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.

Washoku at the Nomikai.

In September, I went out with my main school to my first drinking party (飲み会, nomikai). Don’t worry if you’re not an alcohol shipper. I’m certainly not and most establishments will provide you with non-alcoholic beverages. I wasn’t a fan of the beer, so I stuck with water and tea.

This meeting was at a traditional Japanese restaurant and it was hilarious to see the other women I sat with watch in rapt attention as I tried and enjoyed most everything I was served. Bear with me as I attempt to explain to you some of what I devoured.

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Nabe.

Starting from the upper-most left corner is a nabe (鍋) pot. Translated into English, it sounds redundant: pot pot. Any potted soup will be called something-nabe. It was filled with shabu-shabu beef, enoki mushrooms, nira (にら, wild garlic leaves), tofu, and kimchee.

 

Moving to the right, to the blue dish, we have tougan-no-ankake (冬瓜のあんかけ, winter melon with a starch-based sauce) topped with crab. This was served cold and was very delicious. It’s not for people who have a thing against certain food textures. It was extremely slimy.

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Winter melon.

Third, in the small pink dish, is a foodstuff all anime-watchers will know: tamagoyaki; specifically hijiki-iri-tamagoyaki (ひじき入り卵焼き, rolled scrambled egg with sweet black seaweed). In Japan, you can buy a specific pan to make this so you are better able to maintain the traditional rectangular shape, but I choose to use my simple skillet. Because I’m a huge fan of eggs, I quickly consumed this.

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Tamagoyaki with hijiki.

To the right one more, there was 酢のもの(sunomono, pickled salad). This was comprised of artificial crab and vegetables. I can’t recall if there was anything else in it. Maybe garlic…? According to Wikipedia (Praise be unto this database!), it’s related to namasu (膾) which is anything marinated in rice vinegar. Cool fact: it’s been in Japan since the Nara Period courtesy of China.

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An example of sunomono.

 

 

Continuing on, we have nimono (煮物). If you like vegetables, this bowl of goodness will make your belly happy. Also, at this point in the meal, any doubts I was having about my digestion were cleared. There are many recipes on the internet concerning the varieties of nimono you can make. This specific one was most likely chikuzenni (筑前煮, vegetables with seaweed and chicken). It originally came from the Fukuoka region of Kyushu, the southernmost portion of the Japanese mainland. This tells me this is an immigrated foodstuff.

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Nimono.

 

The bowl at the very end above the towel is sashimi. This needs no explanation other than it was delicious.

 

Trekking onward, we see a tiny white bowl filled with something that doesn’t scream “edible”. Soft and fluffy in appearance, kiriboshi (切り干し, dried daikon radish) is soaked in vinegar. It reminded me of extra-chewy sauerkraut.

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Kiriboshi.

 

Next to that is the egg custard (tamagodoufu, 卵豆腐). Reminiscent of tofu, it is not for the faint hearted. Smelling strongly of eggs and sugar, it took me a hot New York second not to gag. The only custard I’m used to eating is the lemon custard in my lemon meringue pies. It’s most often steamed. Its next-door neighbor is a simple hijiki salad. I can find this at my MaxValue in the premade section.

 

Sitting right behind it is a seared scallop or hotate (ホタテ). Never having had scallops before, I thought this had an interesting texture. Without knowing what it was before I put it in my mouth, I could definitely tell it was from the sea. Duh, Ashley! We are talking about Japan here.

 

In the lower-most corner of the tray, in the green bowl, is nikogori (煮こごり, fish Jell-O). If you haven’t connected the dots about the Japanese loving textures, here’s your last chance. Nikogori is made of boiled down fish bones. Sometimes chicken is used but fish is the norm. Just like Jell-O, you can put whatever the hell you feel like in this. I know for sure there was soy sauce in mine. Also, if you have an elderly person in your family, this highly recommended as it is very nutritious (see this article from 2007). I feel this is exactly like head cheese.

