Recently I was invited to a Japanese izakaya (a Japanese pub) to experience a Japanese version of all-you-can-eat, which is called tabe hōdai (食べ放題). If you think of all-you-can-eat in Belgium or other Western countries, you probably think of something like a buffet, where you just take the food you want yourself. This was the first tabe hōdai I attended until now, but I dare say that the all-you-can-eat concept is done differently in Japan.
I was the first from our party – my mentor, her son and my tutor (a Nara Women’s University student) – to arrive at the izakaya called Kichiri, just in front of Nara Kintetsu Station. After taking of my shoes – which I’m still not able to do as quickly and elegantly as most Japanese, bouncing around more like an elephant instead –, I followed the waiter to the table. In Japan it is customary to receive free cooled tap water, so while I was waiting for the others to arrive, I sipped from my glass. My mentor was the second to arrive and though the others weren’t there yet, she didn’t waste a minute and showed me the menu. With the words “Don’t hold back, choose whatever you want!” it became clear that all-you-can-eat in Japan is in fact the same as ordering as many things – both drinks and meals – on the menu as you want, for a fixed price.
A few minutes after our first orders, one thing after the other was brought to our table and I quickly lost track of all the things we had actually ordered. Both the son and my tutor were soon there to enjoy the food as well. The meals were set at the center of the table and small plates and bowls were provided to eat individually from.
The menu was a combination of Western-like foods and Asian/Japanese meals. I remember eating chijimi (the Korean version of Japan’s okonomiyaki, which is a savory pancake), a Japanese-style codfish pizza and mochi-lasagna (in other words, made of rice cake), and fried chicken (kakigōri) amongst others.
The difference with the buffets I’m used to is that, although you order quite a lot, you don’t really end up over-eating. Because, as the meals were to be shared by the four of us, I ate very tiny portions of every meal and therefore didn’t feel like I would explode, which is a good thing for sure.
As we only ate small portions of each meal, there was certainly some place left for dessert, which consisted of a Mickey-moelleux and hot pancakes with fruit.
The tabe hōdai proved to be very enjoyable and is the perfect way to discover and try new foods out. If you ever come to Japan, you should certainly give it a try!