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Food questions for those living in Japan


prasantrin
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I'm preparing a list of itchen/cooking things to bring with me when I move to Japan. I know I can buy many things there, but the thought of paying Y300+ for a can of coconut milk that costs less then $1 in Canada goes against my Prairie-girl ethics (I'm also being given a fair amount for moving expenses, so I have money to spend to ship extra things :smile: ). I'm thinking of bringing things like coconut milk, curry pastes, my favourite Guyanese curry powder, atta, rye flour--i.e. things that are difficult to find or outrageously expensive in Japan. As for tools, I'm thinking of bringing my stick mixer, tortilla press, and maybe my coffee grinder.

For those of you ex-pats living in Japan, what things do you bring back with you after visiting the US/Canada/Britain/fill-in-country-of-origin-here? I think I remember Torakris mentioning having brought back evaporated milk after a trip to the US. I used to bring back butter and cheese when I could, and Thai or Indian ingredients which I found hard to find in Japan.

And what about equipment? Aside from Toast-N-Serve bags, are there other things you wish you had? Like a Tilia Foodsaver? A decent hand mixer (the one I bought in Japan was not very powerful)? I know places like Tokyu Hands will have a lot of small appliances that I can buy if I need them, but if there's anything I have now that I can bring, I may as well.

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Will you be living in Tokyo?

I lived in Tokyo for 10 years, you can get pretty much anything you want in Tokyo in terms of food supply, but imported food items will definitely cost you more than in most other places(but you can get coconut milk for far less than 300 Yen, I think I have seen it for around 150 Yen).

Your post indicate you are cooking Indian food, I would actually suggest bringing indian rice to Japan(Coals to Newcastle). Specialty rice like Thai and Indian is very expensive in Japan.

My advise would be to bring as much as possible of the ingredients for the things that you intend to cook in Japan. Also bring the tools required to cook them, it really doesn't cost that much more to ship and you will be so busy any way that you don't want to run around and look for specialty items once you are in Japan.

You most likely will eat out more in Japan than you normally do for the following reasons.

1. It is an wonderful country to eat in.

2. Social gatherings after work is very common, where you go and eat and drink.

We only cooked at home during weekends(if at all), during the week it was always a meal out. So my guess is that you will cook less than you normally do, so bear that in mind when deciding how much to bring for perishable items(coconut milk goes bad pretty quickly). You might also want to cook Japanese.

The other extreme(which I used is) is to ship absolutely no food. Most peoples lifestyles change when they move to a new country, including eating habits. After a few months you know what you really need and then you can either ask a friend to ship it or buy it on your next trip overseas.

Other Non-Food related advise when moving:

Bring as much as possible of everyday items like contact-lens cleanser, detergents etc which can be very expensive. Bring standard medicin that you use(just make sure that it is legal to bring into Japan, me and Paul McCartney have one thing in common, we have both been caught smuggling drugs at Narita. He was caught for Marijuana, I was caught for a Vicks Inhaler. Seriously, it's illegal in Japan).

If your clothes-size is hard to find in Japan, make sure that you have enough clothes until your next trip home. I made at least one trip overseas each year just to buy clothes and always made sure that I had a surplus. Going into a store and shop by size is no fun.

Will you be shipping furniture? Furniture can be very expensive in Japan(but IKEA is finally about to enter the market). If not, one advise is to buy at a Sayonara sale(expat moving home). I can tell you how to find them. If you are shipping, then adding everything previously mentioned will cost you practically nothing.

If you like food, you are moving to a very good country for it. Enjoy it!

Edited by Sinbad (log)
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I'll be in Kobe. While I know Kobe is very much an international city (Ijinkan is evidence of that), it is unfortunately nowhere near Tokyo in terms of availability of foreign foods. Even Osaka is not quite up to snuff when wanting to buy non-Western foreign foods. And their Chinatown is horrible (not just the food, but the prices are exorbitant!).