 

Next to the gelatin, in the yellow bowl, is kurage-no-sunomono (クラゲの酢の物, vinegar-soaked jellyfish). I’m going to assume the meat was dried and boiled back to life. Again, this will be off-putting if you have a dislike for certain food textures. This is the closest thing I can think of to eating a human without truly being a cannibal. Crunchy, sour, and absolutely wonderful, it can be served cold or hot. For anyone reading this that lives in or regularly visits Las Vegas, there is a Chinese dim-sum restaurant off of Sahara called Orchids Garden that has this as an option.

 

Last, but not least, is the potato salad. I’ve noticed that the Japanese like to put cherry tomatoes in this. As a note, Japanese mayonnaise is not the same as American mayonnaise.

 

Sources used: Google Images, Wikipedia, http://sushi.pro/ , http://japanesefooddictionary.blogspot.jp/ , https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17982692 , http://1word1day.livejournal.com/

The Ramen Virgin

I can’t remember offhand when I finally got around to having ramen, but I did give it a shot. On an unexpectedly cold day, I thought I would warm up by stopping in at this family-run joint next to one of the train stations.

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My first mistake was standing there waiting to be seated. As a tip, when you’re by yourself, you are usually able to choose where you want to sit on your own. Just wait for the OK from the staff.

My second mistake was thinking I was going to get the same kind of rice the guy next to me was eating. Wrong! As you can see, I overloaded on carbs. I went down into that deep spiral that results in pain and confusion.

My last mistake was thinking the red oil would be savory. Needless to say, my gyoza were particularly spicy.

I ordered a 醤油 (shoyu, soy sauce) flavored soup base. This is the traditional option and a recommended choice for the uninitiated.

It came with:

  • Soy sauce-based broth
  • Cuts of pork belly
  • メンマ (menma, sliced pickled bamboo)
  • Seaweed
  • Fish cakes
  • Green onions
  • Noodles*

*Some ramen restaurants give its customers the option of noodle firmness. They range from al-dente to really soft.

When you eat ramen, what is your favorite kind to eat? Let me know down in the comments!

Potato Soup

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Behold the first true installment of my home-cooked adventures! I try to take pictures of what I make for myself in a combined effort to relate and be related to by those of you who struggle to separate your reality from the glorious world of celebrity chefs. I’m by no means a culinary expert. I don’t know anything beyond using salt and pepper for seasoning.

I often feel like I’m similar to Mama Mankanshoku from Kill la Kill. Everything I make is something mysterious and usually deep fried.

For once, this picture shows nothing fried but it does give evidence to my hesitancy to use anything outside of carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms.

After watching the delicious commercials on TV for soups and stews, potato soup sure sounded wonderful. Unfortunately, when I bought the soup mix, I wasn’t expecting something so thick. Don’t get me wrong. It was tasty enough but nothing extraordinary.

Ingredients:

  • Potatoes
  • White shimeji mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Chicken broth
  • Celery
  • “Bacon”
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Soup mix

I’ll strive to make a note here. Watch what you buy. Pottage is stew, chowder is cream soup, and consume is broth. I decided after my fight with making clam chowder for the first time that I would never buy mix from the shelf.

In the Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops (PART 2!)

Welcome to Part Two of my Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops! This will be designed to give you some insight into how quickly your money leaves your wallet.

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Winter clothes! You can easily purchase gloves (some with touchscreen capability), scarves, and neck warmers. One night was especially cold and, if you’re like me in that your nose starts carving Snot River down your face and you suddenly can’t remember where you left your ears, you’ll be on the lookout for something warm.

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There’s nothing like knowing your grasp of the Japanese language can easily be beaten by a grade schooler. If you want to get a jump start on your kanji (漢字) practice, please use these books. They offer stroke order, Japanese and Chinese readings, and common words the characters are used in. Also, if you like Sudoku, they have loads of these. I’ve even been tempted to look on Amazon for more kanji textbooks/workbooks like what my students use. When all else fails, learn how to speak and ask someone where something is. There’s no better tool than to learn through association.

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Some weeks ago, I purchased a Christmas tree from Amazon sans star. Now I have one plus smaller ornaments. I also bought a tinsel boa to brighten it up. This year, since I can’t be with my family, I did my best to capture what we couldn’t do for the last couple of Christmases (damn dogs). I can’t tell you what I’m going to do with the embroidery hoop and hot glue other than I’m working to make a present for my grandmother. Shh! Don’t tell!

