Considering how much fanfiction gets written set in Japan. I thought I might just share some daily life details that may or may not be useful.
This comes from my own experiences of living in a bicultural household and living in the country for about a month every year of my life. Admittedly, I’ve only lived in a deep rural area and visited cities, but some of the pointers will still be relevant.
The first thing that come to mind when you’re trying to describe another place is to get to grips with the food culture.You know the saying, ‘To know a people, know the food that they’d willingly consume’? So, for this post, I’m going to talk about food details.
1.Food that you might have in the fridge:Old rice if you made rice in bulk + various rice toppings. Think of rice as the bread, and the fridge being full of the spreads you could put on it.
Pickles: Might not be so popular with the younger generation, but if they live with their parents, there will bound to be at least one kind of pickle in the fridge, because there are speciality pickles for almost every prefecture and you cannot escape them. In the same way as spreads, they usually taste very strong and its rare to eat them as they are, unless they’re just that tasty and you like pickles that much (think of somebody eating peanut butter with a spoon straight out of the jar). You would eat pickles with white rice. Here are three examples: Umeboshi - pickled plum, and it is sour and very salty! You can suck on stone for minutes afterwards, just savouring the salt taste. Usually one plum is sufficient for one bowl of rice. Takuwan - a smelly, giant horseradish pickle, which might look a bit yellow with age. When you see giant horseradishes drying in the sun around the back of the house, this is probably what they’re going to be made into. Rakkyo - little pickled onions.
Other toppings: Shirasu - tiny little white fish, each fish is about two centimetres long, and you sprinkle (or heap them, if you really like them) over rice. Delicious. Again, may not be popular with the younger generations who have grown up accustomed to more Western flavours. Gohandesuyo - seaweed paste in a jar. It’s salty like Marmite and like Marmite the name of the food is the name of the brand. You put a tablespoon or so on one bowl of rice.
Spring onions. We are never out of spring onions. Ever. Chopped up fine.
Sauces: Soy sauce, mirin, su (rice wine vinegar), yakiniku sauce (sauce specifically for yakiniku), mayonnaise, yakisoba sauce, ketchup, mustard in a tube, wasabi in a tube.
A tub of miso: of which there are red and white variants, and there is constant family clash over which tastes better!
If the household eats bread, you’re more likely to get a vegetable oil spread than butter. I think a few years ago there was a butter shortage. It was just too expensive to buy or not on the shelves, but there were so many different brands of vegetable spread made from different flower seeds!
Egg is a fridge staple. If you’re in doubt and you need a quick breakfast or lunch, you could crack an egg raw over hot rice, spritz a dash of soy sauce on top, shovel it down and go.
Natto - fermented beans, its sticky and when you pull it apart it stretches with sticky web-like strands just like melted cheese. It’s famously an acquired taste but I love it on rice, in curry and in miso soup. Sold in wee cups, with sachets of sauce and mustard.
Also in the pantry: Katsuobushi - tuna flakes, often used to make tuna stock; Stick dashi - powdered stock, usually seaweed or tuna; wakame - seaweed; ginger; taka no tsume - dried hot chilli peppers, prettily named ‘hawk talons’; sesame seeds; sesame oil. Furikake - literally, ‘sprinkles’ for rice, when you have no other option. Maybe tofu. Panko for frying things. Golden curry roux blocks. Cream stew insta-kits.
Instant foods: Cup ramen, cup noodles, instant ramen, instant yakisoba, freeze-dried instant soups, instant corn soup.
The primary oil used for cooking is so-called ‘salad oil’: I don’t actually know what it’s made of, but it’s a vegetable oil of some kind.
2. Where I might buy food:Supermarkets for the fruit, veg, meat and fish, but for the best read-made fare, drinks and snack foods (kashi pan, onigiri, yoghurt, and depending on where you go there might be salads and bentos), you would head to a 24/7 open convenience store (e.g. Seven-Eleven, Lawsons’), where they also might do hot steamed pork buns and, lately, really good coffee to go. If you want to buy somebody a nice cake or box of tea-time sweets as an omiyage you might go to the basement floor of a department store.
