Three years into my life here, I've gotten somewhat used to food shopping in Japan, but there are still some things that baffle me when I walk into the store, like:
The first time I ventured out into a Japanese supermarket in search of bread, I was extremely surprised to find this:
Bread in packets of six and eight slices. I still find myself longing for hard dough bread like what I could buy at National Bakery. However, I'm left to choose between the six-slice pack or the eight-slice pack (or even a three-slice pack at some supermarkets) each of the three times per two weeks I buy bread. I've gotten somewhat used to the available choices, but I still keep wondering whenever I see the three-slice packs, what IS one supposed to do with an odd number of slices?
It seems to me that in Japanese supermarkets, with the exception of international supermarkets like National Azabu and meat wholesalers like Niku No Hanamasa, bacon equals sliced ham. Don't get me wrong - I love ham but I like it in my sandwiches. I'm not a fan of frying it up. Why can't I find anything that fries like real bacon near where I live. A woman on Yahoo! Answers responds to (basically) the same question posted by another ex-pat three years ago:
Do you know how Japanese people cook bacon? I don't think you do. But before I answer how we cook bacon, I want to say that I really don't know how British people cook bacon because I've never visited and lived there. But I do know how Americans cook bacon because I've lived in the states for more than 10 years, and I do cook real bacon here in the states.
Well, many Japanese people who know how Americans cook bacon would say they cook bacon until it's really burnt. So we call the kind of bacon " burnt bacon."
But for Americans, how we cook bacon is too rare. Well, my husbands's brother ( American) goes to Japan for business and he told me that the way Japanese people cook bacon is too rare. So he didn't want to eat bacon because he thought that he would get sick by eating " raw" bacon. Well, in America, cooking bacon like how the Japanese do is not safe to eat because Americans use " real" bacon. In order to eat real bacon, people need to cook it really well.
But in Japan, we don't really like to cook bacon that way. So we have our bacon that is safe to eat. Our bacon is smoked and heated through because we want to eat rare or medium-rare bacon. So the kind of bacon has been sold in Japan.
Well, actually selling " real" bacon (the bacon that is dangerous to eat as raw ) was prohibited by law. That's why, you couldn't see " real" bacon at any grocery stores in Japan. Well, we are very careful when it comes to food that when we want to eat something that is not safe to eat as raw, we need to do something. So stuff like eggs, bacon are pasteurized usually.
But these days, Japan has introduced unheated bacon which is very very close to " real" bacon. Since we are getting to know more western style food, we've changed the law a bit that some stores started selling unheated bacon. Even though many Japanese people still don't like to cook bacon like how Americans do, some people who like international food want to try to cook...well, " burnt bacon." But still we like to eat raw stuff so the bacon is not probably the exactly same as the bacon sold in the states if raw bacon is made through bacon companies in Japan:
I mentioned before on this blog how big a deal chicken is in Japan during the Christmas season. People pre-order buckets of fried chicken from KFC weeks in advance and whole chickens can be found in supermarkets everywhere. The week after Christmas, though, there are no whole chickens to be found except at a few international supermarkets and meat wholesalers such as the above-mentioned.
Also, there is the fact the boneless chicken as all most Japanese supermarkets seem to be interested in selling, with the exception of chicken wings. You can get wings, livers, hearts, breasts, boneless thighs and even chicken meatballs but no drumsticks! Where are the drumsticks?
There are many flavours of this popular candy bar here that I'm sure people outside of Japan would have never dreamt of, for example, yuzukosho. Yuzu is a citrus fruit that is found in East Asia. Yuzukosho is type of seasoning made from yuzu, peppers and salt. The first time I was offered a Yuzukosho Kit Kat bar, I was a bit skeptical, but I ended up liking it a lot. Other flavours that can be found in Japan include candied sweet potato, apple vinegar (with white chocolate), sweet corn and green tea. You can get a look at more flavours on Nestle Japan's website here.
There are many other things that make me shake my head or raise an eyebrow whenever I go grocery shopping or receive gifts (such as the Yuzukosho Kit Kat bar I got from a student) but I will leave more for another post. Meanwhile, if you're an ex-pat in Japan and you've had any puzzling gastronomical experiences (apart from trying unusual traditional Japanese cuisine, obviously) please leave me a comment. Happy cooking and don't burn the ham, er, bacon.