The hyaku yen shops sure are wonderful sometimes. I wasn’t kidding when you find things you didn’t know you needed. It seems like every time I walk through the aisles, I see stuff that I didn’t know was there.

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The first thing to address is the plunger. You will thank me when I tell you again how important this puppy will be in your life. It should go down as one of the Top 10 Essential Tools for Adulthood. Second is the plastic doo-dad next to the plunger. This allows you more space when you’re hanging things in your bathroom to dry. I figured I could use this for pants… or something. Anyway, you slap it into your showerhead holder and you’re done. Next, you can never go wrong with humidity absorbers. This time around, I was on the hunt for smaller units I could stick into my dressers. These are mandatory if you don’t want your shit to mold.

Also, glass cleaner. You’ll be surprised at how much of your bodily fluid ends up on your mirror when you’re consumed with nervous anxiety and are suddenly determined to rid your face of its blackheads and pimples. Oh, and make-up. I’ll never figure out how I got mascara smeared in two places.

The last item is a pack of hand warmers. You know those beans that get warm when you crack the package? I haven’t seen how long these last but I know you can buy some that work for up to 10-12 hours at the drugstore. When the weather turns chilly, you’ll thank your past self for buying them.

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In this picture, we have drain cleaner/odor absorber. When you come to live in Japan, you will see garbage disposals are non-existent. Instead, there are food catchers that sit under the rubber lip in your sink. You will either have a kind of steel net or a plastic cup. I have the plastic option and it gets scummy (especially when I choose to live off of cereal and ignore my pile of dirty dishes). Next is the sponge. This allows me to clean my thermoses since my hand is sponge-‘tarded. Thirdly, there’s the spoon rest. I was simply fed up with wasting my paper towels and dirtying up my limited counter space (pfft, who am I kidding? I don’t have a counter).

The measuring spoons are closing in for the finish line! I recently purchased cookbooks so I can save more money by using ingredients that are in season and well… I quickly learned the difference between a teaspoon and tablespoon. Just so I could save myself from the guesswork, I bought these. Next to them are soup spoons. You’ll notice these are often used with Asian dishes. I don’t know why I didn’t use them sooner. Finally, there’s the spice shaker. I got this for my sugar so I wouldn’t make a mess trying to get it out of the bag I keep in the freezer.

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In this final picture, the contents are self-explanatory. Since I’d rather use purified water for my drinking water for some stupid reason, I waste my money purchasing a bottle. I also happened to find some popcorn. That was exciting since I was craving it but don’t expect to find butter for it. You’ll have to go old school and pop it in cold stuff or use flavored oils. Be careful, though! Flash fires are serious. And because I tend to graze at work, I bought the noodle soups to hide in my desk just in case I couldn’t survive until lunch.

And there you have it! If you have any questions, feel free to holler.

In the Haunted Hallows of the Hyaku-yen Shops

こんにちは!今日のトピックは百円ショップだ!行こうよ!
Hello, everyone! Today’s topic is 100 yen shops in Japan. Let’s go!

There are multiple videos on YouTube describing the shenanigans you can get into at Japanese 100 yen shops (100円ショップ, hyaku-en shoppu). This is just one example from Sharla in Japan. Vouching for Las Vegas, there is no Daiso but we do have plenty of Dollar Generals and Dollar Trees. Both offer the same general assortment Daiso (and other hyaku-en stores) has. In Gotemba, we have several Daiso’s, a Seiryu, and the “orange” store that is a Daiso in disguise (literally called 百円ショップオレンジ, hyaku-en shoppu orenji). Sharla happened to go to her store during Valentine’s Day. All stores will have some kind of seasonal area and will also have larger or smaller sections depending on their location. Just yesterday, I went into the Daiso that was on the Express Way and was amazed at their fake flower assortment whereas the small one I usually visit only has, maybe, a 4-foot section smooshed in between the zipper pencil cases and home-smelly things.

Because I’m too afraid of disturbing the peace by making a video, today’s entry will give you an idea of how badly you needed these things without realizing it.

