A Weekend Diary: Dilly-dallying Depression and Fried Food

This weekend was interesting in that I tasted the rainbow when it came to emotions… and I didn’t even have to eat any Skittles!

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Usually, I’m preparing and giving an English lesson on Saturdays except that this time, my student e-mailed me to explain that her daughter was placed in in-home quarantine. If you’re thinking Gasp! It’s the coronavirus! you’d be right… but also wrong. The daughter is completely fine, but because of the insane amount of paranoia running rampant in this country… cue the eye roll.

I was antsy, energetic and desperately wanted to get out of the apartment on Saturday. So, I did something weird: I donned some earrings, my denim jacket, and boogied on to the mall that’s FOREVER AWAY but whatever.

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Once I got there, a sense of apathy rolled over me. The lights were on but no one was home. When I saw the puppies in the pet shop though, I perked up a smidge. Every one loves them a puppy.

Over the course of a few hours, I leveled up my life experience by cruising the whole length of the mall, eating some good tonkatsu (sorry, no photo), and gorging myself on some bomb donuts from Mr. Donuts (Dunkin’ Donuts for the rest of you). Unfortunately, I think being out and exposed overstimulated my system and I arrived home with a splitting headache.

Sunday, too, had me in bed with a headache, but for a different reason. I won’t go into it here; however, tears were shed on two different occasions. Depression man… Just when I think I’ve got it under control and have achieved some kind of stability, it comes RIGHT ON BACK. Seriously, I wasn’t expecting it. As I tried to work through it, I suddenly had a craving for some 唐揚げ (からあげ, karaage).

Not a little craving. A BIG craving.

Coming home the night before, I had seen a place that looked newly open. It was hoppin’, too. Well, needless to say, I hunted it down on Google Maps. It’s a place dedicated to fried chicken goodness, からやま (Karayama). It hails from my favorite area in Tokyo, Asakusa, and I wasn’t disappointed by what I ordered.

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The meal included 4 pcs. of lemon-sized chicken, oh-so crispy and juicy! Rice and miso soup was there too. A larger order of rice could be handed to me for free, but I ain’t into rice that much. The sauces that came with it were a kind of sesame seed something, and some spicy-sweet oil. In the last well, I blooped out some mayonnaise. (Never thought it would be good? You should give it a shot. I mean, ya’ll be dipping your Tostino’s pizza rolls in ranch! …wait. Maybe that’s a me-only thing?). The french fries weren’t part of the package. I ordered them separately.

The grand total for all of that? About $10. And I left completely stuffed and sated. I’ll definitely be back. I got a ¥100 coupon to use!

Oyster Sauce and Eggs: Versatility!

Before becoming accustomed to un-American foods, you could never have convinced me to eat something like oyster sauce. Even though I believed myself a consumer of just about anything, my scope was rather limited when I think about it.

Brussels sprouts? Sure! Asparagus? No problem. Poached eggs? As long as they didn’t have Hollandaise sauce, great!

Pickled duck eggs? Nope. Headcheese? I’ll slice it for you, but don’t expect me to eat it. Vegemite? It’s black. Are humans even supposed to eat black things? Entrails? Nah, I’m good.

So, why oyster sauce? It’s versatile! And you can enjoy its handiness in the recipe below from one of my most used books.  It comes from one of Japan’s popular food networks, Orange Page (Japanese only).

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Pork and Eggplant with Garlic Oyster Sauce
(豚肉となすのにんにくオイスター炒め)

150g thinly sliced pork / 豚こま切れ肉 150g
3 (or about 300g) eggplant, thickly cut /  なす(大) 3個、大きく切れ
2 green bell peppers, chopped / ピーマン 2個、短く切れ
1 clove of grated garlic / にんにく 1かけ、おろし

Sauce
2 Tbsp. oyster sauce /  オイスターソース 2 大さじ
1 tsp. sugar, rice vinegar /   砂糖、酢 1名小さじ

Serving size: 2

Coat your frying pan with sesame seed oil and fry up the pork first. When it’s about half-way done, throw in your fixings, adding the sauce after it’s all done. Once coated, cook for another minute or two until you’re satisfied. I added napa cabbage to mine for a bigger veggie boost.