Vending machines - there is a vending machine everywhere. I am not kidding. Even in the deep countryside, I found a couple of vending machines up a mountain which smelled as if they had been scent-marked by raccoon dogs and bears. And at these vending machines, you can not only buy cold juice, but several different kinds of hot and cold Japanese teas, a very sweet milk tea, several different brands of hot and cold coffees, corn soup, potato chowder, hot shiruko (a sweet azuki drink), hot chocolate, hot and cold lemon…You’d honestly never go thirsty.
For sushi, we’d call up a sushi restaurant. The same goes for ramen. Unless you’re using an instant ramen kit, making ramen broth is hard. The tonkotsu variant is pretty much impossible at home. Likewise, you just can’t make good sushi at home. It’s not really a family meal or something that can be casually made. Typically sushi is brought out for celebrations or special occasions as it can be quite pricey but conveyor belt sushi places are more accessible.
3. Bread: You will find white bread (fluffy, gorgeous, pillowy white bread, that’s basically like cake) but it’s really difficult to find brown bread. In the rural supermarket, it was non-existent and for bread with a crust, you’d have to go to the little street-corner artisan bakeries.
On the topic of bread and kashipan, I’ve often seen references in fanfiction of characters baking kashipan for each other, or kashipan just like their grandmother made it (e.g. anpan, melonpan, creampan). As much I like the sentiment behind these scenes, I’m not saying they’re impossible, but in most cases they are a little jarring.
Our grandmother’s generation were not bakers. Most of the houses that our grandmothers grew up in did not have ovens, since Japan doesn’t have a tradition of domestic baking, and even now, a lot of houses still don’t have ovens aside from a nifty little oven toaster, Cakes and kashipan were seen as Western and trendy luxuries to be eaten at cafes (a Western import in itself) or bought from specialist shops which had the equipment to make them. They weren’t ‘casual home-cooking’ so to speak, even if the history of the anpan and the castella date pretty far back into the past now.
Even now, unless you are a massive kashipan fanatic and dessert-making enthusiast, you probably wouldn’t bake a tray of kashipan at home when you could buy them perfectly made from a nearby convenience store.
Having said that, I have tried making anpan in an oven toaster. I made six, since that was all that could fit on the little toaster tray. They were each about 6cm in diameters, and my grandmother complained that it was a waste of perfectly good azuki.
You can, if you’re really into dessert making, make lots of things in an oven toaster, but if you’re looking to make something sentimental just like your grandmother made them, mochi might be a better option (e.g. warabimochi or ohagi), or maybe since sweet things historically tended to be more often bought from a specialist than made at home, quote a favourite wagashi that grandmother might have enjoyed from a particular shop e.g. the anko dama and imo youkan from Funawa; the chestnut manju from the shop by the station.
4. Omiyage: If you go away on a trip and you’re inconveniencing work colleagues with your absence (which you are), this is the souvenir that you buy to take back and share at your work place, often a food item, so boxes of sweets are often packaged in such a way that the sweets inside are individually wrapped for ease of splitting distribution.
This is also the word used for the gifts you bring back for family, either when you’re visiting relatives and you know that you will be encroaching upon their hospitality, potentially inconveniencing them, or if you’re coming back to the family and, in a way, again, it’s to make up for any inconveniences that might have been caused by absence -although largely for family, it’s also about the joy of giving to those you care about!
Likewise, students who go away on holiday on a trip might bring back omiyage for fellow members of their club, if they’re involved in club activities. If you think of club activities as training children up for work place social structure and customs, it makes some sense.
Not omiyage but an example of gift-giving, but if you move into a new neighbourhood, it’s usually expected that you visit your neighbours and take round gifts, as a gesture of courtesy and goodwill. There is, again, an element of asking forgiveness for inconvenience, because moving into the new home would have made a lot of noise and possibly caused a disturbance.
With omiyage in mind, each prefecture tends to advertise certain foods/sweets that are ‘unique’ to it that would make suitable omiyage. A famous example would be ‘Tokyo Banana’ and anything matcha from the Uji area in Kyoto.