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Walking into Orange, I was immediately greeted by a Costco-like display of snacks. Crunchy, soft, savory, sweet… they’re all there. They also have the largest assortment of instant noodles I’ve ever seen. Drinks, too, are abundant. Each store will have varying degrees in the amount of what they have. In comparison, the Daiso I frequent has a small cooler for common drinks while Orange has a whole wall; cold and warm alike.

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One thing about Japan is that you’ll see American products with flavors that appeal to the Japanese palette. I’ve found green tea flavored Oreos and I have a friend that swears the sake flavored Kit-Kats are weird.

Condiments are numerous and highly varied. For common things like soy sauce, mirin, and marinades, you can easily find them at a 100 yen shop. You may also find oddities such as salad dressings and flavored oils. On this trip, I noticed they had small bottles of extra virgin. If you like to cook or bake, please consider looking for your ingredients here before you visit a full grocery store. Japanese recipes are designed to only feed 2-3 people. You won’t need much.

If you’re really lazy and don’t want to make your own curry base or clam chowder, guess what! You will find what you’re looking for here. There are different flavors, makers, spice levels… In this particular shop, you will find canned foods next to the available selections. Because I packed myself a care parcel full of canned salmon and tuna before coming to Japan, I’ve yet to really look through this portion. I’m going to assume you can find what you’re looking for because I have an acquaintance that recently told me about his dependence on tuna fish sandwiches (which reminds me! If you have a MaxValu near you, you can easily locate sweet gherkins if you dig pickles in your tuna). This is where you’ll most likely locate noodles and pasta sauce. Sometimes you might get lucky and discover tomato paste if you want to for that homemade flair.

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Moving along, I was almost lured into the dangerous world of Tupperware. A whole wall was dedicated to the microwaveable vs. the non-microwaveable, clear plastic vs. designer plastic, ease of use vs. risking carpal tunnel, and one container vs. several in one pack. When in doubt, please use ceramic if you’re not sure whether or not what you’re buying can be heated. Some packaging will not provide an easy-to-read picture for us mentally hindered.

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Again, before you buy something from a fancy home improvement store, please check with your local 100 yen shop. As you can see, there are a lot of utensils you can get to suit your needs.

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Earning an ALT salary keeps these stores close to my heart. My mom will verify that I’m a Scrooge with my money until I absolutely have to buy something (or I want something). Then I’ll go all out to make sure I don’t have to do it again until next year.

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Also, if you’re looking for Ziploc bags, you’ll come across them here along with plastic wrap and aluminum foil. It all really boils down to how much you’re going to use. I’m big on freezing the fresh vegetables I buy from the grocery store (which I highly recommend you do before prices skyrocket and your stock goes out of season).

The great thing about Japan is you’ll eventually need an umbrella or, if you ride a bike, a poncho. Because these umbrellas are cheaply made, I don’t recommend you use them if the weather is predicted to be very tempestuous. I’ve seen the horror they become as they hang forgotten, rusted, and bloated with old rain water on the fences by the freeway. Save up for a good umbrella. You can usually buy these at any home improvement or DIY store (i.e. Cainz Home, Jumbo Encho, D2, Seiyu [which is really a Target]).

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As I cruised through Orange, I came across the gardening center. I didn’t even recognize half of what was available aside from the shovels and watering pales. More than likely, if you’re thinking of becoming an ALT, you’ll have a cramped apartment stoop that is only big enough to house your air conditioning unit. Secondly, if you hate bugs, I wouldn’t advise the use of plants out-of-doors. Resist purchasing that beautiful rose bush! Resist it! Do a little research on house plants instead that help with oxygen levels and act as bug repellent if you absolutely need a little green in your life.

Then we have the pet section. Most apartments will not allow animals, but if you happen to move and can bear leaving your pet alone for more than 8 hours most days, know that this exists for you. Puppy pads, leashes, snacks, watering bowls… I feel Japan is dog-biased. Unless you walk your cat regularly, you may have to take some time perusing what’s on the shelf.

In the next aisle over was the home improvement section. If you’re going to remain in your apartment, don’t go down this road. Most landlords will not tolerate redesigning and will charge you a pretty penny for the “damage.” Just don’t it.

