How To Find Cheap Food in Kyoto

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bento boxes with beef

Japan is renowned for being one of the world’s most expensive countries. Fortunately, of all the things you’ll pay a lot of yen for in Japan, food doesn’t have to be one of them.

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.

box of sushi

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.

decorative cake with pink flowers

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.

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Author - Jo Fitzsimons

Hi, I'm Jo, the writer behind Indiana Jo. In 2010 I quit my job as a lawyer and booked an around the world ticket. As a solo female traveller, I hopped from South America to Central America, across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was supposed to be a one-year trip but over a decade later, it's yet to end. I've lived in a cave, climbed down a volcano barefoot, spent years as a digital nomad, worked as a freelance travel writer, and eaten deadly Fugu. Now I'm home, back in the UK, but still travelling far and wide. You can find out more About Me.

2 thoughts on “How To Find Cheap Food in Kyoto”

  1. Hey Jo,
    I enjoy reading your travel commentaries and agree totally regarding the food observations. I’ve been to Japan 5 times and each time I leave, it is always with the regret of knowing I won’t be eating as well upon my return home to Australia.what always impresses me is the warmth of service, along with amazingly high standards.
    “Ganbatte kudasai!”

    • Justin, after just spending 2 weeks in Cuba, which has made it into my top 5 non-favourite food countries, I could really do with a trip to Japan right now. Sigh. That said, I can’t complain (I’ve just returned to Mexico). But yes, I agree, Japan has by far and away some of the best food in the world…and serve with it!


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