Japan is very much renowned for its delicious healthy cuisine, to the point that the so-called “Nihon ryori” (Japanese cuisine) came to be a designated part of the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. This comes as no surprise considering the great regional variety of Japanese dishes, the emphasis on seasonal ingredients and the importance of food in the local culture.
While tasting the authentic and traditional “Kaiseki ryori” (traditional multi-course Japanese meal rigorously cooked in accordance with the season) is undoubtedly a sensational experience that must be tried out at least once during your trip to Japan, I admit that restaurants serving this famous haute cuisine usually have prohibitive prices, especially if you’re travelling on a budget!
But don’t despair! Japan is home to thousands of affordable delicious restaurants, offering all those popular lower-cost Japanese delicacies, from karage (Japanese style fried chicken) and yakitori (grilled chicken) to ramen, soba and other types of noodles.
If there’s one thing you can be sure of in Japan is that you’ll never have problems finding a good place to eat at, no matter where you are.
That being said, in this post I’d like to share some of the places I came to appreciate during my last trip to Kyoto. What’s so special about them? Their affordable prices and tasteful dishes, or their interesting location!
TOTAL BUDGET FOR 1 DAY: Less than ¥5000
→ Breakfast Time:
Starbucks (Cappuccino S ¥330)
I’ve tried Japanese style breakfast (rice, miso soup and grilled fish) on several occasions and, although I’m pretty sure it’s one of those things many tourists would like to experience while in Japan, I’m one of those human beings that are unable to function without a proper mug of coffee to start off the day. So allow me here to suggest you the perfect combination of western style breakfast and a traditional Japanese atmosphere!
Are you wondering how could you possibly enjoy a proper mug of coffee without missing out on the cosy environment of a Japanese traditional tatami room? The solution to this problem is the old dear Starbucks!
A fusion between East and West, Starbucks Gion shop was designed to respect and blend into the traditional surroundings of its location. Opened in what looks to be a traditional townhouse, in the Ninenzaka lane, this lovely Starbucks features all the elements you can find in a common Japanese traditional shop: a simple “Noren” (the traditional fabric divider hanging at the front of doorways), an elegant counter with a design that reminded me of the shape of those beautiful wood and paper lanterns, the “Kakejiku” (hanging scrolls usually showing a calligraphy phrase or landscape scenery, and commonly used as a decoration for traditional tearooms), and even tatami-floored rooms where customers can enjoy their coffee while overlooking at a small Japanese garden.
(Be careful to remove your shoes before stepping on the tatami!)
It’s so surprising to see how well this Starbucks fits into the surrounding buildings. Honestly, I barely recognized it at first and thought it was simply one of the many traditional shops that characterize the area. No need to say I LOVED IT! And what I greatly appreciate is seeing a foreign company changing its own usual standards to respect the culture and traditions of the country they are making business in.
Either for breakfast or for an afternoon coffee break, this is definitely a MUST STOP BY cafe!
→ Lunch Time:
Street-food (¥ 500-600)
Lunch is probably one of the busiest moments in a traveler’s day. In a town like Kyoto, where most of the attractions close by 5 pm, many might not want to waste too much time at a restaurant for lunch, especially if you’re visiting just for a couple of days. Lucky for you, Kyoto offers a huge variety of street-food snacks that can be easily enjoyed while walking around!
Here are some of my favorites!
Takoyaki: a ball-shaped snack made of a wheat flour-based batter, filled with octopus (tako), tempura scraps (tenkasu), ginger and green onion, and brushed with its own typical takoyaki sauce.
Okonomiyaki: a kind of pan-fried pancake made with eggs, batter and cabbage and topped with several other ingredients, from meat to seafood or a mix of both.
Yakisoba: Japanese fried noodles, with pork meat and bean sprouts and seasoned with yakisoba sauce.
Yakitori: grilled skewered chicken.
Senbei: Japanese rice crackers with different flavors.
SWEETS: Dango (Japanese dumpling made with rice flour and usually served on a skewer covered with a type of sweet soy sauce), Taiyaki (fish-shaped cake usually filled with red beans jam), Daifuku (round-shaped sweet made with mochi – glutinous rice cake – and usually filled with red beans jam) and several others!
