Living in a major city in Japan has its perks: easy commute, shops selling various goods, and a plethora of restaurants to satisfy any picky eater. But as someone who has grown up outside of Japan you will always get a little homesick and hunger for some comfort food: the hot meals made on those rainy days, or desserts that had so much sugar you couldn’t discern the taste. Personally, I always enjoy chili con carne or American spins on traditional Mexican and Middle Eastern dishes. While Tokyo does offer a slew of restaurants catering to foreigners, they do come with a hefty price tag. When push comes to shove you will have to roll up your sleeves and get cooking, but in a one-room apartment, what do you have to work with? And where can you get the things you need to start cooking?
While renting an apartment, one thing to remember to take note of is the kitchen space (台所, daidokoro). Japan is a place where stoves (コンロ, konro) are mostly gas burners. Gas burners, compared to electric, provide instant heat but you must make sure not to leave the gas running when you kill the flame. Above the gas burner, installed in the ceiling, should be a vent; when cooking switch on the vent to suck all the evaporated water and smells from your cooking. Even if you do enjoy the smell of your cooking, being in a studio apartment means that that smell will linger around for hours past eating if the vent fan was not running.
When it comes to the kitchen, Japan is very old fashion as dishes are washed by hand. Space is small in apartments and the easiest things to eliminate from the kitchen are ovens and dishwashers, so prepare to break out the dish towels. In place of large ovens, home appliance stores sell microwaves (電子レンジ, denshirenji) that come with oven functions, but beware: they get hot.
What’s a burner without anything to put on top of it? That was a rhetorical question, but if you answered “a place for making smores” then that was a good answer. Cooking utensils are the foundation of making food, and Japan has everything that other countries have in ways of pots (鍋, nabe), pans (フライパン, furaipan), and essential tableware. Where Japan excels at are knives (ナイフ, naifu); you can buy a knife for any situation in the kitchen: from breaking bread to skinning a fish.
Depending on the quality and price of what you are looking for there are several options. Cheap and sturdy silverware can be obtained at the 100-yen shop Daiso (ダイソー, daisou), along with serving spoons and spatulas. Middle of the line goods such as Teflon based fry pans and Panini machines can be found at Don Quixote (ドン・キホーテ, donkihoute). High quality items such as nice knives and blenders can be found at Tokyu Hands (東急ハンズ, tokyu hanzu). If you cannot find what you need from these stores, e.g. slow cooker, chances are that the item can be found on Amazon (アマゾン, amazon).
So with recipe in hand, and supplies gathered, all that is left to buy are the ingredients. If the recipe calls for things that are commonly used in Japanese food such as flour, butter, olive oil, eggs, fruits, or vegetables, you can find them at any supermarket or even convenience stores. If the recipe calls for European ingredients, like pastas, tomato sauce, and vinegar, you will probably have to travel to a populated area and search stores around the train stations. Most supermarkets can be found in walking distance of train stations.
For more unique ingredients, such as ethnic spices or sauces, you might not be able to find them in everyday supermarkets. In these cases there are two options: specialty shops or the Internet. Specialty shops can be anything from a Japanese run unique foods shop, like Kaldi Coffee (カルディコーヒー, karudikouhii), to a shop operated by that specific ethnicity, i.e. Italian person owning an Italian shop, an Indian running an Indian shop, etc. The latter type of specialty shops is hard to find and might require some digging through forums in English, Japanese, or the native tongue of the food’s origin, but the reward is worth the time put in. Lastly is ordering online; places like Amazon have a good variety of dried herbs and spices.
Cooking is an essential part of living independently. Eating at restaurants can become monotonous and take its toll on your wallet. There are many good recipes online but with Japan’s lack of unique spices sometime you must do without ingredients. But, all things considered, I do believe you can find everything you need to make good food. Happy cooking!
Software Engineer and Blogger
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.
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