Crashing Japan
Fast Food

by Bamboo Dong, Sep 28th 2007

While there's always the option to scarf down burgers and fries on almost every Tokyo street corner, there are plenty of other cheap and healthy fast food options to choose from.

Sushi

Kaiten sushi is a great way to sample many kinds of sushi on a small budget, especially for those who don't really know Japanese. Known as conveyor belt sushi in English-speaking countries, these restaurants are laid out such that the sushi chefs are preparing the dishes in a central island. When they're done, they place the items onto conveyor belts that snake around the shop. When you see a dish that you want, you take it off the belt.

The sushi is placed on color-coded dishes—the different colors correspond to different prices, and it's not uncommon to see places where two pieces of sushi go for as little as 100 – 150JPY. If something you want isn't on the belt, you just have to ask the chefs and they'll prepare it for you. At the end of your meal, after you stand up, a hostess will come to your seat, count all your plates, and give you a total.

Beef bowls and curry

Walking through the streets (and through the train stations), you're bound to see many places that will have vending machines either outside or just inside the door with pictures of beef bowls or plates of curry on the buttons. These are great for those days when time is of the essence. Stick in some money, make your selections, hit the completion button, and you'll be given a ticket. By the time you sit down inside, your food will be ready. When you're done, just get up and walk away.

The food is really good, especially considering that most places will have these dishes for only 380 – 800JPY. Some beef bowl places will even give you a free bowl of miso with your meal, which makes it all the tastier.

Western fast food

McDonalds, Freshburger, Mos Burger, Subway, KFC—if you're really craving Western fast food, there are plenty of places to get it in Japan. One of the first things you'll notice, though, is that their menu is generally a bit different from ours. For starters, you'd never be able to walk into your local Subway and get a shrimp sandwich (or your local Mickey Ds and get a shrimp burger or a “McPork”). Needless to say, they're worth at least sticking your head into, just to peer at the menu (they'll have all the popular items, too, so your burger cravings won't go unanswered).

If you wander into a McDonalds during September, you're likely to see a lot of patrons eating a Tsukimi burger, which is only available during that month. I'm personally not a big fan, because I can't quite figure out what that sauce is, but it's an interesting experience if you happen to chance upon it.

Ramen

Real ramen is really delicious. Abandon all the thoughts of your 10 cent ramen package college days—real ramen runs the gamut of fresh ingredients and delicious broth stocks. You can generally customize what you want in your ramen, but if you get a bowl with everything in it, expect to find huge slabs of pork, flavorful boiled eggs, and other delectables. If you're still hungry when you're done, you can ask for more noodles, more meat, or anything else.

Canned ramen (for advanced users only!)

Desperate? There's a vending machine outside Gachapon in Akihabara that has canned ramen and soba. It's… well, it's cheap. It's only 350JPY, and it comes with a folding fork. The broth is pretty good, the veggies and meat aren't bad, but the noodles… Actually, this is a bad idea.

The fast food options in Tokyo are immense, and contrary to popular belief, most of them are pretty cheap. You're definitely not going to go hungry any time soon, and even if you only have time to dash into a convenience store and grab some onigiri, you'll eat pretty well. The bakeries in Japan are pretty impressive as well, so be sure to check one out.


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