Coconut milk for Y150? Where were you shopping? I only remember seeing it at that price in industrial parts of Ibaraki-ken, where there were large populations of Thai workers. I used to love going to those areas, since I could have Thai food that was as good if not better than my dad's cooking. It was definitely the best Thai food I've had outside of Thailand. I was thinking of bringing basmati and Jasmine rice with me, but I had hoped they would be more available by now. I remember in the early-mid '90s when Japan had its rice shortage. There was a lot of long-grain rice for sale then, but no one wanted to buy it! Except me, that is :smile: . I might bring some glutinous rice with me, too, so I can make sticky rice and arborio for risotto (I did once make it with short grain rice, but that was just so I could make arancini). And wild rice, of course, but that's not really rice.

I actually found that I cooked much more in Japan than I do here in Canada. For me, cooking and baking are very much stress relievers and life in Japan can certainly be stressful! I also tended to make things that I craved but couldn't find in Japan. While Indian restaurants are plentiful, jilebi and decent samosas were difficult to find, so I made my own. Same with Jamaican patties and West Indian-style curry and roti. I made pierogi once, but it was a borderline disaster. Bakeries in Japan are wonderful but they generally only have French-style breads, so I was thinking of bringing rye flour to make my own rye and pumpernickel breads.

I did a search on Foreign Buyer's Club to see what was available there and estimated costs of foods. While there are many stores in Japan that sell more cheaply than FBC, it at least gives me a gauge of what to expect. It has been 4 years since I last left Japan, so I'm sure the availability of different foods has changed a great deal.

And no pseudo-ephedrene for me! I actually did bring some in with me once, unknowingly, but it was not confiscated. I look Japanese, so the custom's officers don't usually bother with me too much :smile: . I think I even had some Tylenol with codeine, too!

Thanks for the reply!

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Coconut milk for Y150? Where were you shopping?

I used to go to this hole-in-the-wall place in Tokyo where they sold Thai ingredients at very good prices (all the customers were Thai, besides me). It was near Okubo, if I remember correctly.

I remember in the early-mid '90s when Japan had its rice shortage. There was a lot of long-grain rice for sale then, but no one wanted to buy it! Except me, that is

Oh Yes, I remember that. If one would believe the news it was like the country had been hit with a major disaster. I was also happy that they imported long-grain rice from Thailand, but unfortunately it was of very low quality. I think it was on purpose, to make people believe that foreign rice is bad(which is a joke). I still think you will find foreign rice expensive, unless prices have fallen dramatically.

I did not know that you used to live in Japan before, why don't you just pack as much as you can since you know what you will most likely need(I doubt that it will be cheaper in Japan).

I don't find Japan particulary stressful, but I guess it depends on where you live and work. I was also frequently travelling outside the country on business and vacations, which helped.

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Firstly coconut milk, I buy it for \100 a can! about \158 seems to be the more avergae price these days, the only time I have seen a \300 can is at a supermarket that catered to ex-pats.

The best places to shop for "ethnic" ingredients (including American and European) at at liquor stores, the cheap discount ones.

If you like Basmati rice definitely bring it with you! You can order it on line from Indian shops but is is something like twice the price of Japanese rice, I bought it once from FBC and it was the worst basmati I had ever eaten. You can get good Thai rice here at Costco or Carrefour, I buy the Golden Phoenix brand at 5kg for \1800, more expensive then in the US but cheaper than most Japanese rices.

I have found now that most things I used to bring back from the US, couscous, semolina, cocoa, corn sryup, etc are now fairly available here and at better prices then just 2 years ago.

Two things that I can not live with out that I have yet to find here?

kosher salt and sriracha :biggrin:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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For baking, there is a wonderful shop here called Tomizawa.

All of the stores are based in Tokyo/Kanagawa but you can order on line

all Japanese:

http://shop.tomizawa.co.jp/

I buy rye flour there at \280 for 1kg

their selection of baking ingredients in incredible!

How long are you going to be here?

