Hello, readers! Today I bring you a post about one of my favorite topics – FOOD!! This trip to Japan is the first time I’ve ever had to come up with and grocery shop for my own meals here, so I thought I might give you a peek into what it is like planning (and paying for!) meals in Japan. I’ve also been trying to incorporate healthier foods into my diet, so we’ll explore what healthy eating here looks like, too.
First, we’ll deflate a couple of common myths that Americans seem to have about food in Japan. One is that food is not NECESSARILY more expensive here than in the States. It really depends on what you are buying. Some things are significantly more expensive, while other things are significantly cheaper. We’ll go into more details about pricing later on.
Second, food is not NECESSARILY more healthy here than in the States. Again, it depends on what your choices are. There is a lot of seafood, and other “healthy” foods such as vegetables, tofu, and fermented foods. But if you’re looking for a lot of the foods that we consider healthy in America – multigrain items, whole wheat flour, low-carb snacks – forget it. There are LOTS of lightweight, nutritionally empty crackers, cookies, breads, and pastries here, but not many good options in the way of healthy snack foods.
Also, one final note: I’ll be writing prices in yen, but for the purpose of comparing them to American prices, 100 yen is ROUGHLY equal to one dollar. That is, 1 yen = 1 dollar. In reality, the yen has been strong compared to the dollar lately (I think that’s how you say it LOL) – for example, the exchange rate today is 100 yen to 90 U.S. cents. But for doing mental calculations, thinking of 100 yen as one dollar is pretty convenient.
So, without further ado, let’s explore some of the food items that you might find at the grocery store (or in my fridge!):
- Eggs. I eat a lot of eggs. Mostly because they’re fairly inexpensive – maybe around ¥160 for a carton of small eggs. They sell them in packs of ten here, though, not twelve!
- Tuna. Yes, they do have canned tuna here. It’s not very cheap, but sometimes I can catch it on sale.
- Fish. They have lots of fish varieties here – even more than I want to explore. (“No thanks” to the squid, eel, and fish eggs!) I usually do the easy thing and buy frozen fish that is already coated with bread crumbs. Then all I have to do is fry it up!
- Beef/chicken. Ground beef and chicken, as well as other cuts of beef and probably pork, are sold here. Honestly, I don’t pay a lot of attention because I don’t eat a ton of meat. It seems a little pricier here to me (and the packages are generally smaller), but if it’s on sale, I buy it.
- Tofu. I don’t know how much tofu costs in America, but here it is cheap, cheap, cheap! Usually around ¥60 per carton. I don’t normally go for tofu, but I’ve taken to eating it here occasionally just because it is so cost-effective. Plus, I hear it is healthy for you, too. 🙂
- Root vegetables. Like this miniscule bag of potatoes. (No 10-lb. bags of potatoes to be found here!) Root veggies like potatoes, onions, and carrots are about the only types of vegetables I’ve found that seem to be consistently cheap (at least of the types of vegetables that I eat). This bag cost ¥100.
- Other vegetables. Sadly, many vegetables here are pricey unless it’s summer and the stores are selling the local produce. I do the best I can to find veggies on sale, but I’ve noticed the prices getting more expensive and the selection becoming more limited as we’ve moved away from the harvest season. I still try to buy a variety, though. Right now I have a package of spinach I bought for ¥200, a yellow pepper which was around ¥130 yen, and an avocado that was on sale for ¥100. I also have occasionally been finding spaghetti squash, which makes a cheap and healthy meal!
- Fruit. I can’t really talk about fruit here without feeling rather desolate. Oh for the wide selection of fruit in America, imported from all over the States (and the world), with prices that enable me to indulge my fruit passion! Sadly, here the selection is much more limited, and unless it’s in season, it’s nearly always pricey. Bananas are reasonable, but that’s about it. I do buy apples pretty consistently because I’m so fond of them, and I can usually get a bag of six or so for about ¥500. Citrus fruits are pretty plentiful, at least this time of year, but berries (except for strawberries) are a rare sight. Forget about frozen fruit, too. They have all of two or three varieties – generally options like mangoes, blueberries, and mixed berries. All in packages not much bigger than the palm of my hand. Sad, sad, sad…
- Bread. If you like white bread, this is the place you should live. You will have no problem finding regular white bread, as well as all sorts of fluffy and flaky rolls and pastries. But wait! They do sell wheat bread, yes they do! In a package containing three slices:
This package, happily, was on sale for ¥80, ¥20 off from its original price. The slices of bread are quite thick here as you may (or may not) be able to tell from this photo:
In fact, you can actually choose which thickness of bread you want depending on the package you purchase. They sell packages of eight slices (more similar to the thickness of American bread), packages of six slices (probably similar to the piece in this photo), and packages of four slices – which, as you can imagine, are very thick!
- Flour/oats. They do sell white flour here, but I haven’t seen wheat. Although I admit I haven’t looked for it specifically. I’ve been wanting to eat more oats, so I bought some of those the other day. They had exactly one kind, for a price of about ¥400:
- Cereal. The cereal varieties here are very limited. They carry cornflakes, and usually frosted flakes as well. Beyond that, most of the cereal is a granola/puffed rice type cereal, with bits of dried fruit and other goodies. These are two in my cabinet right now:
The one on the left contains strawberries, raisins, and sunflower seeds, while the one on the right is maple-flavored and has bits of dried sweet potato, raspberries, raisins, and walnuts. Delicious! They were both on sale, for about ¥600 each, which is about as cheap as you can expect to find cereal in a package that size.
Since this post is getting frightfully long and I still have some food items to share, I’ll cut it short and resume it in the next post. I’ll go over some snack items and I may or may not be talking about chocolate :), so stay tuned!