living in Japan – and in Tokyo on top of that – is extremely expensive. I have talked about prices of vegetable and fruit here already, however, it is even more expensive to eat out every day – even though you can make some very good deals every now and then…
For some time in my first weeks here I had been wondering what to cook in Japan. Western cheap food, like pasta with tomato sauce, bread with cheese, or cereal, is considered fancy here and therefore more expensive. (Cereal especially can cost like 1200 Yen for 500g!) Plus, I’m in Japan and I love most Japanese dishes, so why would I want to eat European stuff all the time? So I looked out for easy recipes.
Of course, the typical Asian cheap food would be instant noodles. You can get them in so many flavours and variations here, I was really amazed by that at first. It was a bit to easy though, and although there are many ways to improve the flavour, like adding an egg or onions, it does taste pretty plain after a while.
So, in the beginning I just ate rice with furikake a lot. That is dried fish or vegetables which you just put on top of your rice and you can get that for a 100 Yen. Whenever I would find cheap fresh vegetable, like carrots or onions, I also just ate it on top of rice, too.
Every now and then in the evenings, supermarkets offer some discounts on food that will expire soon, too. Whenever I shop at those times, I usually buy fish and octopus on these occassions. Buying fish can be rather expensive in Germany, so that is usually a pretty good deal to me.
Frozen gyouza, Japanese style dumplings, is usually rather cheap, too, and really easy to make. You just eat it with rice and you can even make the sauce with soy sauce, vinegar and some oil easily yourself.
In a very brave moment I even tried eating natto on rice. Unfortunately, I had to give that to a housemate afterwards. Fermented beans is just really not my thing.
So after all these very easy – and lazy – cooking on my own, luckily a few days ago, my friend Junko had invited me to take part in a cooking event at the comunity center she volunteers at.
The classes are aimed at foreigners from everywhere living in Japan, and this time’s topic was bento, Japanese lunch boxes. We got together in small groups and cooked various food together that we could put in our bento. My teammates had prepared salad, and some of the food had been already brought by the community center staff. It felt quite authentic, though, because usually what you put in your bento is just leftover food from the day before.
I was frying the tamagoyaki together with my teammate Alvin. Tamagoyaki is a kind of omelette, that you roll up in the pan, while it fries. That can be quite challenging when done the first time, but we absolutely nailed it, as everyone kept telling us! (I have to admit, though, that I had done that before 😉 )
The fun part was putting everything together and making it look nice. I would have loved to add some shapes, too, and make it more cute, like a kyaraben. That would have taken me forever though, so I just opted for a normal one.
We took seats, had green tea and miso soup prepared, and opened our boxes in awe, excited to look inside – like we hadn’t just closed the lids ourselves literally five minutes ago 😀
It was really a fun event, and all our food tasted so delicious!
At least tamagoyaki I’ll sure do again some time. It is not complicated at all and it looks so nice in a lunchbox! I’m going to make everyone at the embassy jealous with my new skills, haha!