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Hmmm

As Kris says, depends how long you are going to be here. (And that reminds me, while Torakris works great as a name, I'd be Inuhe, and I'm not ABOUT to start calling myself Dogfart!!).

Western bakeware is often too big. Exception: 1 small springform cake pan plus a re-usable silicon liner comes in handy. Small cake pans are sold everywhere, not of great quality but OK, but I rarely see springform.

Potato masher...handy item for many J kitchen tasks, from potato korokke to mashing soybeans for miso (you need a strong one for that).

Serrated bread knife. Floating blade vege peeler if you like to use that kind. Sturdy corkscrew (embarrassed grin here...).Eggcups, if you like to eat western-style soft-boiled eggs...and that's about it. Used to be hard to get saucepans with heavy bottoms here, but no longer.

Ingredients...on the whole I like to cook what's around me. For baking...Japanese baking powder is not great. For some reason beans and lentils etc are expensive and not easy to find here...but one thing to consider is the Japanese rainy season, which is hard on long-term food storage.

Have fun imagining your life here!

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Three things I'm really glad I brought are my coffee maker, hand mixer and coffee mill. Especially the coffee maker- the ones here tend to be tiny, expensive and badly designed (ie, they take up way too much space).

If you like gadgets you'll want to bring those too- I love my shrimp peeler and lemon rinder and have never seen them on sale here. I've also been having a very tough time finding a good garlic press.

The FBC is no longer the only place to get import stuff. There is also:

http://www.expatexpress.com/index.jsp?save...vecoookies=true

(the English site seems to be down)

Costco is here now, with a wharehouse in Amagasaki, Hyogo-ken. They don't have online shopping, but two companies sell Costco products online:

http://theflyingpig.com/tfp/Shop.ASP

http://costcost21.com/cgis/top.cgi

And finally, Amazon sells kitchen stuff now (thanks for letting me know, Kristin!):

http://www.amazon.co.jp/exec/obidos/tg/bro...4818430-1395426

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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oh yeah, forgot about some of those!

I will defitely second bringing your own garlic press, microplane (if you use one), and meat thermometer (mine just busted and this is what I am currently searching for at the moment).

Also like Helen mentioned, beans can be quite expensive and hard to find here, almost all of my beans come from trips to the US, I also have yet to find bulghur in this country, so bring a nice supply if you cook with frequently.

Just a side a side comment as to my name (torakris) as it seems to confuse a lot of people, the biggest confusion is that most people think I am a man!

Tora means tiger in Japanese and it is one of the signs of the Chinese zodiac, Helen mentioned being called inuhe (inu being the dog), actually the tora in my name comes from my husband, his name is Tora (actually a nickname but it is the name everyone calls him) we made our first e-mail account together with the name torakris and it is easy for everyone to remember. I hate to use different names for everything, so I use it in everything I do online.

If Iw as going by zodiac names, I would be a dog (inu) too! :biggrin:

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Well off topic here...my DH is a "tora" too!

For the "on topic" part...I was thinking how hypocritical it was of me to say that I cook with the ingredients around me...guess I just forget what has crept into my kitchen, not to mention how eclectic Japanese eating is these days!

Things I regularly bring back with me...organic rolled oats for winter porridge, dried fruit for Christmas cakes (didn't do that this year, and now I regret it!). Some spices, if I can find them...though most are available in department stores. If you use large quantitites of file or other local spices, you might want a supply!

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I'm going to spend my Christmas holidays looking through boxes for all my kitchen gadgets. I still haven't really unpacked since my last return from Japan. I'm sure I have a garlic press and a Polder thermometer to bring along, and I've always wanted a Microplane so I guess this is the time to get one! I'll bring my mixer and some spatulas--the Le Creuset types that are heat resistant.

My initial contract will be for two years, renewable in two-year increments. I'm not sure if I'll stay longer than two years, though, since after I left the last time, I had thought five years was enough. I guess I was wrong (and money talks!)!