5. Food is seasonal: Japan is hyperconscious of its seasons, so the fridge will likely contain seasonal fruits and veg. In a lot of Japanese poems, it was traditional to include a ‘kigo’, a word that encodes a season to set the poem in without explicitly saying ‘It is winter’, and some fruits are kigo. The persimmon is a kigo for autumn, peaches and cherries and plums for spring, and more recently the watermelon is a definite kigo for summer! Seasonal fruits also make good gifts for visiting friends’ houses, especially if you’re bringing them back from the countryside after visiting relatives.
Autumn’s a great time for food. Now is the time when all of the mushrooms are coming out - shiitake, matsutake, enoki, shimeji - and they’re dried and preserved for the year. People who cook might have dried shiitake in the pantry for rehydrating and eating or using in stock.
Foreign brands, aware of the seasonal sensitivity of their Japanese, often produce Japan only seasonal limited products. My favourite example of this is the Haagen-Daaz flavours. One autumn there was a pumpkin and cinnamon, and I’m pretty sure I saw a cherry blossom latte at Starbucks.
6. Food you might see at festival stalls: Taiyaki - fish-shaped pastries made with a pancake-like batter and filled with custard or azuki. Yakisoba - fried noodles. Yakitori - chicken skewers. Takoyaki - octopus batter balls. Hot dogs…With a shout-out to very rare diversity my local festival had a Turkish kebab stall last year. Kakikoori for the summer festivals - sweet ice, with typical syrups being red, green and yellow (strawberry, melon and lemon flavours respectively).
Fluffy headcanons because we all need more nygmobblepositivity
Oswald has sensitive skin and can only wear certain fabrics. Edward takes notice of this and alters his own clothing as to not cause irritation to the other. He informs the staff of this development too and soon enough the irritating material is all but banished from existence, or at least from within their home.
Edward likes to cook for Oswald whenever he can get the chance or at least whenever Olga allows him inside her sanctuary. She kickes him out after the first time commenting on the mess he made, a string of Russian curse words leave her mouth as she flicks her tea towel in his direction. He still sneaks in occasionally as he loves the process of cooking, it’s almost akin to chemistry and other sciences he loves so much. Although Ed can whip up a mean curry and a few stews he fails in the dessert department and has called on Victor Zsasz to teach him the tricks of the trade.
Oswald is ticklish. It may be because of his sensitive skin but whenever Edward’s fingers brush over his ribs as he helps him dress Oswald struggles to hold back his giggles. Ed notices this of course and decides to test his reaction repeating the process until the man is dishevelled and red faced from laughter.
This is incredible! rich from the full fat coconut milk, just spicy enough from a blend of peppers and red curry, and hearty enough due to the chock-load of vegetables. It is easily made vegan/vegetarian by omitting the shrimp, and you won’t even miss it.
½ lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 large crown of broccoli, cut into florets (fresh broccoli works best)
½ large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ lb asparagus, cut in half
1 yellow pepper, chopped (or cut into strips)
½ red pepper, chopped (or cut into strips) – keep consistent with yellow pepper
2 cups chopped baby bella mushrooms
2 japanoes pepper (reconstituted/softened in boiling water and chopped) + more for garnish
2 ½ tbsp red curry paste
1 can (13.5 fl oz.) full fat coconut milk
13.5 fl. oz vegetable broth
½ tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp sweet paprika
Few tbsp of sunflower or safflower oil
Salt, pepper to taste
Cilantro, fresh jalapeño slices, fresh chili slices, and chopped cashews (not roasted), for garnish
In a large, deep skillet or pot, heat a few tbsp of oil over medium high heat.
Once hot, add in the onions, peppers, garlic, ginger, and salt. Cook for about 5-8 minutes so that the vegetables develop color.
Once the onions are translucent, add in the broccoli, asparagus, and mushrooms. Cook for about 3 minutes.
Add in red curry paste and stir generously.
Add in the coconut milk and using the same can, fill with vegetable broth/stock and add. Stir and bring to a simmer.
Once simmering, reduce the heat, cover with a lid, and let cook for about 15 minutes.
Nearing the end of the 15 minute wait period, taste and season accordingly. Add in shrimp and cover once more, increasing the heat to a gentle boil.
