Traveling in Japan can be burden on your wallet. There are lots of food/restaurant options available, but they can be expensive unless you are aware of the affordable choices easily available to the travelers. Yoshinoya(吉野家) is a great restaurant chain that is very popular with international tourists. Their famous dish is Gyudon (beef bowl – 牛丼) which is thinly slice beef cooked in broth, served over Japanese rice (short grain and stickier than the long grain rice). Eating meat dishes elsewhere is an expensive business in Japan, but at Yoshinoya you can always find quality beef (or pork) dishes to satisfy your craving.
Yoshinoya is a well-established fast food chain (est. 1899) with over 1200 stores throughout Japan, and over 1400 located internationally. They are in the U.S, Hong Kong, Singapore and many other countries just like McDonalds. You can always spot Yoshinoya store front from the bright orange store signs.
The motto of Yoshinoya is “Fast, Tasty and Affordable”, and they are true to their words. I always get nice, tasty and filling meals with modest price tag at Yoshinoya whenever I visit Japan. In addition, the food is healthier option to the food served in the American hamburger chains. There was a study of eating one Yoshinoya beef bowl meal every day for 3 months (keeping the rest of the meals and activity level unchanged). The participants didn’t suffer ill effects of weight gain or higher blood pressure/cholesterol counts unlike similar experiments done with the American fast food in the past.
When my family visit Japan and spend time at my mom’s home, we sometimes miss having meat dishes. My mom is a pescetarian, meaning she is a vegetarian who includes seafood in her diet. We always eat lots of different types of vegetables and seafood at my mom’s home, and her home cooked meals are delicious. However, after about a week of pescetarian meals, we get slightly sick of seafood taste and smell, and crave the meat dishes with more sustance. Then it’s time to go look for Yoshinoya!
My brother and sister-in-law who live in Europe visit Japan yearly and they never fail to eat at Yoshinoya every chance they get in Japan. They always message me with the pictures of them eating at Yoshinoya in different locations in Japan. They were ecstatic when they found Yoshinoya in Narita international airport terminal, so that they could have their last meal in Japan at their favorite joint. The pictures of Yoshinoya menu shown here are compliments of my brother at Narita airport Yoshinoya.
In Tokyo and major cities frequented by foreign visitors, Yoshinoya menus always have English translation with the pictures of the food. In some cases, they have Chinese and/or Korean in the menu. Ordering system is very easy for foreign visitors. You can just point to the picture of the item, and you are done. If you need 2 of them, the universal hand sign of number 2 will do the job. When you walk into Yoshinoya in Tokyo area, they are usually configured in a U shaped counter. You find the seat at the counter, or the worker will point you to where to seat. In some stores, they have multiple levels, and they may point you to go to the upper level serving area. In smaller cities with more available space, they sometimes have separate table seating areas, but I have never seen that in Tokyo where the space is premium.
There are few other beef bowl chains that are comparable to Yoshinoya, namely Matsuya (松屋) and Sukiya (すき家). Their foods are similar and competitive in price with Yoshinoya. However, Yoshinoya has the loyal international following being the oldest chain and with numerous locations overseas. According to the biggest Yoshinoya fan, my brother, food at other gyudon chains do not compare to Yoshinoya. Yoshinoya use the secret ingredients, the red wine in the sauce to make the broth extra tasty. They would not publish their trade secret recipe just like Kentucky Friend Chicken guards its secret seasoning recipe.
Yoshinoya, in a way, represents a slice of modern Japanese food culture just as McDonald is a part of Americana. Next time you are visiting Japan, try a nice, tasty and affordable meal at Yoshinoya under the bright orange sign.