Another versatile food item is the humble egg. Many countries have egg-based dishes and when you’re looking to have a change in your breakfast menu, I recommend scrambles. I like to think they’re wholesomely American as they can be catered to just about any taste. I even remember an ex-boyfriend making french toast flavored eggs for his son!

Here’s my take:

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Scrambled Eggs with Vegetables

2 eggs / 卵 2個
1 Tbsp. milk / 牛乳 1大さじ
2 slices of onion, chopped / 玉ねぎスライス 2枚、短く切れ
1 green bell pepper, chopped / ピーマン 1個、短く切れ
Large chunks of bacon / ベーコン、大きく切れ
3 white mushrooms, sliced / マッシュルーム 3個、スライスで

Serving size: 1-2

Warm up some oil in your frying pan. While it’s heating up, whip up the eggs and milk. When your pan is hot, start cooking the vegetables and bacon up. **NOTE: If you’re using raw bacon, cook that first!** When they’re just about al dente, pour in the eggs and scramble away!

Seasoning is optional. I used salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin.

***

Both of these recipes are useful for amateur cooks (like myself) and don’t take any time at all. Try them out for yourself and let me know down in the comments below what you think!

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Muffin’ Meats Meatmoaf

Nothing beats meatloaf. It’s one of the biggest comfort foods in America and when it came time to wrangling my cravings here in Japan, I was stumped. I couldn’t imagine walking into the supermarket and finding the Wall of Spice Packets for the Lazy Cook (though there are some hanging from an endcap somewhere – my favorite is for tandori chicken!).

It can be daunting for expats that have very little knowledge on how to cook. Gone are the days of instant macaroni n’ cheese, Hot Pockets, and frozen waffles. It’s especially scary when you can’t read ingredients or place names to the foods you’re looking at.

So if you’re here, looking for a helping hand, I’ve got your back!

Behold! The answer to my (and your) comfort food troubles. I was able to find a believable McCormick-type seasoning recipe here, making my own tweeks.

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Muffin’ Meats Meatmoaf

200g ground pork and beef mixture
1/4 – 1/2 of an onion, chopped
1/2 of a green bell pepper or pepper color of your choice, chopped
1 egg
1/2 – 1 cup panko crumbs*
1/2 Tbsp. Heinz mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground thyme
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder or freshly ground garlic

*Add a little at a time until the meat is no longer watery in appearance. If you go overboard with the crumbs, add another egg.*

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Farenheit or about 160 degrees Celcius.

Serving size: about 3 patties or 1 bread pan’s worth

If you’re going the toaster oven route, check every 15 minutes or so. The loaf will have a nice, relatively dark crust once it’s done. Also, beware! If you like to smother your loaf in ketchup before baking, COVER IT WITH FOIL or you’ll run the risk of sparking oils and catching your machine on fire.

Let me know down in the comments below what you like to do with your meatloaf!

goodbye

School Lunch, Ep. 7

I’m a week behind in getting the school lunches to you, the adoring public. This post will be abbreviated and not detail my reactions and opinions. It’s not like you need them anyway, lol.

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April 15, 2019

  • たけのこご飯 (takenoko gohan, rice with bamboo root and peas)
  • さばじゃがメンチコロッケ (saba jyaga menchi korokke, ground and fried mackerel patty)
  • さやえんどうの和え物 (sayaendo no aemono, vegetables with bonito flakes)
  • 玉ねぎのみそ汁 (tamanegi no miso shiru, onion miso soup)

 

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April 16, 2019

  • ご飯 (gohan, rice)
  • 白身魚の甘辛だれ (shiromi zakana no amakara dare, white fish with sweet and sour sauce)
  • 大豆とひじきの炒め煮 (daizu to hijiki no itameni, white beans stir fried with seaweed)
  • 若竹汁 (waka take shiru, young bamboo miso soup)

 

