Eat all you can while in Japan (it rhymes!)

***This article was written by Johanna Forsberg and Lynnie Lim in collaboration***

One of the things that Japan does really well is tabehoudai – all-you-can-eat! From buffet-style salad bars to yakiniku or Korean barbecue places, as long as you bring your biggest appetite and an empty stomach, there are all kinds of food to try, and all for a set price!
Tabehoudai menu in English, with different options. (Photo by Johanna Forsberg)
WHAT IS TABEHOUDAI
In Japanese this literally translates to “eat as much as you want”, or all-you-can-eat. There is also nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) and both thesecustoms are common and very popular in Japan. 
Many restaurants in Japan offer all-you-can-eat menus, just look for 食べ放題 on  the menu or signs outside the restaurant, or ask - ”Tabehoudai ga arimasu ka?” (meaning ’do you do all-you-can-eat?’). As a general principle, prices for tabehoudai courses increase with the value and variety of ingredients, but even the cheapest option usually give plenty to choose from. There are no restrictions around the types of cuisine that you can experience this with, but below we’ll run you through a few of the most common options, as well as some unique ones to seek out!
 
Yakiniku - Japanese barbecue 
I am sure that you have heard of yakiniku. Yakiniku is literally Japanese for grilled meat, and usually you get to barbecue the food yourself. Many places serving yakiniku have tabehoudai courses, where you can order as much as you like from a set menu during a specific time (often 90-120 minutes). This is usually well worth the money if you are hungry and want to try a lot of different cuts of meat.
 
Many places offer beef (gyuu in Japanese), pork (buta) and chicken (tori), as well as some vegetables and mushrooms. Sometimes you may also find seafood and squid on the menu. 
Similar to yakiniku, but often focuses more on pork and also serve typical Korean dishes such as bibimbap, kimchi and lettuce leaves for wrapping the meat. Prices often start at around ¥2000, with and higher prices meaning more variety and options as well as longer time limit. In Tokyo you will definitely find Korean barbecue in Shin-Okubu, the Korea town of Tokyo.
This Japanese hotpot is centered around very thinly sliced meat, usually beef and pork. The name itself comes from the swish-swish sound of meat slices being swirled through the boiling broth – you don’t want to overcook them! Since there is a variety of broths and dipping sauces to choose from, you can cater it somewhat to your own taste. Aside from various cuts of meat, an all-you-can-eat menu will usually include vegetables, tofu, noodles and other yummy things to go in the pot, as well as salads, rice dishes and desserts.
Tabehoudai shabu-shabu at Shabu-yo. (Photo by Johanna Forsberg)
One shabu-shabu restaurant chain that I usually go to is Shabu-Yo. They have restaurants in Tokyo as well as other parts of Japan. Their tabehoudai menus usually start from just under ¥2000 and include different cuts of meat, a wide variety of vegetables and mushrooms as well as side dishes and even Japanese curry. They also have menus in English!
 
Okonomiyaki – a Kansai specialty
Whether you’re travelling in Kansai or not, the okonomiyaki experience is not to be missed. Literally translated as ’grilled whatever-you-like’, you’ll be seated in front of a hot plate, and a mixture of batter and all your favourite things dished up in a bowl for you to grill yourself. Restaurants up and down the country do a tabehoudai version of this, so you can experiment with any number of ingredients – these range from meat, seafood, and vegetables, to fruits, cheese, and mochi!
If you still find yourself hankering after more meat, here’s one more option that’s familiar yet unique – Japan is home to the one and only KFC buffet in the world! Chow down on all the greasy fried chicken you can stomach, and for the best possible deal you’d do this for lunch on a weekday – premiums apply for evenings and weekends, but are probably still worth the amount of crispy you can get (medical bills not included). 
 
To their credit, this KFC, located in the Expocity Mall north of Osaka, also offers all-you-can-eat salad, as well as non-deep-fried-chicken dishes like pasta and dessert. Given the deliciousness of Japanese KFC curly wedges, though, I have yet to work up the courage to make it past the entrance...don’t tempt me...
 
Someday...someday...
A paradise for the sweet teeth among us
Enough with the protein. Bring on the sugar! Sweets Paradise runs a cake buffet – a free-flow of all the sponges, creams, mousses, tarts, and cheesecakes you’ve ever craved. At any one time, dozens of types of desserts adorn their counter, all daintily portioned to maximise the number you can cover in one sitting. A handful of pasta dishes and soups are also on offer, in case you need to cleanse your palate, and for a couple hundred yen more you gain access to the dazzling cabinet of Haagen Daz ice cream. Every half an hour a bell rings out, and a queue materialises almost immediately – they do sticky croissants fresh out of the oven, and these don’t stay uneaten for more than 5 minutes thereafter! 
Yes, I hear you say, but these are boring. What if I want a tabehoudai experience where I don’t necessarily know what I’m eating? For the intrepid explorer, I suggest the treasure chest of Groupon (or other similar money-saving directories), where a search of 食べ放題 in your city of choice will introduce you to, among others, the best of Kyushu cuisine, Okinawan cuisine, and cuisine specialising in various under-utilised organs. All for a bargain price, too! Downside: some Japanese literacy and prior reservation often necessary, but it may be worth seeing if your hotel concierge can help with both. 
 
Quick look at the Tokyo area...
In summary, never come to Japan without an appetite. If possible, bring two...

Lynnie Lim