It’s like a dungeon quest, but anyone who finds this special door can enjoy the cheap meals hidden behind it.

There are a lot of hidden places tucked away in quiet corners of Japan that only become known through word-of-mouth, and that includes staff cafeterias.

Despite their name, a lot of these staff cafeterias are also open to the public — that is, if the public can find them, as the cheap meals they offer make them closely guarded secrets that those in the know don’t want to share outside their inner circles.

Well, we’re breaking protocol by sharing one of these secret cafeterias with you today, so if you’re ready to keep a secret, let’s head on over to this hidden spot, located at Nankai Namba Station in Osaka.

This staff cafeteria, or “shain shokudo” as they’re known in Japan, is designed to be used by rail staff, so it’s located deep inside the station. However, as we mentioned earlier, members of the public can also use the cafeteria, but as it’s located past the ticket gate you’ll need to head to the 2F Central Gate first and speak to the staff member at the Koya Line ticket gate.

Once you tell the staff that you want to use the cafeteria, by saying something like “shainshokudo wo riyoushitai desu” (“I’d like to use the staff cafeteria”), they’ll give you an admission pass that lets you walk through the ticket gates without having to pay the usual 160-yen (US$1.39) entry fee.

▼ You’ll want to hold on to your ticket as you’ll need to give it back to staff when you exit the area.

Head over to platform three and four and you’ll see a sign for the 2F South Gate. Don’t go up the stairs to the platform here — follow the sign to the 2F South Gate that takes you behind the stairs and along a corridor. Follow that corridor along for a few metres and you’ll come to a door on your left that says “Entry prohibited to those who aren’t staff or cafeteria patrons“.

Push this door open and you’ll be greeted by the bright white lights of the cafeteria. As you might expect with a staff dining area, it’s a no-frills affair here, with a few tables and chairs, and a machine where you select and pay for your meal.

Set meals change daily, with prices going up to around 520 yen for a ramen set meal, although most are priced at 470 yen. You can also purchase dishes on their own, with prices starting at 50 yen for a bowl of miso soup.

There are two set meals to choose from per day, known as either the “A set” or “B Set”, and the first two columns in the monthly meal schedule below show the set meals available from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., while the last two show the set meals available from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Once you’ve taken your meal ticket from the machine, pick up a tray and head over to the food counter, where you’ll hand over your ticket in exchange for your meal. This is where the quest to find the cafeteria becomes worth it, as some of the meals you can choose from include:

▼ A bowl of ramen for 280 yen…

▼…a mapo tofu set meal for 470 yen…

▼…and katsu curry for 440 yen.

This is just a small taste of the myriad of options available here during each month, and the prices are incredible. As it’s a staff cafeteria, employees take precedence when it’s crowded, and their meals cost around 20 yen less than the regular prices listed for members of the public, but when prices are this low, nobody’s complaining.

▼ This 470-yen set meal comes with rice, miso soup, a main dish, and a side dish.

The cafeteria opens at 6:30 a.m. in the morning, where they serve simple breakfast set meals until 10:00 a.m. for 400 yen, which means you could easily eat breakfast, lunch and dinner here every day if you wanted to eat out and save some yen in the process.

So next time you’re making your way through Osaka, you might want to stop by and enjoy a taste of working life in Japan. Plus, you’ll be able to enjoy a rare look behind the curtain at what fuels hungry rail staff throughout their working day, in the city that’s home to Japan’s spaceship trains.

Source: Tabelog, Twitter/南海なんば駅社員食堂
Top image: Pakutaso
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