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April 17, 2019

  • 食パン (shoku pan, sliced bread)
  • イチゴジャム (ichigo jamu, strawberry jelly)
  • タンドリーチキン (tandorii chikin, tandori chicken)
  • ポテトサラダ (poteto sarada, potato salad)
  • 野菜スープ (yasai suupu, vegetable soup)

 

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April 18, 2019

  • ご飯 (gohan, rice)
  • サーモンフライ (saamon furai, fried salmon)
  • たけのことあらめの煮物 (takenoko to arame no nimono, simmered bamboo with vegetables)
  • かきたま汁 (kakitama shiru, egg flour soup)

 

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April 19, 2019

  • うどん (udon, udon noodles)
  • 山菜汁 (sansan shiru, mountain vegetable soup)
  • 揚げ出し豆腐の野菜あんかけ (agedashi tofu no yasai ankake, fried tofu with vegetable sauce)
  • さくら蒸しパン (sakura mushi pan, steamed bread with sweet potatoes inside)

 

**If you haven’t read the previous episodes on school lunch, please be sure to check out Episode 1 and work your way forward!** See you next time!

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School Lunch, Ep. 8

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April 22, 2019

  • ご飯 (gohan, rice)
  • ポークカレー (pohku kare, pork curry)
  • 大豆のコロッケ (daizu no korokke, bean corquette)
  • 青じそサラダ (aojiso sarada, vegetable salad with Japanese basil dressing)

 

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April 23, 2019

  • ご飯 (gohan, rice)
  • きびなごのごまフライ(kibinago no goma furai, fried herring)
  • たけのことあらめの煮物 (takenoko to arameno nimono, simmered bamboo with vegetables)
  • かきたま汁 (kakitama shiru, egg flower soup)
  • あまなつ (amanatsu, Japanese grapefruit)

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April 24, 2019

  • 丸パン (maru pan, bread roll)
  • 鶏肉のトマト煮 (toribiku no tomatoni, simmered chicken with tomato sauce)
  • コールスローサラダ (kohrusuroh sarada, coleslaw salad)
  • かぼちゃのミルクスープ (kabocha no miruku suupu, creamy kabocha soup)

 

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April 25, 2019 (Elementary School Day, no menu information)

  • ご飯 (gohan, rice)
  • ししゃも揚げ (shishamo age, fried smelt)
  • 親子丼 (oyakodon, chicken and eggs simmered together with potatoes)
  • きゅうり (kyuuri, pickled cucumbers)
  • みそ汁 (miso shiru, miso soup)

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April 26, 2019

  • さけちらし (sakechirashi, rice mixed with salmon and edamame)
  • 鶏肉のお茶揚げ (toriniku no ocha age, green tea battered fried chicken)
  • すまし汁 (sumashi shiru, a traditional clear-brothed soup)
  • お茶プリン (ocha purin, green tea flavored pudding)
  • Fun fact: There was so much rice left over from the teachers’ table that I took it upon myself to make rice balls and stash them in the office fridge. I hope they got eaten.

**If you haven’t read the previous episodes on school lunch, please be sure to check out Episode 1 and work your way forward!** See you next time!

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School Lunch, Ep. 6

Hello, again! It’s me with your school lunch update. You’ll have to excuse my tardiness. On Fridays, I want to ignore everything I’m meant to be doing. Unfortunately, that means remaining in a stale state, staring dumbly off into the distance.

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Thursday’s Lunch

It’s Monday again and I need to shake off the funk. I present to you Thursday’s and Friday’s lunches! Let’s kickstart today’s entry with Thursday. That day, I was at one of my elementary schools and was once again, greeted with sekihan (see here). Can you guess at the other items on my tray?

Fried Fish
It’s fried fish. What more can I say about it? Can one even cook it poorly? I suppose, if I recollect hard enough, I have overcooked fish before. But that’s for another time and is an incident I hope to never repeat.

Anyway, the fish is always nice and tender in the school lunches. This time around, there were no bones to unpleasantly poke my gums, either. Ashley Rating: 7/10shake it off

Clear Vegetable Soup
The joys of not having the menu in front of me means I get to come up with some Original Titles and Names for these foods. Is “clear vegetable soup” catching on yet? No? Well, maybe some day.

