I was talking to my mom the other day, and I told her that the thing I missed most about the U.S.A. is the food. She had just told me that she was going to go to Shake Shack on her cheat day, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Obviously, I miss my friends and family a lot, but there are ways to feel closer to them. While technology is great for connecting with people, it’s not so great for satisfying food cravings. Even if “smell-o-vision” existed (which, by the way, I don’t think it should), it wouldn’t quite cut it.
After that phone call, I started making a list of foods that I will be picking up on the way home from the airport, whenever I get back to the states. It will be continuously-growing list, but highlights include buffalo wings, Chick-Fil-A, chips & cheese dip, and American sushi (I know, I know. But while the sushi is better here, it’s NOT THE SAME).
Also brownies. Craft beer. Waffle House.
Oh, God, and peanut butter. I didn’t even think I liked peanut butter that much, but after eating the whipped peanut fluff that I found here, I realized that I knew not how good I had it. I want everyone to try this stuff because it’s wildly different and doesn’t deserve to go by the name “peanut butter.” To be fair, it kind of doesn’t. Peanut butter is written in Japanese as ピーナッツクリーム, which sounds more like peanuts cream. And that S is important because if you were a middle schooler you would be very likely to hear something other than “peanuts.” But I digress.
These are the the pictures that made me want to write this post. They seem basic, and you may think to yourself, “Really? Those pictures?” But count your blessings, okay.
A few months ago, I wrote about how COVID-19 had seen me, like most people in the world, “cooking” more frequently, and I included pictures of my creations, which consisted mostly of simple toppings on toast. More recently, I’ve been branching out, and while I still don’t have an oven, I’m doing my best.
I can’t say I’m proud of all of my creations, but understand that despite my physical age, my mindset is still that of a freshman-year college student who goes to the fridge and thinks, “Is it within the realm of possibility to put off going to the supermarket for one more day?”
Anyway, the rest of this post will celebrate the foods that I enjoy here, rather than the foods that I miss from America. A lot of these are repeats, but I know some of my family don’t follow my Instagram or Snapchat. From my tiny baby kitchen to amazing restaurants (or carefully-procured post-corona takeout), please enjoy the following selections from my menu.
Things I’ve made (somewhat) recently:
We have more toast, but that’s just how life is, okay? We have simple margarine toast (Butter is another thing that is weirdly difficult to get your hands on around here. Yes, it’s possible, but it’s expensive and there are a lot of margarine blends that I keep buying by accident because I can’t read the packaging.), French Toast, and an “egg in a basket.” I was able to find pure maple syrup. And there’s a little castella cake leftover from my dessert party from the night before.
Bottom and center, we have my second attempt at a poke bowl. This time, we didn’t use any mayonnaise. There’s cucumber, mango (it was frozen, but I thawed it in the fridge and it’s fine), raw tuna and salmon, green onion, and seaweed. I thought the mango added something fun and different, but all of my Japanese friends said it sounded disgusting. At least the color balance was undeniably improved by the addition of the sunny fruit. Fried white shrimp (a local delicacy) on the side.
You can see two variations on the popular TKG (Tamago Kake Gohan, or egg over rice). Usually, the egg is added raw, but I decided to fry them here. One is served with kimchi, green onion, and pepper. The other is served with cheese croquettes, sesame seeds, green onion, and soy sauce. Both are, of course, over rice.
Top left, we have Spam onigiri, which I made at my friend’s house. They originated in Hawaii, and they’re found in Okinawa or in Okinawan restaurants, like the one near the station. I’ll roll back around to that restaurant in a few paragraphs.
Finally, there’s gyudon (beef bowl). It’s essentially just shredded beef over rice. The toppings are green onion and sesame seeds. The sauce is soy sauce and a little white sugar. I actually used brown rice this time because the coworker who ditched me (full story only to be disclosed via private messages) left me with all the food he couldn’t fit in his suitcase. Many thanks!
Actually I’m going to go for gyudon round two tonight. This time, we’re adding kimchi and spinach to make it a little bit less “comfort food” and more “power bowl.” Wish us luck!
Next let’s take a look at some convenience store delicacies and takeout:
We’ve got a classic bento in the upper left. This one was actually given to me and my coworker by our student. She’s very sweet. I think it was shrimp tempura, some pickled radish, and a croquette. Plus, three beautifully wrapped (but not filled) salted rice onigiri.
There’s also three different convenience store noodle sets. One is a spicy tofu dish, the middle is a spicy beef dish (the one that looks like spaghetti), and on the right is essentially cold ramen. No one needs regular hot noodles when it’s a humid 38 °C outside (I don’t know exactly what that means either, but it’s really hot!).
Finally, and this is one of my finer moments, we have a picnic spread, all thanks to 7-11, though they denied my request for payment after this product placement.
For the last group of photos, please put your hands together for actual restaurant excursions! Guess the 1 picture that wasn’t pre-corona.
Let’s break this photoset down.