If you’re nearby, the best place to taste Kyoto’s famous street-food is Nishiki market but you can easily find take-away shops or stands almost anywhere, especially if you’re close to a shrine, temple or a touristic spot. Prices are usually very cheap, between ¥500 and ¥700, and don’t forget that they taste amazing!!
→ Dinner Time:
Now that you have explored everything you wanted to see, it’s time for a well-deserved break! Fill up your stomach with a proper meal, before losing yourself once again in the spectacle that Kyoto by night offers. No doubt there are hundreds of different options from which to choose, but here I’m going to stick to my own personal experience and introduce you 2 affordable and yummy restaurants that I’ve recently tried myself!
Katsukura Teramachi – Tonkatsu (¥1500~)
Ever heard of Japanese pork cutlet? This is the place to try it! Despite being a chain (and coming from Italy I’m always skeptical about big restaurant chains), Katsukura is an expert at top quality tonkatsu.
The small restaurant in Teramachi offers a very welcoming and cosy environment. Located right next to the Lipton shop, don’t let the tiny door or the likely queue discourage you! Step inside and enjoy the full experience of a Tonkatsu based dinner!
After ordering the cutlet set, you’ll be served some sesame. So what to do with that? The restaurant offers a clear brief explanatory leaflet in English but let me just summarize it here!
Here are the steps to follow:
Grind the sesame → pick the sauce (Normal tonkatsu sauce or katsukura special) → mix everything → dip the cutlet → enjoy!
I ordered tenderloin meat as I’m not a big fan of fat meat but the menu offers wide choices and you can also pick dishes other than meat cutlet. What I really liked? In addition to the delicious and high-quality meat, cheap price and impeccable service, I loved sitting at the counter. Right in front of me, the chefs focused on preparing the courses, all rigorously cooked with fresh ingredients! Needless to say, it was a pleasant wait!
The only downside of the restaurant is that like any other Japanese eatery, you’re expected to eat what you ordered and leave (this is what Japanese usually do), while, being Italian, I’m one of those slow-food enthusiasts, who enjoy tasting flavors slowly while chatting and appreciating the company of the people around me!
Musashi sushi – Kaiten Sushi (plates from ¥146~)
If sushi is your thing, then you should definitely try Musashi sushi, a popular Kaiten sushi restaurant where you can taste delicious fresh nigiri for a very cheap price. Located just outside the Sanjo covered arcade, this restaurant is ideal for those traveling on a budget who still want to experience the Japanese way!
As any other conveyor belt restaurants, you won’t even need to order! Just grab what you want to eat from the belt until you’re full! And if you’re really craving something but you don’t see it on the conveyor, don’t worry! You can always ask the cook right in front of you to prepare it for you!
Eating there is not only cheap and easy but it’s also a lot of fun!!!
→ Dessert Time:
Gion Tsujiri (¥1,026~)
A proper dinner is not complete without a good dessert! Once you are satisfied with your dinner meal, get your stuff and head to Gion Tsujiri, one of the most popular ujicha and matcha (green tea) shops in Kyoto! Very well known for its matcha parfait, among others, Tsujiri tea house won’t let you down.
Situated just a few minutes walk from Yasaka Shrine, on the right side of Shijo Street (facing Yasaka Shrine), Gion Tsujiri is very popular among tourists and locals alike, and it’s not uncommon to see a long line forming in front of the shop.
If you’re in town for a couple of days, there’s no way you can miss out on its amazing parfait, a green tea flavor ice cream served with warabi mochi, green tea flavor cream, anko (Japanese beans jam), green tea flavor macaroons or castella cake! Tasting this delicious dessert will undoubtedly result in a sensational explosion of rich sweet flavors that blend into your mouth in a moment of real pleasure! And if you love sweets just as much as I do, you most definitely won’t be disappointed!
Hope I could be of any help for you in picking where and what to eat!
If you end up choosing one of the places I recommended, please feel free to contact me and share your feedback! 🙂