list’ will only take you a matter of days. Follow these four tips when venturing out into the city for the first time!
1. Eat the local specialty!
Japanese cuisine is well known worldwide, but within Japan, each region has its own specialty that it takes extreme pride in. Osaka, also known as Japan’s “kitchen,” has many specialty foods that originated there. Takoyaki (fried octopus dough balls) and okonomiyaki (savory pancake) are two very famous Osaka foods. You can be sure to find them everywhere with good, consistent quality. However, be wary of touristy areas overcharging for simple local foods!
My friend is on the left and I’m on the right. Okonomiyaki is one of my favorite Japanese foods, so you bet I couldn’t wait to try it in its birthplace! Even though this okonomiyaki restaurant was quiet and located in a suburb, we already have plans to return!
2. Take advantage of the buffet.
In Japan, tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat) is usually cheap and good quality. The most popular type of tabehoudai is yakiniku (grilled meat), where customers are brought different cuts of meat to grill themselves. All-you-can-eat yakiniku, without wagyu beef, shouldn’t cost you more than 3,000 to 3,500 yen per person, including access to the optional all-you-can-drink bar (really recommend!) Tabehoudai also should include an all-you-can-eat soup, rice, salad, and dessert bar at the original price.
At some point in Japan, you will crave yakiniku. However, finding a reasonably priced place (as a foreigner) is like trying to find a needle in a haystack! This restaurant was on the 5th floor of a building we took 5 minutes to find the door of, but it was worth it.
3. Phone a (local) friend!
Receiving a certified stamp of approval from a local is on the same level as a Michelin star— but you may not have the same tastes, so curb your expectations! Still, a local will have tried everything you want to try and will have tried everything you may have never known existed. Their knowledge and expertise are invaluable. However, if there’s something you really want to try but it isn’t to their taste, go for it anyway! You’re only abroad for a short amount of time— seize every moment.
4. Brave the streets… or use Google Maps.
Braving the streets is not for everyone, but it can not only help you understand your surroundings better and work on your language pledge. If you don’t want to go into the city blind, Google Maps works just fine in Japan. Just be careful sticking to English-only restaurants and reviews. I have found plenty of worthy spots with this method, including an authentic American-style burger joint (bonus tip: have your last favorite food before leaving home) and other gatekeep-worthy spots. I’ve also had okay sushi and overpriced food. It’s all a part of the experience!
After wandering a food court for thirty minutes, I settled on a small bowl of karaagedon (fried chicken bowl). In hindsight, I probably paid more than I should have, but I was in the middle of the city.