Of course, there are endless opportunities to spend big on food in Japan (a recent trip to Kobe and a $135 bill later was personal proof of that). But it’s equally possible to get by on a budget of $5 and under per meal and finding cheap food in Kyoto is even easier.
I plan to do a longer post on Japan’s food…when I’ve finished eating it. In the meantime, if you find yourself in Kyoto searching for cheap and delicious food (that doesn’t come from 7-eleven or require hot water to re-hydrate), you should check out the food floor of the Isetan department store.
In fact, there are two floors – one dedicated to regular shopping needs, a substantial deli and an entire floor dedicated to cakes and dessert (my personal version of paradise).
Unlike many of the delis you might find in other countries, the food here is definitely fresh that day – that much is obvious after 7.30 p.m. in the half hour prior to closing when the deli counter traders call out their discounts in hope of selling of that day’s products.
From katsu, to dumplings, steamed buns, bento boxes, sushi, noodles and a whole host of things I’ve can’t identify, but which look amazing nevertheless, much of what hasn’t been sold by late evening sees hefty reductions…equaling great value dinner potential.
As with any deli, there isn’t really anywhere to sit down and you’ll be jostling with the locals (though in a way that is typically Japanese i.e. very polite) to get your hands on the best deals, but the food is certainly worth it.
For less than $3.50 I picked up the sushi box pictured above. I also confess to exploring the cake floor, which has cakes that could be considered to be art…if they lasted long enough.
The service adds the final touch – I’ve eaten a lot of cake in my life, but never before have I been asked how long my precious dessert will be away from a refrigerator. When I replied 10 minutes (how long I anticipated it would take to bolt back to my hostel), I was offered ice to keep it perfectly chilled until then.
Between the restaurants, the ramen shops and now the Isetan department store, my growing issue in Japan is not the cost of dining, but insufficient meal times to make the most of the food.