The links were great! I had no idea Costco was in Japan. They have a store near Nishinomiya, so I might drop by just to browse (which is all I ever do here, anyway). I wonder if I can use my Canadian card in Japan... I wish there were a Tomizawa in the Kansai area, but at least shipping is reasonable. No need to bring along heavy rye flour, now! And they have such a huge selection of nuts, dried fruits, and beans! They're a bit expensive (comparatively) but at least I know where to get them should I need to. I wish I could understand more kanji, though, so I could navigate their site more easily! I guess it's time to study again...

I think National Azabu in Tokyo carried kosher salt, but no sriracha way back then :smile: . However, there was a huge Asian food market near Ueno station that sold SEAsian and Chinese foods very cheaply, including sriracha. It was somewhere down the street where blackmarket goods were sold after WWII. It was in the basement of a big building that, I think, was a department store at one time and a lot of the stalls are run by non-Japanese Asians. I remember I bought a whole chicken there for a very reasonable price. I made roast chicken with it :smile: . Way down that same street one could find small stall-like stores that sold East Indian foods. I even found cans of Alfonso mangos (for a price--about Y1000) and gulab jamun, and chickpea flour!

Thanks for all the suggestions! I'm modifying my list to take them all into consideration!

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However, there was a huge Asian food market near Ueno station that sold SEAsian and Chinese foods very cheaply, including sriracha.  It was somewhere down the street where blackmarket goods were sold after WWII.  It was in the basement of a big building that, I think, was a department store at one time and a lot of the stalls are run by non-Japanese Asians. 

I know exactly which building you are talking about, it was one of my favourite places in Tokyo to visit and shop. Ameyoko, which is the name of the area, is in my view a must on any foodies itenerary in Tokyo, great area.

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The links were great! I had no idea Costco was in Japan. They have a store near Nishinomiya, so I might drop by just to browse (which is all I ever do here, anyway). I wonder if I can use my Canadian card in Japan...

Your card should be good there.

However, there was a huge Asian food market near Ueno station that sold SEAsian and Chinese foods very cheaply, including sriracha

Really? Thanks for the tip, I will have to check it out- sriricha is a real pain to bring back.

My eGullet foodblog: Spring in Tokyo

My regular blog: Blue Lotus

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I know exactly which building you are talking about, it was one of my favourite places in Tokyo to visit and shop. Ameyoko, which is the name of the area, is in my view a must on any foodies itenerary in Tokyo, great area.

Ameyokocho! I couldn't remember the name at all! And that building looked a little divey, didn't it? Actually, that whole area looked divey. And yes, it was a fabulous place for foodies--especially those who enjoyed other Asian cuisines. A lot of Asian ex-pats shopped there, too, and I remember seeing a lot of Filipinos there (it was one of the few places where one could buy Filipino goods). Oh, I used to get lamb there, too, as there was one stall where it was relatively cheap. Oh, and I could get cilantro there! It was so difficult to buy cilantro at that time, but I could get a bunch for Y100 there! Ameyokocho was usually my last stop before heading home (Tochigi-ken, at that time) since I would load up on perishables and some heavy canned goods.

I think I'll have to make a trip to Tokyo every few months just to visit that place again :smile: . Now there's something to look forward to (along with French pastry shops, sushi that isn't made with frozen fish, amazing tempura...).

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Ameyokocho!  I couldn't remember the name at all!  And that building looked a little divey, didn't it?  Actually, that whole area looked divey.  And yes, it was a fabulous place for foodies--especially those who enjoyed other Asian cuisines.  A lot of Asian ex-pats shopped there, too, and I remember seeing a lot of Filipinos there (it was one of the few places where one could buy Filipino goods).

The building was very divey! The basement was dedicated to S-E Asian food, but the rest of the building was an outlet mall for anything, clothes, costmetics etc. I used to drive down there on weekend mornings to pickup Thais herbs, especially Bai Horapa, Bai Kra Prow and other Thai herbs and spices. Occasionally I would pick up some japanese foodstuff there, but to me the whole area was all about ethnic food. And I always made sure to take overseas visitors there, and they always loved it. Wonderful place.