 

This soup had seaweed (wakame), carrots, enoki mushrooms, fish cakes, and… a kind of green. I think it’s 小松菜 (komatsuna), Japanese mustard greens. The broth must have been fish-based as well. If I ignore the fact that my lunch was cold by the time students were done dishing themselves up, it was quite good. Ashley Rating: 7/10

Cherry Blossom Goodness
This dessert is among my favorites that appear in kyushoku. It’s a very simple affair, really. Frozen, cut up strawberries mixed into a strawberry Jell-O and topped with a precious dollop of whipped cream. You can guarantee I hoard that cream until the last possible moment so it’s the only flavor lingering on my tongue. Need I mention that, among the students, the Rock-Scissors-Paper competition is fierce when there are some cups left over? Ashley Rating: 9/10

Overall rating: 7.8/10

Thank you for sticking with me up to this point! Are you ready for Friday’s lunch?

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Friday’s Lunch

That soup looks rather unpleasant, doesn’t it? I wasn’t too offput because it had pork in it and my Southern upbringing can’t refuse anything pig-related. This time, I DO have the menu description with me.

  • 小松菜ご飯 (komatsuna gohan, rice mixed with mustard greens and carrot)
  • 花形和風ハンバーグ (hana-gatachi wah-fuu hanbaagu, flower-shaped Japanese-style hamburger)
  • キャベツのみそ汁 (kyabetsu miso shiru, miso soup with cabbage and pork)
  • 桜ぜリー (sakura zehrii, cherry blossom Jell-O)

Rice with Mustard Greens and Carrot
I enjoy mixed-up rice. Takes the boredom with plain rice away. I also feel the rice becomes a little bit healthier for me when there’s goodies in it. Ashley Rating: 7/10

america
OK, so Stephen isn’t holding a hamburger, but a hot dog is close enough.

Japanese-style Hamburger
Japanese-styled anything American-related is fun for me. I still crave the 100% beefy wonderland that is one of the symbols of the US, but Japan does try. This hamburger patty, though filled with nourishment, was not one of my favorites flavor-wise. I wonder if the recipe changed?

Anyway, you can put money down that it had tofu in it. Ground chicken, bean flour, onion, carrots, and ginger were also mixed in. Ashley Rating: 6/10

Going off on a tangent here, but there is a young celebrity named Mr. Shachihoko (Maeda Teruyoshi) whose wife, Miharu, fiercely enjoys cooking on a budget. I kid you not when this woman made a whole appetizer, entree, and side menu deal with daikon as the main ingredient. It’s kind of insane when you make something mimic something else. Did I mention she’s 23 years older than him? That still blows my mind, but love is love, right? Moving on.

Cabbage-pork Miso
The disturbing color is from the miso that was used. Don’t let it upset you too much. The taste was pretty basic, albeit a little sweet. The sweetness was surely from the cabbage. With the pork thrown in, it was rather hearty. For me personally, I prefer something palette-ly refreshing to wash out the starch of the rice and the thickness of the burger. Overall, it wasn’t my favorite miso to date. Ashley Rating: 6/10

Cherry Blossom Jell-O
Please don’t confuse this with the Cherry Blossom Goodness. This had no whipped cream, but was truer to the flavor. All this was was cherry blossom-flavored Jell-O with small bits of cherry in it. It was a light and revitalizing way to finish off the lunch. Ashley Rating: 8/10

Overall rating: 8.3/10

Please be sure to catch up on the latest School Lunch episodes by cruising Cuisine of the Middle Class. and either searching for “school lunch” or looking at Most Recent on the right.

See you next time!

goodbye

Osechi: Cooking for Good Luck

Good afternoon! I was just about to post these pictures on Instagram but thought I’d better talk about them here first. While there are plenty of websites that explain what osechi (お節料理) is, this entry will detail my firsthand experience cooking authentic Japanese foods. Here we go!

