Oct 23, 2017
How to feed yourself in Japan without a real kitchen
We all need to eat, and finding the time and money to do so is sometimes a challenge. Everyone has a different situation, but as it's a pain in the buns to bother feeding myself consistently, I'm currently working on some systems so I don't have to make so many decisions. I'm not the type to form habits, but at least knowing the best practices in my situation might help. We're going for cost and time efficiency here.
Part of my research was to borrow a cookbook from the library promising to provide easy ten minute recipes. There's a three week meal plan, consisting of around 50% prepared foods that can be found in any supermarket and in lots of convenience stores. I promptly prepared one of the 'ten minute' recipes: miso peanuts. It took me over ten minutes to shell the freshly boiled peanuts we had (a popular food in Chiba Prefecture), and probably 30 minutes minimum to make the dish. Anyway, there were some good ideas in the cookbook.
Best takeaway points:
- Don't be put off by buying some prepared items, as it's around the same price and saves time
- Cook simple side dishes that can last for a few meals
- Use leftovers to make bento lunches
But then I thought, this is really for families and people who have time (and an interest) to cook. What about all those other people?
There are so many full time workers who are single, probably living alone, with a tiny excuse for a kitchen. These people might not hate cooking, but probably don't have time to cook or patience to try cooking in a limited space with limited in kitchen resources.
I've totally been here. Working 'full time' (still less than typical Japanese full timers) as an ALT, eating school lunch on weekdays, and constantly wondering why I keep trying to cook at home.
They key here is super simple and minimal at home, as you might have no counter, maybe a microwave and a mini-fridge, and one or two burners on a stove.
I only recommend a rice cooker if you aren't eating school lunch or outside every day, or if you really want to make bento every day and eat rice at least twice a day. A saucepan is enough to boil water for instant coffee, soup, and noodles. Don't bother even trying to make real miso soup. Just get the instant stuff. Don't bother trying to cut vegetables or really cook anything with a kitchen like this. It's probably cheaper to go out to eat.
I recommend a container that fits in your fridge that can be used for powdered sports drinks or mugi-cha during summer. One deep frying pan with a lid or a saucepan is enough. The money you save by refraining from buying any fancy kitchen stuff can be used for eating out.
It's best to sort of eat the same thing every day, but variety will come with the seasons. Different fruits will be cheaper depending on the season and you might make all your drinks iced for the warm part of the year. Eat what you love and what's convenient and healthy. If you keep those basic foods in stock, you can save money and avoid last minute trips to the convenience store. Simple.
Basics to have on stock:
- drinks like instant coffee and tea bags, alcohol (much cheaper than in a bar), and juices
- instant ramen and soups for when the weather is bad and you don't feel like eating out
- snacks or simple meals like yogurt, cereal, fruit, bread
- simple meals that can be microwaved (niku-man?)
- maybe rice to cook in a saucepan
- maybe eggs and a frying pan (can be used to toast bread, if your microwave doesn't do that)
- prepared side dishes, snacks, and frozen treats if you like those
(Note: This is not what I did when I lived alone, but what I would do now if I were in this situation again.)
Even with my more typical kitchen, I'm trying to keep things simple. The special menu / experiments can wait for the weekend.
I like snacks, Engrish, cats, plants eating buildings, riding a bike, photography, painting, onsen, traveling, playing board games with my nerdy Japanese husband, and living in Japan. I blog at https://helloalissa.wordpress.com/