If you prefer a thicker curry, add in about ½ tbsp of arrowroot starch, stir and let thicken while shrimp cooks.
Remove the curry from the heat once the shrimp have cooked.
Garnish with toppings and serve.
Let cool before diving in – because this will be very hot.
I like writing stuff like this. I always get a bit nervous, though. You can only base it off your own experiences and we’re so different. Oh, and because of anxiety but that’s off-topic! I’m motivated by the thought of helping even just one person. Getting a good deal and shopping cheaply is always going to be a miniature obsession of mine. Even if I got hit by a truck of money I’d still want to optimize my grocery cart.
Now, that said. I live in a metropolitan area in the Midwestern USA. Urban and rural dwellers face different challenges with food prices and food accessibility, and that variation becomes even more widespread by region and by country. Some of these are applicable to most people, but I’d really encourage anyone with experience in different locales, regions, and countries to flesh out their own tips as well.
Base recipes around many of the same ingredients: Notice how a lot of recipes start the same way? Onion, garlic, celery, carrot? Potato? Diced tomatoes? If you write out your meal plan to share common ingredients each given week, you won’t be buying a million different ingredients.
Make a shopping list and a meal plan: It isn’t everyone’s style, but I find having a decently clear idea of what I want for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks stops a lot of impulse buying and “what the Hell do I do with this now?” when I get it all home. It also gets me out of the store faster and I’m all about the lifestyle. Time is money.
Keep bulk cooking recipes in your repertoire and embrace leftovers: I’m planning to write an in-depth guide on bulk cooking in the future. There are tons of stews, chilis, curries, and casseroles that can be made in excessive quantities for around $20 or less. Keep some in the fridge fresh to eat right away, and freeze the rest! You can pull them down for lunch or dinner whenever you need them. Also, leftovers. I know some people struggle to eat the same food many times in a row, but it definitely adds up quickly to prepare new meals for every day. Having your freezer stocked with these bulk cooked foods can provide the relief you need from any monotony in your meal plan that week.
Make classic and common ingredients the staples of your meals: We’re often enticed to try out the hot new foods trending in the blogosphere and news reports, but personally I find they’re mostly convoluted marketing terms and tangent reminders to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You don’t need goji berries, pomegranates, pre-made green smoothies, chia seeds, or any of the nonsense the computer screen is screaming at you to eat. Many common foods of yore are often just as, and sometimes more, beneficial as trendy foods. Cabbage, spinach, potatoes, carrots, apples, bananas, peanut butter, eggs, dried beans, rolled oats, and dried brown rice are some of the major workhorse foods that are extremely cheap.
Don’t shun frozen and canned ingredients: You know what’s kind of expensive? Buying enough fresh tomatoes to make pasta sauce or tomato based stews. Berries, for much of the year. And, several more. Depending on how old the produce on your store shelf is, it’s not uncommon for flash-frozen fruits and vegetables to actually have retained more of the nutrition, too.
Shop sales: This sounds a little obvious, but flip open the ad for your favorite shop and see what specials they’re running. Plan some meals that pull in some of the items your store is offering up for cheap that week!
Buy produce that is in-season: Take a clue of what to buy based on what the Earth is currently providing your location. It will be fresher, taste better, and have traveled shorter distances, too. There are good lists out there about what’s seasonal and when. It will vary by climate, of course. There are also some fruits and vegetables that are always available at decent prices. Ahem, another plug for bananas.
Buy in bulk when possible: Understandably, this isn’t always an option. However, if the stars align and you find yourself with a few extra bucks and chicken quarters are on sale for something crazy like $.49/lb, load ‘em up. Freeze ‘em up. I also find that canned tomatoes or cooking stock will go on great sales and I’ll snatch a few extra up to shave a few dollars off in the long run.
Check if your favorite grocery spot does e-coupons and rewards: Coupons for stuff I actually eat is a bit of a rarity. Seriously, 80% of them are junk food and plastic bags. Boo. Oh, how much I’d love it you got coupons for produce. However, many stores offer digital coupons and rewards for shopping at their store. On occasion, I’ll snatch one up for an actual food item I want, but the real hook and sinker is my store of choice has a rewards program. Spend $200 in four weeks? Bam, $5 off your next basket. Uhm, yes please? It usually means you’ll have to become loyal to that store but if you’re already besties, why not?
