Photo:Amancay Maahs on Flickr

Osaka Lunches on a Budget

Osaka, it is often said, is Japan’s kitchen. Few places elsewhere in the country can match it for diversity, creativity and most of all value for money, when it comes to food.

As a teacher and someone who frequently has to attend meetings in and around central Osaka, I often find myself grabbing a quick lunch while I am out and about.

Unfortunately, it’s also true that English teaching isn’t the veritable cash cow it once was. Hence, the “business lunches” often enjoyed by office managers across the world are a little beyond my daily food budget.

Photo: Douglas Sprott on Flickr

So, it is important not only to get a good feed but also to try and maintain your budget. As a general rule, I never spend more than 1000 yen on lunch. Indeed I always try, where possible, to spend significantly less than that.

Thankfully, there are no shortage of places here in Osaka where one can enjoy a lunch that satisfies both the belly and the bankbook. It really isn’t so difficult to be a frugal foodie here, as I will explain.

So here today, I present my own personal selection of good restaurants that will satisfy both your appetite and your need to balance the books.

#1 Miyamoto Munashi

This wonderful little national chain of Japanese restaurants doesn’t quite have the profile of some of its more prominent competitors such as Yoshinoya or Sukiya, but to be honest I think the food is much better in terms of quality and presentation.

The restaurant also has one of those unique quirks one can only find in Japan. It is a “vending machine restaurant”.

In other words, you don’t get a waitress to come to your table, or a counter to go to for ordering your meal. Instead, you are presented with a vending machine with a variety of choices and photo prompts to help you make your choice. You put your money in, a voucher is printed out for you. Take this voucher, hand it to the restaurant staff then sit back and wait for a few minutes as the food is prepared and brought to your table.

Photo: Hajime NAKANO on Flickr

A few other positive selling points for Miyamoto Munashi: Whilst there are drink options on the menu if you really need a sports drink or a beer, I would say that it really isn’t necessary to order yourself a drink. At your table, you will find a large jugs of both iced tea and hot tea, depending on your preference. In particular the iced tea, with its non-intrusive flavour, really compliments the likes of the spicy beef plate or the miso soup with its searing heat and its strong flavours. Best of all, it’s free and you can take as much as you like.

If you’ve managed to work up quite a big appetite over the course of the day then you’re in luck. Rice, that eternal staple of the Japanese diet is available here literally by the bucketload. There is a large tub of rice, regularly topped up and freely available to all paying customers. Just go and help yourself to as much as you like. For me, personal highlights on the Miyamoto Munashi menu are the aforementioned spicy grilled beef set and one of my all time favourites, the katsudon.

Spicy Beef Cutlet with Miso Soup and Rice
Spicy Beef Cutlet with Miso Soup and Rice

Photo: muzina_shanghai on Flickr

For those who have never tried it, katsudon is as delicious as it is simple. It is basically a fried pork or chicken cutlet, served on a bed of rice and onions, topped off with scrambled egg and sweet katsu sauce. An absolute delight to the taste buds!

#2 Matsuya

Another nationwide chain with the focus primarily fixed on budget and expediency. I’ll say it straight out, matsuya’s food isn’t on the same level of quality as the likes of Miyamoto Munashi, or even Yoshinoya for that matter. But, when you’re tired, hungry and in need of a quick, cheap feed, few places are better.

Photo: calltheambulance on Flickr

One major advantage of Matsuya over Yoshinoya is the excellent curry that they offer. Especially the calorific cheese hamburger curry, is a calorific treat. They also do the old favourites such as beef bowls and pork bowls, and unlike the other chains, they don’t charge any extra for putting some kimchi on top!

It’s never going to win a Michelin star for quality, but in all honesty that’s probably a large part of Matsuya’s unique charm.

#3 Lawson 100

Ok, so imagine if you are really pushed for time. In fact, you are so busy that you don’t even have time to sit down in the restaurant. Whatever you do, it’s going to have to be something you can get quick and easy, and without any unnecessary delays or excessive expense. This is where the Lawson 100 comes in.

We are all probably family with the Lawson convenience store chain, which has a presence across the entirety of Japan. Lawson 100 is a recent spin off that aims to offer even cheaper options to the discerning customer. Most, but of course not all, of the items in the store can be purchased for a mere 108 yen. This is the stated charge of 100 yen, plus the recently increased consumption tax of 8%. By the time you read this, it may have gone up to 10% (thanks Abe!!).

Photo: Toshihiro Gamo on Flickr

Anyhow, even with the additional burden of this rather arbitrary and unfair tax, 108 yen is still a very good price for food these days. And Lawson 100 has no shortage of options. Fried chicken, “onigiri” rice balls, small sandwiches, fruits, chips and chocolates, the list goes on.

It goes beyond just lunch too. The 100 also has some options for dinner too, if you’re really in a tight spot financially. Last month I went in there with only 1000 yen and I was able to buy enough meat, vegetables and sauces to make a delicious Nabe (Japanese hot pot) for two. Again, the quality isn’t the highest, but I wouldn’t say that there’s all that much difference between what’s on sale here and what one would find and an average budget supermarket.

So, there you have it, just 3 simple options to sate your hunger and protect your finances on a rainy day. Well, I think that’s enough rambling from me for one day. Time for lunch!

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