Got some cash? Now you can afford to eat, hooray! You can’t throw a stick in Japan without hitting a restaurant serving something tasty. As such, you’ll be left to your own devices, but there are a few tricks to enhance your dining experience:
-Follow your nose. It will probably lead you to some of Japan’s best foods like grilled chicken or okonomiyaki.
-Raw eggs are safe in Japan. Eggs are handled differently in Japan, so don’t panic if you’re served undercooked eggs. Many places will sell you raw eggs for 50 cents a pop.
-No substitutions. Japanese food comes as it comes, and you can’t even change what comes on a burger at McDonald’s.
-Keep an eye out for samples in windows. Lots of restaurants have realistic-looking samples sitting in their front windows, along with prices, so you know what you’re getting into.
-Quick recommendation: You can’t go wrong with izakaya, restaurants that specialize in beer, sake and foods that go well with them. A red lantern (pictured) marks an izakaya.
-Need beer? Say “nama.” That word will get you a large mug of whatever’s on tap (it’ll be Japanese) for around $5 or $7.
-Adventurous? Try “omakase.” That word will let the chef make whatever he wants, and it’ll be what he thinks is the best of his restaurant. Be careful because blindly ordering omakase might be expensive. You can try offering a budget with omakase, like 3,000 or 5,000 yen, but be liberal with the budget to be nice.
-Vegetarian? You’re in for a challenge. Lots of places don’t quite get the idea of vegetarianism (even if there are plenty of veggie restaurants in Tokyo), so make it clear to your servers before ordering anything. Tokyoites understand the word “vegetarian,” but not “vegan” – so if you are vegan or have another alternative diet, it’s best to just go for “vegetarian” and work from there. After you receive your order, check your food for non-veggie ingredients.
-If you’re offered something, it’s not free. If you’re given something without asking, that’s free. “Service” is the Japanese word for “free,” but with the accent it sounds more like “saab-ees.”
-Patience will be rewarded. Don’t just duck into the first place you come across. Walking around looking for the right place is a fun and stress-free adventure. Enjoy it!
-Careful eater? If for any reason you’re very careful when ordering food (vegan, allergies, just plain picky), consider getting a Japanese food guidebook and reading up before leaving.
If you’re hungry between meals, convenience stores are your friends. They have plenty of snacks, drinks, and fried food to keep you going with all that walking you’re doing. If they ask you a question you don’t understand, they’re offering to heat up your snack in the microwave.