Zurui's quick meal

A long-time Black Tokyo reader offers a few suggestions on stretching your money, and hopefully your stomach, in Japan. Hopefully, those in Japan will take advantage of the yen’s current power!:

Ruby Baby writes, “I think you’ll be better off cooking your own meals. Will you have living arrangements with access to a kitchen? Also, can you cook? If not, choose about five to seven of your favourite foods and learn to make those very well. In any case it’ll probably pay to read up on how to use some of the more ubiquitous food stuffs you’ll find in supermarkets here.

One thing you could try is buying in bulk. Of course there’s an art to this. You can’t go wrong with rice, pasta and cous cous.They’ll last almost indefinitely if kept dry. You can buy pasta on the cheap and very nutritious pasta sauces can also be made on the cheap. Blend a carrot, half an onion and a tin of tomatoes (bell peppers are optional because they cost a bomb here). Saute the other half of the onion in a saucepan, added the blended veg, add a stock cube or two. Simmer right down. All done. You can have this with rice or pasta and if you make it in bulk by doubling the ingredients you’ll have a sauce that will last for days. Simply cook the pasta, spoon a good few dollops of the sauce on top and stir through. add black pepper basil and parmesan to taste. You can use it for North Indian style curries by adding curry powder seasoned meat/vegetables fried with some onions then creamed coconut or coconut cream to some of the sauce. You also can stir some through cooked minced meat adding ground cumin, a little salt, chilli, and beans.Oils are a good buy as well as other liquids that keep pretty well like mirin, sake and soy sauce. Miso is almost indestructible when refrigerated. Sesame paste, oyster, chilli bean and black bean sauces also keep very well. From all of these things you will have a nice little base of ingredients from which to make delicious, nutritious and for you most importantly, cheap meals.

After the initial expense of your first shop, spices, oils etc. You should be able to feed yourself on a budget of about a 10,000 yen a week tops. If you need to cut that down even further, you can cut luxuries out. For example you’d need to get kidney beans for a chilli at a foreign food store and so it will cost you more than just using black soy beans as a substitute. 

Fruit and vegetables here are no bloody joke, but you can save money by going into the store about an hour before it closes and get reductions. This is also a great way to get cheap sushi and bentos. Also look for the reduced items section. Also there are a few bargain fruit and veg. You can get cheap bananas here and a bag of mikan or apples with russeting in their skins and other imperfections are also cheaper. Cabbage and chinese cabbage go for ridiculously low prices. Carrots are also a good buy.

Broccoli is not a good buy and neither is celery, they sell sticks of celery here for one dollar! Don’t even get me started on peppers! One pepper at my local is almost three dollars! They’re very good for you though and all delicious. I buy these only when I’m missing their taste.

Meats are also very expensive. You save a lot of money if you’re willing to see whole sections of dead animals and willing to do some of the butchering ourself. For example, buying a whole piece of chicken breast will be way better value than about half the weight of that piece cut into little cubes.

As a rule I do not buy Japanese red meats if I can avoid them. American and Australian imports are rigourously checked so often they’ll be better and much less fatty than the Japanese stuff. Buy these in bulk and uncut. You can cook what you need and store the rest in the fridge or freezer. unfortunately the rules are all twisted round here. Often the cheapest cuts like oxtail, beef shin and pork belly are actually the most expensive. Japanese cuisine uses a lot of simmered foods and these cuts are perfect for them. Chicken here is a lot more reasonable, use cuts like wings they’re by far the cheapest. (They’re great simmered in a mixture of stock, soy sauce, a little sugar and oyster sauce.) The best part for you is chicken breast, these aren’t so cheap but you can get giant chicken breasts here which you can simply section and stick in freezer bags.

If you like fish you will be in heaven here. They will have a wide variety of species to choose from. The cheapest will most likely be salmon and cod. Sole isn’t too pricey either. For best value buy whole fish, you can ask the fishmonger or the section head of the supermarket to scale and gut the fish for you. If you’re lucky, they’ll also fillet it for you. It will pay, however to read up on how to fillet both flat and round fish by yourself in case you’re not so lucky.

That’s everything I can think of for now. Hope this helps. If you have any questions feel free to ask.”