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When Simona travelled to Japan recently, she didn’t let her lack of travel companions get in the way of a good meal. Eating alone isn’t unusual, so she wasted no time trying these three unmissable foodie experiences.
Eating out in Japan
Japanese cuisine is one of the best in the world with a huge amount of variety; from anpan (Japanese red bean bun) to zarusoba (a cold refreshing noodle dish) there’s a meal to suit everyone’s tastes.
Along with many dishes, dining options are abundant in Japan and restaurants are very friendly to patrons eating alone. In fact, some ramen noodle restaurants offer individual seating with screens to protect your noodle slurping modesty, and some cafés have tables that face the wall to minimise distractions – perfect when you are in full study mode.
There are forms of dining that Japan would consider a group experience, but I travelled alone for two weeks and absolutely refused to deprive myself. I said a big no to social conventions and sat down proudly and stuffed my face!
Here is a list of establishments and chains in Japan that offer group dining to the solo traveller:
1. Nabezou (Japanese hot pot dining)
Nabezou is a mainly Tokyo-based all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant. I arrived for my reservation – which I had booked online through an English website – a little worried of the reaction I might receive for being alone.
The staff were very friendly and welcoming and not surprised by my lack of dining partners at all, offering me all the options they would offer any larger group. A choice of nabe shabu shabu (hot pot), sukiyaki (similar to a stew, but still hot pot) or a mixture of the two, served with varying cuts of meat and an included all-you-can-eat salad bar.
I chose two soup types with the standard course and the waiter came to the table two or three times carrying all the extras including various broth stocks and plates of meat.
With a smile and a bow, he offered his services for seconds (I could barely get through firsts!) and I was left to shabu shabu my meal in peace. It was heaven! For about £20 per person I was happy, full and no longer alone – my food baby will attest to that!
2. Kushiya Monogatari (Breaded Food on a Stick Dining)
Sometimes eating alone can be a touch boring, so some form of entertainment is required. Breading, battering and deep frying cute little pieces of meat and veg on a stick at your table in your own mini fryer certainly did the trick. Usually reserved for families or couples, I walked in proudly and asked for my table of one! I was happily directed to my seat, explained how the restaurant worked and left to my own devices.
Kushiya Monogatari offers an all-you-can-eat deep fried food on a stick experience. For 90 minutes you can take your pick between all sorts of meat, seafood, vegetables and extras (including takoyaki octopus balls and cheese sticks) and deep fry them all!
You dot your table with various plates filled with batter, breadcrumbs and dipping sauces before collecting as many skewered delights as your heart desires. Batter, bread and dip into the fryer for a naughty but tasty bite in less than a minute.
The lunchtime prices are more than reasonable when eating alone, and with chains in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka you can enjoy food where it tastes the best – on a stick!
3. Okonomimura (Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki)
While not typically known as something to have in a group, okonomiyaki is very much a friends and family experience. Cooking a cabbage pancake with pork and soba is good when enjoyed with a partner, but great when enjoyed with a beer. If you don’t have either of those, the chef is a good substitute!
Okonomimura has up to 30 small family-run okonomiyaki shops where you can take a seat squeezed between fellow tourists and a Japanese family and watch the magic happen on the teppanyaki flat grill in front of you.
The pancakes can be shared, and multiple flavours tested, but one is the perfect size for a solo meal and a great atmosphere to boot.
Traversing the various dishes and food names can seem quite daunting but, no matter what, a delicious feast is never too far away!
Solo traveller or not, foodies could do far worse than Japan! If Simona’s experience has left you hungry, take a look at our Gastronomic Adventure self-guided trip, or get in touch with our Japan experts to find out more.