Friday, May 15, 2009

Eating in Japan

Cooking in Japan is a real adventure and going to the supermarket is usually the highlight of the day for me although it takes me about 1 hour to buy stuff for dinner. When we visited our first supermarket we did not have a clue what to do with about 80% of the stuff there. Now we are down to 30%, but it is still very exotic. And on top of all that we try to buy cheaply. We had some very big surprises about what is cheap and what is expensive. Let’s start with the cheap stuff:

Tofu is ridiculously cheap - a 300 gr slab comes for 25 to 50 cents, about 10% of what it would cost me in Germany. The same goes for bean sprouts, Pak Choy, spring onions, most fish and strangely enough for chicken. My favourite so far is squid. Squid for 2 people sells for about 1 to 2 EUR and is absolutely delicious. Instead of gooey rubber band you get squid that melts in your mouth. But there is also a lot of expensive stuff: Rice is double the price it is in Europe! And it is the most common food here, but due to import restrictions and/or customer preference they only sell expensive Japanese rice that always seems to end up as a soggy, slimy mess when we cook it. Potatoes and apples are so expensive that they are sold per piece (1 potatoe = 30 cents) and we have seen watermelons for 15 EUR per piece!

Picking Biwa
But there is also free food: To my big surprise and despite the fact that it is still only spring the fruit trees have been quite rewarding so far. We found a lot of orange and grapefruit trees plus a fruit called Biwa. I have never ever seen it before. It looks like an apricot but has a smooth skin that you have to peel before eating plus 4 bean like stones in eat. A lot of effort to eat them, but they are delicious.

Cooking is quite a challenge here especially because we want to keep expenses down. Dinner is experiment time and we are back to 3 course dinners. Lunch is usually some tempura fish or vegetable from a supermarket and when we are lucky we get discounted sushi (a huge sushi platter for the price of 1 piece of sushi in Germany).

But breakfast and snacks are still a problem. We tried Japanese breakfast, e.g. miso soup with tofu plus cold rice with seaweed, but we were both hungry again 1 hour after finishing breakfast. We changed to eating bread (which unfortunately comes presliced: 1 loaf of bread comes in 4 slices only, which means that you have to have a very wide mouth if you want to eat a sandwich) and jam, but this is bulky and not very healthy on the long run. And snacks pose an unsolvable problem. Chocolate comes in 50 gr bars and is outrageously expensive - the same goes for biscuits and chips or crackers. Tiny packages with half of the weight consisting of more packaging material at an outrageous price. Not good for cyclists, but good to help John loose some of the weight he has gained while cycling with me and 3 course dinners every night.

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