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Ameyokocho,

I haven't been there in years! It isn't a place to go with a stroller and two other kids! :biggrin:

It is definitely on my lists of things to do once my son starts kindergarten next April!

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Gizza yell then, and I'll be there with bells on...also haven't been there in years...family's mental maps of the area show only model train museums, electronics shops, and guitar studios.

I DID buy almost all of my serious Japanese kitchen equipment in the Osaka version though -- 20 years and more ago, but I bet it's still a great place to waste a few hours in!

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  • 3 weeks later...
There are quite a few good SE Asian (mainly Thai) shops up in Okubo - jump out at Higashi Shinjuku Station on the Oedo line.

The Asia Superstore is the only place here in Tokyo I've ever found rau ram - how does one live without rau ram!

Here is a good list of stores:

http://www.ne.jp/asahi/miho/selamatmakan/i...a/tokobahan.htm

Thanks for that list!

I have been to the Asian Superstore and was slightly dissapointed because I quess I was expecting more, but they do have things I can't get anywhere else.

It is also only about a 5 minute walk from Kankoku Hiroba (Korean foods store) to I always hit both in one trip!

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Yep, I agree that the Asian 'Superstore' is about as precisely named as the 'New' Otani in Akasaka!

But if I can at least get my hands on a couple of otherwise impossible-to-obtain ingredients then it's a win.

I'm a bit hard pressed to find Middle Eastern stuff here - Torakris do you know anywhere that handles stuff like Milookhiyya and affordable pulses, or is that another one for care packages from abroad? The National Azabu and Nissin are fine as far as they go, but limited (which is fair enough) & ridiculously expensive.

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Weird; I just looked at the Cooking forum and there's a whole thread there on Milookhiyya started a couple of days ago by Kristin herself.

What sort of bizarre cook's synchronicity is going on here?

Anyway question for Kristin - where are you getting hold of it?

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Weird; I just looked at the Cooking forum and there's a whole thread there on Milookhiyya started a couple of days ago by Kristin herself.

What sort of bizarre cook's synchronicity is going on here?

Anyway question for Kristin - where are you getting hold of it?

melokheya (and its other hundred spellings! :biggrin: ) is in practically every Japanese supermarket. I am not completely sure of its season but it seems like a summer vegetable. During the summer I was buying it from various places at only 100yen for a bag! and at what seemed it's peak it was going for 2 bags at 100yen. you might just have to wait until next summer, though my local Seikyo Co-op does sell it frozen....

Though I wasn't specifically looking for it, I never noticed it at any of the International supermarkets. I do find most of their vegetables so overpriced. I have given up on using things like celeriac and parsnips because they aren't worth the $10 a piece they charge. Pretty good prices on some of the more "unusual" produce can be found at Carrefour and Precce stores if you have any near you.

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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  • 3 months later...

Two things that I can not live with out that I have yet to find here?

kosher salt and sriracha :biggrin:

I FOUND KOSHER SALT IN JAPAN!!! :biggrin:

On my trip to the Tamasakai branch (Tokyo) of Costco yetserday I found it on the shelves for the first time. I actually had tears in my eyes when I saw it and my Japanese friends couldn't understand why.

I have been out of Kosher salt for 1 whole month now and two weeks ago when my mom asked if I wanted her to bring anything for me when she and my dad come to visit later this month, I said the only thing I wanted was kosher salt.....

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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I FOUND KOSHER SALT IN JAPAN!!! :biggrin:

Congratulations! I was going to buy a huge box of kosher salt and send you some (what good is a shipping allowance if you can't use it :smile: ) but now I won't have to. Do you want some sriracha, instead? Assorted dried beans and legumes? (I've been toying with the idea of bringing some but quite honestly, I don't really like beans--but I may bring some chickpeas. Just say the word and I'll bring extra!)

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