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This is what $80 at the supermarket looks like. It’s unusual for me to spend this much in one trip, but when it’s the holiday season, you’re just about obligated to. Do you recognize some of the foods you see? All of these ingredients went into making osechi, or “good luck” cooking.

Osechi is a traditional form of Japanese celebration for the new year. Each dish represents something related to prosperity, riches, good health, and longevity. What’s even better is that they are not meant to be refrigerated. Compare that to an American holiday feast where you are bombarded with casserole dishes, giant hunks of meat, and pies once that door opens.

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Here’s a list of what I made. Granted, they were the easiest of what my research coughed up. Disclaimer: you are not bound by osechi rules, therefore only making osechi items. You’re welcome to throw in the foods you like the best like fried chicken, rice cakes, desserts, vegetable salads, etc.

  • 海老の旨煮 (ebi no umani, simmered shrimp)
  • お雑煮 (ozoni, simmered medley soup)
  • きんぴらごぼう (kinpira gobo, burdock and carrot salad)
  • 酢蓮 (subasu, pickled lotus root)
  • 栗きんとん (kurikinton, mashed sweet potato with chestnuts)
  • 筑前煮 (chikuseni, simmered chicken with vegetables)
  • 伊達巻 (datemaki, rolled egg)
  • 茶碗蒸し (chawanmushi, steamed egg with vegetables)

Of course, I did make some mistakes. My Japanese ability is little to none most days and trying to read a full-on Japanese recipe is difficult without taking the time to sit down and translate. And no, while Google Translate is useful sometimes, it does not do a thorough enough job.

Mistake #1: The shrimp
They didn’t come out tasting like the sweet soy sauce I cooked them in. Why? I checked the recipe while eating and saw the words “Ziploc bag” and “refrigerator.” I concluded that these bad boys were supposed to be marinating after being cooked. Whoops!

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Mistake #2: Ozoni
So, I don’t know if this is a rule or something that goes by everyone’s’ tastes, but I needed to grill the rice cake before pouring the hot soup over it. Also, is rice cake supposed get grainy?

Mistake 3: Chikuseni
My girlfriend wanted to eat ramen along with everything else (or later in the night… I’m not sure which) and so, I didn’t have the chicken that was required. Ground chicken balls worked just as well. Wait… does that count as a mistake?

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Mistake #4: Datemaki
This… is why it’s useful to have some idea of what you’re making instead of depending on the sidelined photos to cook by. A normal egg roll is merely a thin layer of scrambled eggs, rolled within another layer. Datemaki is a single layer that has been whipped and bubbled up before pouring it into the frying pan. It was a lot trickier than I was led to believe.

Off camera, I attempted a castella cake. What is castella cake? Ask the Portuguese. That’s where Japan got it from. I ended up scraping one batch and trying again but still… made a disaster. The particular recipe I was following necessitated a frying pan and instead of making a very fluffy cake, I made this rather flat and sad-looking pancake. I thought I could hide it by burying it under a bunch of sliced strawberries and green tea flavored whipped cream.

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All in all, this experience taught me how crucial details are to the Japanese people; how painstakingly they put something together to appeal to all the senses. I’m glad osechi only happens once a year.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Kimchi, Pork, and Tofu

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It dawned on me that I should probably write about my meal before posting it to Instagram saying there is, indeed, a blog post detailing the ingredients. Also, I think my butt will start looking like rice if I keep eating as much as I do. Funny how one carb was switched out for another…

Even a boozy brain can figure this one out. You take kimchi, thinly sliced pork, and tofu, throw it into a hot, oiled up pan and go. Actually, I wouldn’t recommend getting the pan too hot because I had to finally toss my favorite one out due to… peely circumstances. PSA: Be nice to your pans, folks.

I suppose if you want more flavor, you can fry up your pork with a touch of salt and pepper to give the vegetables and soy more flavor… but when you’re hangry, the quickest option is sometimes the better one. And before you diss kimchi (nee kimchee), it’s good stuff. You can even get it tailored to your preferred spice level. All it is is pickled napa cabbage in a balance of spice and sweetness… or, if you’re like me, your optimum is more sweet than spicy.

