Two months ago today I touched down in Narita after 21 hours of travel and embarked on this grand adventure. And a grand adventure it has been so far, though it’s balanced out by the day-to-day of simply living here. Note I don’t say “trying to fit in,” because really, I know I never will, and because I don’t need to, to be happy. I don’t feel like an outsider – I relish the friendly nods or waves from the guys at my local coffee shop as I walk by, or the older lady who runs the Spanish restaurant down the street. Or the friendly clerks at the 7-11 who see me each morning for my iced coffee. But as a pale, blonde (currently), blue-eyed, outspoken foreigner, I know I’ll never be assimilated. And that’s fine, since it gives me opportunities that might not otherwise exist.
Obviously there hasn’t been much sight-seeing of late, because I’ve either been flying out of town to attend concerts, or seeing them here. This weekend will be no different, with a Granrodeo concert within walking distance of home on Saturday, and another an hour’s train ride away on Sunday. So in lieu of a travelogue , a few reflections … today about food. (Click the pics for bigger versions.)
While I’ve neatly managed to have none of the local specialties (mentaiko, motsunabe, tonkotsu ramen) so far, that hasn’t held me back from having some amazing meals here. I’ve had good sushi, tempura, pork, chicken, beef, pizza (eggplant with meat sauce, to be precise). And no shortage of grilled meat or veggies on a stick (the izakaya around the corner from my coffee shop is amazing). I’ve even found chawan mushi I don’t mind, and I’ve discovered a tolerance for cold blocks of tofu.
I am surprised at the variety of cuisines available here, and their relative authenticity. I generally prefer to eat Japanese food, but having a choice is nice. The Spanish restaurant was excellent, and I’ve been told the Mexican and Indian places around here are really good too, though I’ve yet to try them. Tomorrow should be American style ribs for lunch at a place that makes the Aussies and Brits in the office drool just talking about it, so I’m very curious indeed. The Mongolian hot pot place I ate my first week was very tasty as well. There’s a tiny Chinese place nearby that I need to try at some point. There’s also seafood, sushi, Korean bbq, and a hamburg place near here to try. And a handful of cafes.
I’ve managed to find real English cider – Strongbow – here and I suspect if I went to any number of the Irish or British pubs around, I’d find stout. There’s good burger joints, and seemingly good pizza places, even I fear their KitKat, mango, gorgonzola cheese, nut and maple syrup offerings.
Having 7-11, Hotto Motto and the 24 hour grocery store near me has made me lazy. It’s much easier to go grab something from one of them than cook. And it’s all so tasty. I am particularly hooked on the grilled chicken with spring onions at the grocery store. They also have good sweet and sour pork, sweet and sour shrimp, tamagoyaki, yams, little salads, spinach with sesame and much more…. Have just discovered they have single serving kimchi. Really good kimchi! Hotto Motto has a good variety of bentos that changes each month and includes some healthier choices and a few Korean tastes. And 7-11 is magic in the way that all Japanese convenience stores are. Their chocolate-chip sweet bread sticks make for a tasty, if less than healthy, breakfast. And there’s a wealth of prepared and frozen foods to be had.
My local coffee shop is amazing. They brew every cup on the spot using little Bunsen-like burners and mini-carafes. The coffee is strong and smooth. And their matcha latte is to die for. As a take-away drink, it’s the usual tea-based concoction. As a sit-in drink … it’s heaven. A shot of espresso with what is probably full cream, possibly condensed milk, whipped cream and matcha syrup. No, I don’t care to think about the calories; I just savor the taste. Their strawberry lattes came with a dollop of strawberry jam…. Their food menu, while limited, is decent too. My entire adult life I’ve wanted a local coffee shop like this. And now I have it. ^_^
Desserts will always be my downfall. Lupicia always has some special running, and Beard Papa is just a 40 minute walk (or 10 minute walk and 4 minute train ride) away. Mm, Beard Papa. I like their green tea cream puffs so much I learned how to make them. They will soon have peach cream puffs…. There’s another bakery on the way to the park that makes amazing cream puffs too. And I’ve yet to try the German bakery by my local post office…. Plus, as seen above, Haagen-Daz has all sorts of interesting ice creams. I like their “spoon vege” versions, which are cherry-tomato and orange-carrot. This one was sakura (cherry) flavored.
Snack food is a danger too. No shortage of tasty crisps and chips and other salty goodness. I’m rather fond of nori-wasabi rice crisps, edamame sticks and the like. And the 100 yen stores here have no shortage of green tea chocolate combos: wafers, cookies, what have you.
I do cook on occasion (though not what’s in this pic, which is kimchi and chicken), usually at lunch time or on the weekend, if I am here. Things come packaged just perfectly for cooking for one here. Usually there’s just enough meat in a package for a couple of meals. So I’m trying to waste less food. I do need to be wary that veggies and fruit tend to go south here pretty quickly, so shopping only for 2-3 days’ worth is best. And fish must be cooked close to a burnable trash day, for obvious reasons.