Little House In Ise


Old Ladies and Kids — The Shopping Strategy of an Illiterate

Last night Megumi made inarizushi. Eating them reminded me that I had eaten not much else during my first expat week in Tokushima Japan 18 years ago.

I was a fresh faced, so I’d like to imagine, young man just out off the plane with very little clue how to live in this country. Shopping intimidated me and I had no idea what I could find to cook. This was before I could read a word of Japanese so I was illiterate and alone. Believe me, adult illiteracy is frightening! Imagine not being able to understand a single thing written on a label or sign. What would YOU assume is in the can labeled with a whale and an octopus? How about the package with the sort-of-English label “Colon” that contained short cylinders filled with brown stuff?

How was I going to buy stuff that was cheap, healthy and tasted good (that may not have been my original order)? I ended up following little old ladies and buying what they chose since they would probably know what was a good price and what was healthy. I followed little kids and put what they begged mama for into my basket. The theory here was that kids would want the good tasting stuff. I only remember one failure — black tarry gunk in a jar that was, sadly, not grape jelly.

I discovered both いなりずし (inarizushi — rice stuffed into a sweetened, fried, tofu pocket) and ちくわ (chikuwa — processed fish, roasted on a bamboo stick) that first day. The inari tasted great and the ones mixed with veggie chunks looked like they might even be healthy. I discovered that chikuwa have zero fish flavor and, when quartered lengthwise, make a decent bologna substitute. 🙂

None of this really applied to folks in Osaka or Tokyo but, out in the sticks, food shopping was a challenge.  It was for noob expats anyway. 🙂

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