Go ahead. Give it a shot! Happy cooking.

Cabbage and Hot Dogs

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Many of you may have been directed here from my Instagram account. Thank you for coming! Let’s get down to business.

(English) What you’ll need:

  • Cabbage
  • Hot dogs (or you preferred kind of sausage)
  • Cooking oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • (Instant macaroni and cheese is optional)

Heat the oil in a frying pan. While the oil is getting hot, chop up the hot dogs and cabbage. Cook the hot dog pieces first, getting a nice browning on them. After, toss the cabbage in with the hot dogs and cook in a stir fry fashion (wrist flicks required, haha). Dash with a bit of salt and pepper.

(日本語) 必要なもの:

  • キャベツ
  • フランクフルト(好きなソーセージもOK!)
  • 料理の油
  • 塩とブラックペッパー
  • (パスタはオプションです)

フライパンで油を温める。一方でキャベツとフランクフルトを短く切る。最初にはフランクフルトを煮えて、美味しそう茶色になるまで。キャベツを入れて、炒める。塩とブラックペッパーで振りかける。

Hurry! Get your curry!

What do you think of when you hear the word “curry?” Ann Curry? Tim Curry? Curry with naan? I bet you weren’t aware that one of the staple dishes in Japan is curry. That’s right! I’m not talking about a stereotype here. Curry in Japan is a soul food – kids roll up their sleeves for it, adults sigh contentedly when they eat it, and foreigners even have their go-to chain restaurant for it.

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Katsu curry from a restaurant in my town. The curry itself was vegetable-less.

Let’s compare and contrast the curry you know vs. the curry you don’t know. Without the excruciating etymology and historical details, the table looks a little like this:

Indian Curry

Japanese Curry

Comes in a wet or dry form Less seasoned
Yogurt, coconut milk, cream No creams or milk
Goes back a couple of hundred years Brought by the English in the 1800s after the Japanese seclusion
Has sub-types depending on the region More of a stew
Originally a sauce to go with rice but became a stew with rice in it Invented in 1912 and uses onions, potatoes and carrots
Contains garam masala, ginger, chili and so forth 1923 saw the first Japanese curry powder and in 1954, the first sauce
Wasn’t originally spicy but due to ship routes, chili peppers were introduced Comes in a wide range of flavors and spice levels

Curry in Japan is a serious business. When I type “curry” into Google Maps, 20 restaurants in a few-mile-radius come up. They include both Japanese-style and Indian-style places. Even restaurants that have a main attraction like hamburg or pizza have curries or curry-flavored things 95% of the time.

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A box of curry roue. This one says “Vermont Curry.”

But I’m not here to discuss its popularity. I’m here to tell you how it’s a go-to for first time Japan-livers. It will be your best friend if you don’t know how to cook but can boil water. What’s wonderful about it is that it’s so versatile with no set filling recipe. Here’s what I throw in mine:

  • tiny bits of chicken
  • pumpkin or potatoes
  • carrots
  • daikon or kabu (i.e. radish, turnips)
  • mushrooms (sometimes)
  • green beans
  • peas
  • chigensai (called “baby napa” in English)
  • chrysanthemum sprouts (sometimes)

Do you see a pattern? Usually, I go for white-orange-green colors. As nutritionists will tell you, the more color you have, the better you’re eating. Seriously, curry will fill you up. In hotels, it’s even served for breakfast!

When you come to Japan, take a look around your local grocery and convenience stores. Oh! Before I go, here’s a word of warning if you can’t read Japanese. 甘口 (amaguchi, literally “sweet mouth”) means sweet or “no heat,” 中口 (chuguchi, “middle mouth”) means it’s hot and 辛口 (karaguchi, “spicy mouth”) means it will melt your face off. You can see these cute warning labels on the front of the package in the corner somewhere.

Happy eating!

P.S. If you ever get around to eating a dish called hayashi rice, you can find the roué in the curry aisle, but look hard! I almost missed it the first time I wanted it.

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Hayashi rice. I like to put scrambled egg on top of mine for added a breakfast benefit.