A Guide to the Wonderful World of Japan's Fast Food
From $6 ramen and sushi delivered by conveyor belt to takeaway burgers — yes, burgers.
From vending machines lining the streets to combinis (that is, convenience stores) taking up real estate on every corner of Tokyo, it's clear Japan is a nation puts a lot on emphasis on convenience.
The Japanese attitude to fast food is no different — except in Japan, convenience doesn't have to mean compromising on quality. From curry houses filled with salarymen, ubiquitous heartwarming hamburgers and contemporary takes on traditional Japanese meals that will set you back less than $5AUD a pop, this is where to get real fast food in Japan.
No matter how long you spend in the country, Sukiya (すき家) is one sight you'll become familiar with fast. With over 1600 stores dotted throughout the nation, the store's red, white and gold logo is a staple on the Japanese urban landscape. The 24-hour restaurant delivers no fuss, classic Japanese dishes, though their most iconic dish is gyudon, which translates to 'beef bowl'. What you'll get is shredded beef served over rice accompanied with topping of your choice.
What's great about Sukiya is the chain's dedication to experimentation and perfection, with additions and modifications being made to the menu — so no matter how many times you've visited, there will be something new to try. A meal will set you back about ¥500-800 ($6-10AUD).
Ootoya might be a little steeper in price than beef bowl outlets like Yoshianoya and the aforementioned Sukiya, but it's worth the extra yen. Plus, with the average price hovering around ¥800 ($9-10AUD) it's still cheaper than anything in Australia.
Ootoya specialise in classic Japanese teishoku 'meal sets'. Though a meal set sounds like something you'd get in a retirement village or jail, it's actually the best way to appreciate carefully curated Japanese cuisine. It will usually include rice, miso soup, and a main dish, which might be fish, or soba noodles. At Ootoya the sets are seasonal, so you won't be stuck eating the same thing over and over.
It's impossible to speak about Japanese fast food — or just Japanese food, for that matter — without giving time to the nation's most internationally loved culinary creation: ramen. In Japan, ramen is as diverse as it is popular; every prefecture, city, restaurant and even chef has a different take on the dish. In Tokyo the ramen options are almost excessive, so, if you do your research, you can definitely find the most perfect bowl for your palate.
However, if you're after consistently good, cheap, filling and easy-to-access ramen, you can't miss Hidakaya. This generally 24-hour outlet is the perfect place to rest your weary body and dive into a warm comforting bowl any time of the day or night. Most meals will cost you little more than your pocket change at ¥500 ($6AUD) and, if you want to drink, booze options start at ¥270 ($3AUD).
UOBEI GENKI SUSHI
Like ramen, you sushi is incredibly diverse in terms of options, price points and specialties — but as a little local tip, Uobei Genki Sushi is kind of special. Cheap and always delicious, the crew at Genki Sushi have reinvented the concept of conveyor belt sushi. Rather than constantly rotating dishes, the Genki Sushi use the conveyor belt method to deliver specifically ordered dishes right to you.
With touch screen menus, all you have to do is select what you feel like and, within moments — like some strange futuristic dream — the sushi will take a ride on a little delivery plate stopping right in front of your face. With dishes costing around ¥100 ($1.20AUD) and simple English ordering, there's really no excuse not to go.
It's impossible to speak about fast food in Japan without acknowledging the country's growing love of western cuisine. Like so many things here, Japan has turned appreciation into full-blown obsession and somehow managed to improve the already perfect. Though from the outside it seems like an average burger joint, MOS Burger is a not-so-little takeaway restaurant with a connection to the land: M.O.S stands for 'mountain, ocean, sun'. With over 1700 stores across the country, the store's mission is to "make people happy through delicious food".
In a time where other burger chains are constantly unveiling artery clogging Frankenstein-style creations to garner publicity, Mos' humble attitude to producing made-to-order, well-crafted hamburgers is pretty refreshing. Depending on how fancy you want to go a MOS Burger will cost between 200- ¥600 ($2.50-8AUD)
Though the icon status goes to ramen and sushi, curry is actually the most popular dish in the country. With over 1200 locations sprinkled throughout Japan (and more internationally), Curry House Coco Ichibanya are the local curry kings.
Traditionally, Japanese curry is a more mild take on the Indian dish and it comes in a variety of forms. From curry with udon noodles, 'curry pan' (that's curry-filled bread) and the classic karē raisu (aka curry rice), this dish is a lot more Japanese than you anticipated. What makes Coco Ichiban so exciting is your freedom to fully customise your order. The amount of rice, spice and all those toppings are so nice that it means you're never going to get a mass-produced run-of-the-mill plate here. Depending on your order you can easily get a serious meal for less than ¥700 ($8AUD).
Published on July 18, 2017 by Lucy Dayman