Cooking in Japan is not easy. No joke. Who would of thought that buying ingredients at a supermarket to cook your favourite dishes (Japanese necessarily Japanese dish) would be so hard. After all, Japan is one of the best places in the world to enjoy quality tasteful food. Tourists who visit Japan are mainly looking for authentic Japan food like sushi, sashimi and Shabu Shabu; so they would never experience the need to cook food themselves in Japan. Up until my third visit to Japan, I have only ever visited this place as a guest and ate at restaurants that I wanted to try. Due to an experience I had recently, I finally understood that cooking food at your home in Japan is a total different story.
Supermarkets are typically packed with ingredients to make Japanese dishes. If you want to make other cuisines such as Italian, Chinese etc, well, it may be a little bit of a challenge, but not impossible. I never thought that finding general cooking ingredients like soy sauce and flour in Japan would led to an odd Gaijin experience.
An example of such an experience I had was when I headed to my local 7 and I holding grocery store to look for ingredients to cook an Asian dish, 豆豉蒸排骨. I honestly did not think of cooking this in Japan. However, after living in Japan for weeks, I finally decided I’d give my kitchen in my apartment ago. Although Japan has much great good to offer, I wanted to see something that reminded me of home. I wanted to eat something to reminded me of my dad’s cooking. Hence, texted my mom and asked her to send me a recipe and steps for making Steamed Black Bean Pork Chop. The recipe and instructions seemed easy enough. I headed for the closest supermarket to my apartment with the list of ingredients in mind. I thought it would be easy to find the stuff I needed, but I was so so wrong. According to the recipe, I needed corn starch to mix with black bean, water and pork chop. Corn starch helps the pork chop taste better according to my mom’s notes. However, I had no idea which flour this was on the shelves of the supermarket I was in.
I literally stood in the flour aisle for 10 minutes trying to figure out which flour was which. The language barrier was one thing, but the different in types of flour in the supermarkets was another. Back in Australia, we have white flour, plain flour and corn flour. Nice and simple titles on the packaging. In Japan, it wasn’t so clear. There is weak plain flour, strong plain flour, corn starch (made out of potato) and corn starch (written in katakana). The whole process figuring out the flour was pretty hilarious because I attempted to ask the shop assistant and even she has no idea which one for the purpose of my dish. At one point, we had 3 shop assistants and myself all standing in the aisle looking at the flour and such staring. Like said, odd Gaijin experience.
I did end up buying a type of flour during that trip, however, after a little trial and error, I bought a bag of weak plain flour and one bag of corn starch used by potato. As it turns out, I should of bought the corn starch flour labelled コンスタチ. After a second attempt, my dish was a success. I didn’t end up steaming the pork chop because my rice cooker and stove are not capable of doing so. However, I did cook it in my fry pan and it tasted divine.
I do foresee more cooking challenges in the future in Japan. As it turns out, supermarkets in Japan mainly sell ingredients suited for Japanese food only. I never realised how easily accessible ingredients and produce was back at home. Flour is not only confusing here, but shopping for food is not cheap as I thought it would be. I never expected I had to pay 980Yen for a small bunch of grapes or 380 Yen for three big juicy apples.