what do I eat!?

As a native Washingtonian, I grew up surrounded by great food - the fresh seafood, ripe, juicy apples, and a plethora of tart, sweet berries. After high school, when I moved to Seattle for college, my new found food independence couldn't have established itself in a better city. Farmer's markets, organic food stores, a wide ethnic variety of restaurants and one of my absolute favorites - Uwajimaya, the Asian food market in the International District. My taste for quality food developed, along with my chopstick usage skill. When restaurants were too expensive (especially at the end of a paycheck cycle), I found it easy to pick up a pre-prepared meal from Whole Foods or PCC on the way home from work. This, along with my time-consumed schedule of work and school, kept me from pursuing cooking and baking as much as I would have liked.
That changed when I came to Japan.

I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands, and soon discovered the lovely world of food blogs. During the first few months after my arrival, a huge folder of bookmarked recipes appeared in my browser, along with an ever-growing folder of recipes in my email inbox. I poured over the stories, the ideas, and checked out links to other food blogs, almost every day. Slowly, after settling in, becoming more accustomed to the supermarket and my available ingredients, and finding a normal routine, I started trying all these different recipes I had bookmarked and saved. Somedays, all I wanted was to get a pack of sushi, a pre-made salad and pre-cut pineapple. Or a pack of yakisoba and a curry korokke. Yes, there were even those days when a bowl of yogurt-topped granola became the equivalent of dinner.

Nonetheless, the recipes slowly made their way into my cheap teflon pan and secondhand toaster oven. The more I found and tried, the more I sought. This eventually led me to try and improvise or find ways to make things that require a bit more creativity in Japan. Some things were easy, especially since I had often made Japanese food at home in Seattle. Other things were a bit tricky, like using the toaster oven to bake (try making a pizza in one - bad idea - but banana bread = delicious!).

After getting married last summer, my husband and I bought an oven (although nothing like an oven you would see in the States), upgraded various kitchen supplies, and really let loose. Having someone to hold me accountable to cook (and not just get prepared food from the store all the time) has been a blessing in disguise. At first, I mourned the loss of my quick and easy meals, but as time has gone on, and we cook nearly every night, I've found it to be a pleasure (usually). The time we spend together making meals and then enjoying them together has taught me a lot more about the purpose of "meal times." In Japan, communal meals can be and is quite important, in a variety of contexts. I'm familiar with that being true in other cultures as well. Food is a common thread that ties people together. And, especially if it's good food, creates a great atmosphere for which to enjoy the company of others.

So, cooking in Japan? That's the point right... yes, yes of course! Though when people first come here, and even after living here some time, they may find it difficult to cook non-Japanese food (besides spaghetti, which is very common here). To some extent this can be true, and I know a lot of people use the Foreign Buyer's Club to help with this. However, I have found no need to use the FBC to cook a variety of food, even things considered more non-Japanese, like chili, quesadillas, banana bread, meatloaf, etc. Really, I have found few limitations on what I can make here, aside Mexican food which can be a little more tricky (depends on what you are making and how). Of course, I would strongly suggest trying and making Japanese food, as the ingredients are always readily available, but Korean, Thai, Chinese, all of these types of food are just as easy to make if you know where to look, what to look for, and can be a little creative at times.

Oh, and I should also note that I am one of those people who is all about organic and whole, healthy food, which some people may find challenging to continue in Japan as much as in an organic/healthy city in the States. Though it isn't as easy as it was in Seattle, it is still mostly possible. One of the first things I learned at the store was the kanji for "organic" - 有機 (ゆうき, yuuki). Any food item with these kanji means it is organic.

Obviously, going into everything food-related would take many posts, so I'll just start with a few basic helps (aside the organic kanji above). Over the next posts, I'll go into vitamins and supplements, basic kanji for ingredient labels, cooking utensils and other important things to know pertaining to food.

One website that has been immeasurably helpful to me has been Tengu Natural Foods. They supply various organic and healthy products, but also products that are difficult to find at regular supermarkets at times (such as peanut butter, almonds, cheese (not the Japanese cheese), tortillas, bagels, and even frozen Amy's products and Larabars. The shipping is cheap and they offer a cash on delivery option. I buy eco-household products from them as well, though these can often be found in local drug stores.

Amazon.jp has an amazing selection of resources. Basically, just like Amazon.com, but the products differ a bit. They have many pantry item foods and also can be paid for cash on delivery. The trick is knowing Japanese search terms for what you want, but that's where a translator or dictionary come in handy! (Remember, Google Translate, or any other translator or dictionary you have access to).

Finally, a food blog devoted largely to Japanese food, written by a Japanese person who grew up in Japan and knows and understands the food. Well, two blogs actually, but they go together: Just Hungry and Just Bento. Both of these sites gave me many ideas for how to prepare authentic Japanese food, with ingredients I encounter in the store on a daily basis. They are a great starting point for anyone unfamiliar with Japanese food or Japanese-style cooking.

These are just a few ideas of course, and there's more to come, so stay tuned for that. And of course, if you've got specific questions, or something you think I should address, I'd be more than happy to try and help you out! Until next time, enjoy these few bites.

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