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Moving on, we have the bathroom aisle. Because baths are ritualistic here, you’ll find endless amounts of things to use. The numerous shoes, brushes, scrubbers, hair catchers, odor absorbers, shower caps, and bathtub heat shields will keep you occupied for a while as you debate whether or not you really need them. One thing I will highly suggest you buy is a plunger because Japanese plumbing relies on a reservoir. If you don’t think you’ll need to clean your drains, be my guest and find out what happens after several months. Lastly, Japanese water is hard. You can obtain these pumice-like stones that will chip away the deposits in your ceramic sinks and tubs.

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If you intend to have friends over, it’s customary to provide a set of guest slippers for them to wear. Again, because your apartment is not your own, please save yourself and your floors (unless you have carpet) from damage and either wear your socks or slippers. You’ll notice most 100 yen shops have cushions. Although Japan is quickly upgrading its building codes, you may come across apartments that have tatami mats with low tables. Because I’m fortunate to have a table and chairs provided in my LeoPalace, I’ve never had to buy a cushion. Keep in mind they’re cheap. If you intend for your butt to develop a long-term relationship with one, please save your money and look elsewhere.

You’ll also stumble across wardrobe malfunction fixes and emergency stashes of ties, belts, and stockings here. I’ve never bought anything from this aisle but I’m glad to know it’s available. Orange apparently was hosting a black tie shindig that I wasn’t aware of.

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Goodness! This store is huge! Up next, we have what I call “The Party Section.” Paper and plastic plates abound! You can also buy to-go containers here. I will not pretend to be ignorant of restaurants stocking up on these from 100 yen shops. (I’ll let you find out how much of a bitch they are on your own. Two things: “rubber band” and “grease.”)

Ah, yes! The seasonal section! As soon as Halloween was over, the Christmas stuff was rolled out. Ornaments, wall decorations, banners, bows… you name it. They’ll more than likely have it. This particular store had LED desk ornaments. I’m sorely tempted to buy a wreath or make my own and be that obnoxious neighbor. I’ve yet to see a large assortment of lights, though. Japan may not be big into decorating their houses. I know I’d love to have my little stoop sparkle and glitter during those chilly nights. You may be lucky to find greeting cards but don’t expect the packs of 20 or more like you can find in America or Canada.

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If you discover your phone charger or stylus has mysteriously disappeared, you’ll be able to buy a replacement at 100 yen shops. Don’t fret about them being cheaply made. Demand is so high these for these things that the supply has brought the price down. Office supplies are also commonly available.

Of course, no amount of words or videos can replace your own personal experiences. I feel 100 yen shops are truly valued here whereas, in the States, dollar stores were reserved for the lower income brackets. Don’t think you are demeaning your worth by shopping here. Allow me to show you what you can find through my own purchases.

Signs I’m Becoming Comfortable

This list was started two days ago during a quiet evening as I was chewing on my dinner. Adaptability is definitely an animalistic trait and I consider myself proud of it. Have you ever thought about how you cope in new surroundings? These are the signs I’m slowly becoming used to being in Japan.

1. Accumulation of convenience store (コンビニ, konbini) chopsticks and spoons

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Okay, so I only have 2 pairs of chopsticks and 1 spoon but still!

2. Getting excited by the baseball games on TV
3. Letting the dishes pile up in the sink
4. Braving late night trash take-outs

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I’m convinced there’s a dead body in there every time I go out at night.

5. Saying 痛い! (itai) instead of “Ouch!”
6. Borrowing umbrellas from school
7. Leaving rice in the rice cooker
8. I don’t think 50ºF is freezing anymore
9. I have humidity absorbers everywhere

10. I carry plastic bags in every pouch “just in case”
11. I have a bag for collecting said plastic bags

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I’ve even thought about organizing them by size this morning.

12. I attempt to replicate school lunches
13. Buying cookbooks

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I have 9 of these fuckers.

14. I have a regular grocery store (with point card)

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I can redeem the points for cash.

15. Starting to scope the sales ads for deals
16. Any notes I take are in English and Japanese
17. Getting used to hanging my laundry outside to dry

And just last night, I went to eat some peanut butter and was confused as to why it wasn’t Japanese peanut butter. There’s a big difference and I’m finding I’m preferring that over American peanut butter. Blasphemy!