Monday, January 5, 2015

To the Supermarket!

I’m no stranger to the shopping game. It’s been a part of my existence since I was a wide eyed, most likely drooling, baby. Frequent trips to the store with mom growing up led me to be confident in my shopping abilities. Moving out after high school and being on my own on a food stamp budget (I went to school and worked, but never had enough to make ends meet) I thought I was pretty good at grocery shopping. I could make $200 worth of food last an entire month 90% of the time.
When I came to Japan last year though, it was a whole different ball game. I remember walking into the grocery store for the first time on my own. My friend was letting me stay with her and I wanted to surprise her with dinner when she came home. A simple trip to the super market a few blocks away should be easy, right?
No, no it wasn’t.
I don’t think I ever wrote to you guys on this particular topic, but let me tell you. It was a nightmare. I started with fruits and vegetables. At least I knew what those were, right? Well. At least most of them? Maybe half of them. Of the half I did know most of them I couldn’t afford. Sticker shock set in almost immediately, so I hurried off to other areas of the store.
I must have stared at the walls of food like an idiot for at least an hour. I knew that these things in front of me were used to make food one way or another. However, I was so utterly lost I think I almost broke down in the store my first trip. And my second. And my third. After a while, it got better, but those first trips left me feeling so hopeless.
No amount of knowing what a tamanegi (onion) or ninjin (carrot) was was going to help me figure out the rest of the food in the store. It didn’t matter that I had studied Japanese for 3 years and could hold a basic conversation. Staring at the grocery store aisles, I was lost. Flabbergasted. Utterly alone. I felt like a lost child amidst the countless colorfully packaged boxes.
I still remember that sometimes when I go to the store now. I’m not as much of a stranger to the grocery store and I can usually read packages without a lot of effort these days. But at first, not know what was what, or where to find anything or even how to cook it if I DID buy it, was a huge problem. I’ve recently made a new friend who is going through this exact same thing. He keeps worrying he’s going to bring home dog food.
              My words of advice? There are none. It’s every man for himself. Good luck. Take a friend with you and they can point things out and eventually you’ll get the hang of it. Eventually, I want to post a few recipes for you guys, including pictures of the packaging, so that you can maybe find your way around the grocery store a bit better. Or if nothing else, show the picture to someone and they can point you in the right direction.
              If you are having problems finding food at the grocery store in Japan, or simply don’t know what to look for once you get there, I have a website to recommend.
              Cookpad (no, not sponsored or anything, just a website recommended by almost every person I know on the JET program). It has real Japanese recipes which (if you use the English side of the site) have been translated from their original recipes for you. The best part is, since the recipes have been translated directly from Japanese ones, you should be able to easily find all the ingredients at your local supermarket. However, if you don’t know any Japanese/how to ask “Where is this?” then you might still be in trouble, but if you master the simple “X  wa doko ni arimasu ka” question, you’ll be a pro in no time.

              The other good thing about this site is its recipes are designed with the Japanese kitchen in mind. No calling for American sized ovens. No calling for that thing you don’t have and are entirely unable to buy in this country. Which makes it a fantastic source any day of the week. 

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