Five ways to eat and drink at one of Japan’s favorite cheap restaurants with the smallest yen bill.

Japan is a great country to eat out in, not just because of the quality and variety of food served at restaurants, but also because of how affordable it can be.

To prove that point, we recently sent a team of five of our reporters to Saizeriya, Japan’s favorite ultra-cheap Italian restaurant, with a strict budget of just 1,000 yen (US$7.65) to put together a meal. They were able to come up with five different dinners, but did they use their extremely limited funds wisely? Let’s find out, starting with…

Yoshio’s “Hawaiian-style Garlic Shrimp Dog with Y Set”

● Garden salad (350 yen)
● Garlic toast (200 yen)
● Popcorn shrimp (300 yen)
● Yamitsuki Spice (50 yen)
● Glass red wine (100 yen)

Note: None of the meals we’ll be discussing in this article can ordered by the names our reporters call them by. Those are simply names they made up by nature of having too much time on their hands, and so you’ll need to order the items in each of their self-created sets individually.

Not everybody knows this about SoraNews24 owner and president Yoshio, but he actually had his wedding ceremony in Hawaii, and sometimes he gets cravings for the garlic shrimp he ate while he was there. By tearing open the center of Saizeriya’s garlic bread and putting in some shrimp and vegetables, plus sprinkling on some of Saizeriya’s Yamitsuki Spice (“Addictive Spice”), he can make a facsimile of that nostalgic island taste, while still having enough left in his 1,000-yen budget to add a glass of Saizeriya’s shockingly low-priced wine to wash it down.

Flavor-wise, it was delicious and satisfying, though Yoshio admits it left him a little less than completely full and craving a snack on the way home.

Masanuki Sunakoma’s “Exciting Beginner’s Set”

● Hamburger steak with chorizo (550 yen)
● Mini ficelle bread (150 yen)
● Glass of beer (300 yen)

While some of our reporters are regular customers at Saizeriya, prior to this visit it had been years since Masanuki had eaten there. Having the least recent familiarity with the menu, he took the longest time to order, but eventually settled on focusing on meats and then spending a considerable chunk of his budget on beer.

The result was tasty, but if he could do it all over again, Masanuki wouldn’t have blown so much of his budget on the hamburger steak an chorizo. Based on how it looked in he picture in the menu, he’d expected it to be a bigger portion, and it ended up not filling him up as much as he’d hoped. Still, his selection had a certain originality that could only come from someone who’s thinking outside the regular-Saizeriya-customer box.

Ahiruneko’s “Solid 60 Minutes of Drinking Set”

● 500-mililiter (16.9-ounce) decanter of red wine (400 yen)
● Oven-roasted escargot (400 yen)
● Focaccia (150 yen)
● Yamitsuki Spice (50 yen)

Ahiruneko dropped even more of his budget on drinks than Masanuki did, using nearly half of it on a decanter of wine. He then doubled-down with yet another high-cost (per the perspective of this article) choice with the escargot.

However, this wasn’t a snap decision by Ahiruneko, who dines at Saizeriya about once a week. His plan wasn’t to try to squeeze a full dinner out of 1,000 yen, but instead to get an hour’s worth of drinking, with some snacks to pair with his wine, from his budget.

And he succeeded. Assuming you’re not doing large pours, you can get three or four glasses of wine out of a half-liter, Not only does Ahiruneko’s set give him some classy escargot to munch on, after he eats them he can dip the focaccia into their dish to season the bread with the leftover garlicky butter and oil.

Seiji Nakazawa’s Straightforward Rambunctious Kid’s Set

● Milano-style doria (baked cheese and rice) (300 yen)
● Pepperoncino pasta (300 yen)
● Hamburger steak (400 yen)

“You guys are all trying to get way too cute with your orders,” Seiji confidently said. “Think back to the first time you felt really happy eating at Saizeriya?”

Because of its low prices and casual atmosphere, Saizeriya is a popular place for families and groups of teen friends. Almost everyone who’s a fan of the chain fell in love with it somewhere between elementary and high school, because of all of its hearty, filling fare, and those happy childhood memories are what Seiji wanted to experience with his set.

Just like Ahiruneko, his commitment to a theme paid off, especially when he spruced up his pasta with dashes of Parmesan cheese and black pepper (unlike the Yamitsuki Spice, they’re complimentary condiments) and transferred the egg from his hamburger steak plate onto the noodles, mixing them together for a custom-created dish.

P.K. Sanjun’s “Perfect Balance Set”

● Arrosticini (400 yen)
● Pepperoncino pasta (300 yen)
● Vegetable paste (100 yen)
● Soft green beans and pecorino cheese (200 yen)

Not to be outdone by Ahiruneko’s sophisticated selection of escargot, P.K. spent nearly half his budget on a pair of arrosticini (lamb skewers). These are pretty much P.K.’s favorite thing on the entire Saizeriya menu, so it was an investment he was happy to make. With his protein sorted, he added a bowl of pepperoncino for his carbs, powered it up by stirring in the vegetable paste, and then got some more veggies, plus a little dairy, from the salad.

With a self-satisfied smile, P.K. declared this the ideal balance for a Saizeriya meal, and now that he’s perfected it, he plans on ordering it more or less every time he goes to the restaurant.

So aside from Masanuki, everyone else on our panel walked away from the table with their taste buds happy, though individual levels of fullness and inebriation varied. Still, all in all a successful outing, and a reminder that you don’t need more than 1,000 yen to find a good meal in Japan.

Photos © Soranews24
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