Step aside McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut and Subway. When it comes to fast food in Japan, those places are dead to me. I was in Tokyo last month, and trust me, their fast food is nothing like the fast food here.
First off, Tokyo is friggin' amazing! I can assure you that the long and painful 13-hour plane ride is totally worth it. Actually, ever since coming back home all I could think about is "When can I go back?". And it's funny, even before my trip, friends who have been to Japan would all tell me "You would love it there!". Literally everybody would say the same thing, and I never doubted them either. If anything, I was pretty certain I would love it there too :) There is just so many fun things to do in Japan! And the food, my goodness, all the delicious food! What I love most about eating in Tokyo is that you don't have to spend a lot to get great food. Most of my meals were cheap, quick and tasty, yet were made with quality ingredients.
In North America, the words processed, unhealthy, and obesity are often associated with fast food, and rightfully so. However, fast food in Japan are really just places where food is served quickly for cheap. That's it. There are no negative connotations to it. During my two weeks in Tokyo, my fast food meals never consisted of anything that's highly processed or made with artificial ingredients. I hardly ate anything fried or oily, and I wasn't even trying to eat healthy! I never felt "gross" after a meal nor experienced the "Why did I eat that?" regret. Fast food is simply too good to resist in Tokyo. At almost every corner, you are bound to find a decent spot where you can be in and out within 10 minutes without having to spend more than $10. The best thing, you won't hate yourself afterwards. In fact, you would feel completely satisfied and happy that you just had a cheap, cheerful and high quality meal! I also want to add that although most fast food places in Japan are large chains, just like in North America, nothing negative is associated with them because in general, food quality is held at a much higher standard in Japan, fast food chains included.
I've gathered all my fast food eats from Tokyo here. They consist mostly of noodle joints (with some rice). They are all the fast food places I visited in order, minus the restaurants, snacks and dessert spots in between (those will be on another post).
ラーメン凪 - NAGI
- Nagi was on our list of places to try.
- Nagi is a ramen chain with nine locations in Japan and more than 15 locations in other parts of Asia.
- Each location serves a different type of ramen.
- This Golden Gai location serves a unique broth made with niboshi, or baby sardines, combined with chicken. It is the most popular location amongst the chain.
- Guests line up outside the door and staff will come out to let you know whenever seats are available. The door opens to a long and steep staircase, which leads into a very tiny space with 10 seats at a narrow bar.
- Ordering and paying are done via ticket machine at the top of the stairs.
- On the counter you'll find everything you need including chopsticks, water, soy sauce, vinegar, spice powder, and toothpicks.
- I ordered Nagi's signature ramen made with dried sardine broth served with a soft boiled egg, pork char siu, nori, bamboo and chopped scallions.
- I never had fish broth before and I instantly fell in love. The baby sardine broth was smooth and rich, yet not heavy. It was full of umami and had a slightly smoky flavour, too. The thickly sliced pork was very soft and tender, and had a texture similar to ham. The cha shu was not the highlight for me. The noodles were thick, wide, curly and chewy, so they complemented the viscous, velvety broth perfectly. It is unbelievable how much flavour was in this one bowl.
- Nagi was our first ramen spot in Tokyo, which also turned out to be my favourite from this entire trip.
- If I remember correctly this niboshi ramen was around ¥900 ($11.51).
一蘭 - ICHIRAN
- Ichiran was on my list of places to try.
- The Ichiran chain serves only Tonkotsu style ramen and was founded in the 1960s.
- If it's your first time there it can be a bit intimidating since after paying at the ticket machine, you have to find a vacant seat from a digital panel on the wall, and once you sit down you are given a sheet of paper where you customize your ramen (noodle texture, flavour strength, spice level, extra noodles, toppings, etc). After you're done, you press a button to call the staff and he/she will take your instructions and ticket (this is all explained here).
- The piece of paper we received was in Japanese, and thankfully, they had an English one.
- You sit in your own little booth where there's a tap for water with cups and wet naps.
- I picked strong flavour strength, high richness, one clove of garlic, green onion, sliced pork, regular Ichiran's original red sauce, and firm noodle texture.
- This bowl was good, but not exceptional. The broth was a too oily for me. I later realized that underneath the "Richness" option it says "(oil content)" and because I like my broth rich, I circled "rich", which now I realized it just means more oil (to me "richness" and "oily" is not the same thing but whatever). I prefer thick noodles over thin noodles, so I didn't particularly love the noodles here (I generally find thin noodles more dense and heavy, and harder to slurp). Made with 30 different types of spices, the Ichiran red sauce gave a good heat to the bowl (it's supposedly a secret recipe and only three people in the world knows it).
- I accidentally ordered extra noodles at the vending machine so I gave it to my friend since I was already full (mainly because of the oil). With the extra red sauce and garlic that I added later at the booth, I don't remember how much this bowl was.