A look back on 10 great meals with low prices.

Japan is a paradise for foodies, and that’s not because of high-end fare like Kobe beef and documentary-class gourmet sushi. Thanks to a culture where food and restaurant workers across the industries put pride in their professions, you can go directly from hungry to happy and full in Japan without requiring “rich” as an intermediary status.

As proof, the SoraNews24 team regularly puts our heads and stomachs together for our Japan Super Budget Dining series, in which our reporters head to a chain restaurant or food shop and each of them puts together the best meal they can with a budget of 1,000 yen (US$6.90).

With the year winding down, we’re taking a look back on our year in affordable deliciousness, and asked the members of the Japan Super Budget Dining crew to each pick their absolute best meal from across the series in 2023. Here’s how they answered (as always, the grandiose “names” of the sets were chosen by our writers themselves, so you’ll need to order the items individually if you’re recreating the meals for yourself).

1. P.K. Sanjun’s Top 3 Delicious Hama Sushi Neta Set
Restaurant: Hama Sushi

● 5 plates of seared rare ateak (605 yen)
● Red sea bream: 187 yen
● Salmon roe: 187 yen
Total: 979 yen

Our retrospective starts at Hama Sushi, one of Japan’s biggest revolving sushi chains. You know how some people say that variety is the spice of life? Well, apparently for P.K., seared steak sushi is the spice of life. He sees no need to mix things up when there’s something this delicious on the menu, and if you’ve never tried sushi with cooked beef, he recommends you rectify that as soon as possible.

2. Takashi Harada’s Cospa Three-piece Assortment & Hama Sushi Delicious Set
Restaurant: Hama Sushi

● Three types of tuna (165 yen)
● Three types of salmon (165 yen)
● Three types of squid (165 yen)
● Three types of shrimp (165 yen)
● Grilled salmon cheese (110 yen)
● Crispy fries (220 yen)
Total: 990 yen

“Cospa” is a Japanese slang abbreviation of “cost performance” that’s used to describe something that offers good value for a reasonable price. It’s pretty much the driving philosophy behind the entire Japan Super Budget Dining project, and for Takashi that means picking out a bunch of Hama Sushi’s three-sushi-piece specials, which give you one more morsel than the standard two that come on most revolving sushi restaurants’ plates.

3. Seiji Nakazawa’s Manly Shakey’s Set
Restaurant: Saizeriya

● Milano-style Doria (300 yen)
● Peperoncino Pasta (300 yen)
● Sausage Pizza (400 yen)
Total: 1,000 yen

No, that’s not a typo. Seiji’s Super Budget Dining concept for Saizeriya, Japan’s most popular inexpensive Italian restaurant chain, is to try to recreate the experience of eating at a different chain, Shakey’s. To Seiji, that means getting a variety of hearty dishes, just like what he’d choose going through the Shakey’s buffet line, and while Saizeriya isn’t an all-you-can-eat restaurant, this set is still just about all that Seiji can eat in one sitting, while also using every last available yen in the budget.

4. Go Hatori’s “I Want It All Three-in-One Set Where You Can Enjoy the Top Two Seiro Styles at Once”
Restaurant: Fuji Soba

● Kamo seiro soba (580 yen)
● Shungiku tempura (170 yen)
● Squid tempura (160 yen)
● Soft-boiled egg (80 yen)
Total: 990 yen

If you read his tips for how to prepare a beautiful-looking bowl of noodles, you know that Go knows a thing or two about soba, having worked in a restaurant that specializes in the buckwheat noodles in the days prior to the start of SoraNews24. That doesn’t mean he’s some kind of soba snob, though. Fuji Soba, a hugely popular inexpensive soba chain, does a great job with their seiro soba, where the noodles are served on their own plate and dunked into a browl of both before each bite. Go’s selection of ingredients lets you enjoy the flavor of duck (kamo in Japanese, shungiku (chrysanthemum greens), and, as a closer, the sort of broth used in tsukimi (“moon-viewing”) noodles if you crack the egg into the broth at the end.

5. Yuichiro Wasai’s “Start Off with a Cold One, then Use Whatever’s Left Over on Gyoza Set”
Restaurant: Osho

● Draft beer (495 yen)
● Extra-garlic gyoza (319 yen)
● “Just-size” extra-garlic gyoza (176 yen)
Total: 990 yen

If decisiveness is a virtue, what could be more virtuous than Yuichiro owning the fact that he wants a beer and ordering one right away? There’s no waffling or wavering in his food order either; just gyoza (pot stickers), gyoza, and more gyoza, the final batch coming in a smaller “just size” to squeeze in under the 1,000-yen cap. With Osho being deservedly famous nationwide for the garlicky goodness of its gyoza, even after eating two and a half plates of them Yuichiro doesn’t grow tired of their taste.

