The food at Japan’s service areas is so good that NEXCO East, the expressway management company for eastern Japan, holds a contest to determine which one has the most tasty lunch. The Grand Prix winner this year was just announced, and it is — drum roll, please — Tomobe Service Area in Ibaraki Prefecture.
Contrary to rest stops in the US, some of Japan’s service areas are self-sustaining mini-cities. You can make a pit stop, buy souvenirs, eat a hot meal, but the quality of the restrooms, shops and restaurants is the difference between a Yugo and a Lexus. Some of the more heavily visited ones will even have a full-blown arcades, laundromats, lodging, a ferris wheel, or onsen. Taken into context, it’s no surprise that top-notch dining is also available.
According to NEXCO East’s judges, it was Tomobe’s “shugyoku no zō” (collection of gems) set meal that took the top prize. The menu item consisted of a roast beef bowl cooked crispy at low temperatures, a cold appetizer of locally sourced Tsukuba pork and chicken, a soba noodle dish, servings of local Kashima seasonal fruit and Ibaraki vegetables, and apricot tofu. All of this, for just ¥1,500 (about USD $15).
Judges had the enviable job of sampling around 5,000 dishes from across NEXCO East service areas. And if you think the “losers” are any worse, the runner up was Nagahara Service Area’s Sendai beef and duck salad set. However, we know Japanese food isn’t to everyone’s taste. You can get McDonald’s too, but that seems like a waste if you ask us.
Images: NEXCO East