First, we have sushi up top. I like to order mine one at a time and try a lot of different things. Tuna, mackerel, shrimp, eel, sea urchin. I usually leave the settings on Japanese and get whatever looks good, so I don’t actually know what I’m eating. Pictured above, I ordered fried chicken nuggets and french fries, too. It’s not my go-to for a sushi restaurant, but I was craving it. Kazu, on the other hand, knows what he wants and goes for it. Usually, that means two or three rounds of the max order (4) of onion salmon.
To the right is cold soba from a trip Fukui (That’s where I visited the dinosaur museum!). You pour the sauce over your noodles, unlike other styles where you dip the noodles in the sauce.
On the next row, you see Indian curry from a shop that’s about 5 minutes from my apartment, on foot. I ate there again last night.
Then, a picture from a Tokyo vacation. That’s okonomiyaki, which is usually called a “savory pancake” but that’s a meaningless term that I guess just means that it’s round-ish and cooked on a stovetop. It can have a lot of different ingredients in it, so maybe just check the Wiki if you’re interested. My friends in the picture are cooking yakisoba (the fried noodles) and sausages.
Let’s skip the drinks for now and talk about the middle picture in the third row. That’s the Okinawan restaurant I was talking about earlier. I can’t read the menu there, so I always ask for recommendations. This time, it was a tempura duo (lightly battered goya, or bitter melon, and maybe chicken-?-) and glazed pork (maybe rafute?) that’s super tender. All washed down with (not pictured) Okinawa’s famous Orion beer.
On the last row, in order, we have ramen in Tokyo (and a bottle of Asahi – classic), cake from an all-you-can-eat dessert place in Nagoya (that was BREAKFAST – we were not short on energy that day), a simple coffee and sweets set from a shop near my workplace, and an adorable Ghibli-themed creampuff cafe in Tokyo. The owner from my previous job recommended that I try to track it down, and I took a 2.5-hour (one way) side trip (by train and on foot) alone to find it.
Last but not least, let’s talk sake. Of course, I have many pictures from many nights out in many different cities, but I’m usually drinking boring beer (do you like Kirin or Sapporo better?) or boring rum and Coke or fun-but-still-unoriginal tequila shots.
From the second row, those three are all from a sake shop underground by the station. I love the idea of getting to know Japanese sake (Have I mentioned before that in Japan, the word o-sake just means alcohol, and what we call “sake” is actually nihonshu?), so I thought I’d go once or twice a month, but the hours didn’t mesh with my work schedule. I’ve had the pleasure of going to two sake-tasting events, but I can’t reap the full education benefits since I can’t read kanji or speak Japanese– still fun, though.
Third row on the left, you see me drinking sake with a whole, small grilled fish steeping in my glass. It’s served hot, so you can pretend it’s a strange boozy soup, which makes the salty broth a bit more palatable. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth, but I definitely held my breath while I swallowed (there was a funnier way to phrase this, but my family reads this blog).
In the last picture on the third row, you can see my favorite sake. It was fruity but not perfumy and a little sweet but not like sweet, you know? More importantly, the atmosphere was really good that night. I didn’t realize it was going to be gourmet, since it’s an unassuming little izakaya, but I should’ve known when I came in and the master said, “There’s no menu. 6 courses. Sit at the bar.”
We got to try two different sakes here. I don’t have pictures of the food because I was living in the moment, but I remember that it was outstanding. Buttery scallops, fresh sashimi, shabu-shabu (meat and veggies and noodles) and a sweet sesame sauce, baby bamboo shoots, and yuba (tofu skin – better than it sounds in English).
Actually, we had met the chef at a different bar the week before, and he invited us to come through sometime. He noticed, as many do, that I was American and he said he could teach me authentic traditional Japanese cuisine. And teach he did. Such a lovely meal! There weren’t any other guests that night (he had actually been planning to close early before I arrived), so we got to chat a lot. After dinner, he invited us to go to his favorite bar with him, and we had wine and cake for dessert. A good night. As it happens, that was my last night out before the COVID-19 lockdown, so I’m glad it was as close to perfection as possible!
Having lived here for a year, it makes sense that I’m starting to miss America’s varied cuisine, but the reminiscing helped me remember how many different and wonderful foods there are around here, too! Not only that, but there are a lot of wonderful places and sights, as well. I’ll write about my summer staycation day trip soon 🙂
P.S. The one post-corona pic up there is the top left picture from Hamazushi. You can tell because our masks are on the table. That’s why I ordered the chicken and fries at a sushi restaurant, okay!! It was my first time dining out in like 3 months, and I needed it.
By the way, this is actually a great restaurant to hit up while social distancing recommendations are in place because servers only come to your table if you need alcohol or soft drinks. Otherwise, all orders are taken via touchscreen (I have one of those pen/stylus things and also hand sanitizer in my purse), and the food/soup comes out on a conveyor belt. Water and tea are self serve, and there’s an individual faucet at each table. Rock on.