6. Yoshio’s Warship Formation Set
Restaurant: Hama Sushi

● Vinegared mackerel (110 yen)
● Fukui Prefecture-caught pickled firefly squid (110 yen)
● Pressed mackerel sushi (110 yen)
● Tuna (110 yen)
● Red squid (110 yen)
● Raw whitebait (from the waters near Japan) gunkan (110 yen)
● Domestic horse mackerel gunkan (110 yen)
● Wasabi Engawa gunkan (110 yen)
● Kuroge Wagyu gunkan (110 yen)
Total: 990 yen

In sushi parlance, those stout pieces with the nori seaweed coiled around them are called gunkan, which translates as “warship” or “battleship,” due to their visual resemblance to sturdy naval vessels. Broad-minded strategist that he is, SoraNews24 founder and owner Yoshio wanted to deploy a variety of gunkan sushi, and since Hama Sushi doesn’t charge a premium for theirs, like some sushi restaurants do, he was able to put together a tasty yet frugal flotilla.

7. Mr. Sato’s Double Ham-katsu Curry Set
Restaurant: CoCo Ichibanya

● Pork curry (591 yen)
● 2 ham-katsu (262 yen)
● Salad set/side salad (140 yen)
Total: 993 yen

Customization is a big part of the appeal of curry rice chain CoCo Ichibanya, where you can choose from a variety of roux types, spiciness levels, and toppings. For Mr. Sato, nothing beats doubling up on ham-katsu or deep-fried ham cutlets, with a side salad tacked on to give the meal some vegetable content.

8. Masanuki Sunakoma’s “If You Think of Family Mart, You Think of WAO! — Eight Rice Balls Wow! Set”
Store: Family Mart

● 3 Bonito Flakes Rice Balls (354 yen)
● 5 Seaweed Rice Balls (640 yen)
● Plastic bag (3 yen)
● License Training Camp WAO!! pamphlet (0 yen)
Total: 997 yen

Coming to our first team member to pick a convenience store pick-up as their favorite Japan Super Budget Dining plan of the year, we have Masanuki’s, in which he got distracted by WAO!!, a free pamphlet available at Family Mart that introduces multi-day retreat-style driving schools, and grabbed eight rice balls to munch on as he read through the booklet. On a sad note, while Masanuki was thorough enough to include the charge for a plastic shopping bag in his ledger (since he wouldn’t be eating his food inside the convenience store), the ongoing price inflation spike in Japan has severely affected convenience store rice balls, and getting eight of them for 1,000 yen might no longer be something you’ll be able to do without some sort of sale going on.

9. Ahiruneko’s “Famichiki All Star Strongest Drinking Set”
Store: Family Mart

● Famichiki (220 yen)
● Spicy Chicken (185 yen)
● Crispy Chicken (Plain) (178 yen)
● Grand Time Sugar 70% Off (139 yen)
● Super Chu-Hi Lemon (118 yen)
● Super Chu-Hi Grapefruit (118 yen)
Total: 958 yen

Ahiruneko always, always, makes sure to include some sort of alcoholic beverage(s) in his Japan Super Budget Dining sets. Thanks to the generously low prices of Family Mart’s store-brand Famichiki fried chicken, he’s able to enjoy two pieces of bird and still have room for no fewer than two canned chu-hi shochu cocktails and a can of low-carb low-malt beer.

10. Mariko Ohanabatake’s Mixed Japanese and Western Sweets Paradise of My Dreams Set
Restaurant; Sushiro

● Strawberry and Berry Spring Parfait (420 yen)
● Vanilla ice cream (130 yen)
● Warabi mochi (130 yen)
● Daigaku imo (130 yen)
● Hot coffee (170 yen)
Total: 980 yen

Just like Ahiruneko’s running theme is booze, Mariko’s is sweets. Since their menus aren’t as rigid as more traditional establishments, revolving sushi chains like Sushiro often have a pretty extensive dessert lineup. Mariko’s set actually gives her the materials to make a second parfait by combining the ice cream, wiggly warabi mochi, and glazed daigaku imo sweet potatoes, and even affords her a cup of coffee to sip.

As you can see, we had no trouble stuffing our bellies without emptying our wallets in 2023. Thanks for reading, and our hungry team will be back with more in 2024. In the meantime, if you’re looking for some great “cospa” hotels in Tokyo, we’ve got you covered right here.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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