Water is now your favorite beverage: There are a million reasons to drink water. I’m not saying you can never have your favorite refreshments, but supporting a serious coffee, juice, or soda habit can really add up. If you’re fortunate enough to have great tap water, it’s almost free. If you need filtered water or water bottles, it’s still less money over time when you make it your main squeeze.
Eat a little less meat: This sometimes gets people’s panties in a twist but you know what? Meat’s expensive, fam. Sometimes absolutely nothing I care for is on sale, either. We usually only eat it for dinner, but occasionally the divination of my holy document, the sales ad, imparts the words “vegetarian week.” Do what works for you, but I think it’s always very valid advice when trying to get a grocery bill down.
Breakfasts: My go to lately has been marinated tofu with eggs over easy. Protein bomb in the AM. Lunches: I’m making something I call my “superfood” vegetarian chili. I don’t really do the whole superfood thing, but I call it that because I’ve seriously stuffed just about every color and major micronutrient in there. Dinners: I’m making an experiment. Doing this green curried fish stew idea I concocted. Chilies, lemongrass, ginger, limes, Asian vegetables, etc. More on that later! Also going to make a beet and potato mash we can put over some spinach. We have some veggie burgers left over in the freezer and I figured that would be their side dish. Snacks: Grapes were $.88/lb! WHAT!? Definitely grabbed some of those. Also got my beloved bananas.
I’m always skeptical when someone tells me they know where to get the “the best” of anything. Taste is subjective, so I’ve often found that what other people feel is “the best sushi” or “the best ramen” does not come close in my book. So when a colleague told me he knew where to get the best “katsu-kare” (Japanese curry topped with deep fried pork) in Tokyo, I was curious but didn’t get my hopes up too high. But after he took me to Mizuno in Akasaka for lunch, I have to agree that this was the best katsu-kare I’ve had!
The curry was perfectly spiced, and its consistency was spot on. You see, as you dunk or spoon the curry onto your pork, some restaurants tend to make it too runny, so it becomes almost soupy when mixed with the rice. Other places make it to thick and it doesn’t stick to the katsu. However, Mizuno has found a near-perfect balance!
The vegetables were also cut just how I like them, in smaller bite-sized pieces that provided texture, and also complimented the taste of the curry. I hate when you get big chunks of carrots and potatoes which distract from the harmony of the stew. The sweet onions and inclusion of mushrooms here added fantastic flavor to the dish.
The other thing I greatly appreciated about Mizuno was the tonkatsu. Many curry places focus too much on the curry and the pork becomes an afterthought. Mizuno is first and foremost a tonkatsu restaurant though, so their pork cutlets are breaded and fried to order, so some out hot and crisp on top of your rice.
Mizuno is a quaint, family run restaurant, with the son in the kitchen, the father expediting, and the mother serving. There’s a ticket machine at the entrance, so you need to purchase your order before walking in.
If you are looking for “the best” katsu-kare in Tokyo, look no further than Mizuno! (Thanks for the introduction, Paul!)
i’m the worst person to ask this because i actually love carbs more than anything else haha but that’s what i can think of: - salad (not just a boring salad, i mean a super big salad with greens, maybe some cooked cooled broccoli, raw spinach, red bell pepper, mushrooms, carrots, cucumber, nuts & seeds and a good viniagrette + some pan-fried tofu/tempeh) - coconut curries as a soup/stew without rice or so, just on it’s own - my peanutbutter banana protein bread (recipe on my recipe blog –> www.elephantsarevegan-recipes.tumblr.com) - pan-fried veggies with chopped cashews and walnuts + tofu/tempeh - something with potatoes (they are actually - compared to rice or pasta - quite low in carbs!) - veggie soups - vegan yogurt with soy cereal, cinnamon and nutbutters that’s all i can think of. i know it’s not a big list but as i’ve already said, i’m probably the worst person to ask about low carb meals haha :) xx