Today’s blog is a guide for Japan newbies and veterans alike.
How many of you cook regularly? Cooking is a great way to save money in Tokyo, one of the world’s most expensive cities. However, finding ingredients here can be challenging and frustrating. Never fear, Sakura people, for I am here to show you the path to deliciousness!
First, it is helpful to know about the kinds of places you can buy ingredients. They all have good and bad points. Here’s a quick guide:
1. Regular Grocery Store
A grocery store is best for cooking convenience, when you want to make simple dishes or local Japanese food. At a regular grocery store, you can get ingredients to make a curry dish, stew, vegetable soup, rice, yakisoba, okonomiyaki, gyoza, and much more. They have a wide selection of meats and vegetables, but sometimes a good deal can be hard to come by. However, there is usually one of these stores near your residence, so it’s really easy to just go get what you need!
“Pro” store means exactly what it sounds like: it’s a place where you can get professional-use food and wares. Many restaurants buy their ingredients and cookware from these stores. This means that the quantities are large. For Americans this will be a good thing, but for those not used to buying in bulk it could be a bit of an inconvenience. There is usually a wide selection of meats and cheeses, both fresh and processed, as well as imported goods. You can get real Parmesan, cheddar, gouda, bleu, and gorgonzola cheese, and pasta of all varieties is available. Vegetables and meat are often imported meaning that prices are close to rock bottom. I’ve scored a massive bag of green peppers for 80 yen, enough garlic to last months for 300 yen, and bananas and avocados for dirt cheap as well. Keep an eye out for sales.
A yaoya sells mainly vegetables and fruit. Many yaoyas receive their produce straight from the farmers, so sometimes you can get really fresh stuff for good prices. Similar to a greengrocers in parts of the UK and Australia. Sometimes the selection is not the best, but if the food is in season you can often get excellent prices on fresh ingredients. I’ve found yaoyas in unexpected places, walking through neighborhoods on my way home. The owners are often very friendly, local people, and somehow they feel more natural and easier to trust than a huge supermarket chain. There is even one near our real estate office in Shinjuku! They are everywhere.
Ah, meat. I couldn’t call myself a U.S American and not write about meat.
Going to a butcher will often get you a wider selection and higher quality than buying at the supermarket (similar in most countries). When I need beef short ribs, I go to the butchers. The prices vary but are often drastically cheaper than at the supermarket. Slightly more exotic items are sold sometimes. Ever tried horse? Deeeeelicious! And 40% less fat content than beef! Anyway, whenever you find yourself wanting to change things up from all that gyuu-don you’ve been eating, go find a butcher and get your meat on.
The internet is a good place to go for things like nuts and dried fruit. It’s also possible to get things like drinks and even vegetables and ingredients, often in large quantities with free shipping. You can also score some pretty good espresso and coffee. Try Amazon, theflyingpig.com, and themeatguy.jp. For organic vegetables, check out Tohoku Bokujo (Japanese only)
For the hardcore money saver, I recommend only going to the convenience store when you absolutely have to. Convenience comes at a price; however, after a long day of work, studying, or sightseeing, sometimes a conbini salad or onigiri really hits the spot! The picture is of a 100-yen Lawson, one of which can be found near our Sakura House apartment in Toshima ward, right near Ikebukuro! 100-yen Lawsons are specially priced and much more reasonable than regular convenience stores.
7. Import Store
My favorite, and probably one of the most famous import stores in Japan is Kaldi. They have a wide selection of goods from many countries, including difficult to find wine, cheese, pasta, curry ingredients, and coffee. The prices are hit or miss; sometimes they have canned tomatoes from Italy for a bargain, but a box of macaroni and cheese from the U.S will run you over 200 yen. However, import shops make up for this with their wide selection, and sometimes you may find yourself buying comfort food here just to get a taste of home.
There’s another great import shop near our Share House in Hiroo, near Shibuya — It’s called National Azabu, and you can go there for items like rye bread and real imported ham.
So there we have it. I hope this guide helps you decide where you want to shop. Come up with any good recipes? Feel free to share!
On an unrelated note, I will be at the Halloween Party on October 26th from 6:00-10:00PM at Sakura Cafe Ikebukuro! For me, it will be a fun chance to party with people from all over the world. I hope you will join me. Until then, sayonara!