One of the guaranteed delights of international travel for me and probably most of us is visits to grocery stores that clearly cater to a different palate than the ones back home. No trip anywhere is ever complete without a ramble around at least one or two. Of course if you live somewhere for any extended period of time, as opposed to sustaining yourself via hotels and restaurants, the interesting ramble morphs into the more protracted and somewhat bewildering effort to choose items that 1.) you need and want and 2.) won’t kill you or take some kind of preparation that is completely incomprehensible or impossible with the tools you have on hand. Then, of course, there’s the language barrier and usually, the kilos-and-liters thing to boot. All part of the fun.
So it was with a sense of high adventure and some trepidation that I made my first serious grocery run in Japan, courtesy of the minibus schedule described elsewhere. The Saturday shopping trips go to a mall some ~25 minutes from the university, and here is our first sight of the shopping mecca du jour:
Once inside, of course, we are greeted with traditional Japanese hospitality, and in this case, a flyer advertising “Curves” gym classes for women:
In Aeon, as in many supermarkets, the first section is produce. My mother always grumbled, “Why make us buy all the soft stuff and put it at the bottom of the cart where it will be smashed by the time we get it to the register?” Well, the marketing psychology, it turns out, is that if you buy fruits and veggies first, you will have a sense of healthy accomplishment right off the bat and will then go and buy more of all that UNhealthy stuff. Or so they think. But my first grab was indeed some of the soft stuff, the white peaches that are in season at the moment, and boy, are they great:
A little further on through the produce one finds a regional specialty, the bumpy cukes:
Another local delicacy is mushrooms, and in the shot below you can see a variety as well as a typical Japanese cautionary notice, hard copy and video:
So far, so good. But not so far from here I started wading into the land of “I have no idea what I’m looking at.” My best guess is that this is the Wall of Tofu, but I can neither confirm nor deny:
Nearby I think I spotted the Wall of Pickles, redeemed in my mind by their colorful nature:
Okay, time to return to identifiable items. I followed the visual cue being hung by friendly employees to the Land of Finny and Scaly Things:
On closer inspection, all sorts of goodies inhabit these chilly chambers. I’ll confess here and now that I bought none of them, but it sure was fun to look. Here’s salmon (I think):
Nearby, some snails and sea urchins, again I think…
…some smoked (?) fish, I think:
…and finally in this section, some truly beautiful but rather spendy sushi ready-t0-go. J, this one’s for you:
We bid a fond farewell to fresh things and enter cautiously into the long middle aisles, where bags, bottles, and boxes await. I could post about a hundred pictures here – it was hard to keep it this short – but I chose images that I think you just wouldn’t see anywhere in the US outside of an Uwajimaya Japanese supermarket, which I know are in Washington and Oregon states but not sure if they extend anywhere else.
Here, for example, is the soy sauce aisle. The bottles on the bottom, if you can’t tell, are actually really big:
Somewhere in the maze I stumbled across this product, which is as far as I can tell is some kind of “instant breakfast-type” portable dry mix for busy people on the go. I gotta say the packaging could use some help:
I was also astonished to find an entire section of the store dedicated exclusively to green tea:
…but thankfully before too long I was back in familiar territory, but just with a Japanese twist:
I was particularly charmed by brands I had never seen before, here some fruit beers from Guam:
So, cart as full as I could manage, I headed for the check-out. It’s a two-step process. The clerk takes your basket, scans the prices into the register, and then puts the food back into another basket with a plastic bag or two if you haven’t brought your own. Then you take the new basket with your items to a nearby table and bag them yourself. Here’s my colleague R demonstrating his technique:
One last clever stage to go. Near the packing tables is a dry ice machine. For a few yen, you put your freezer goods into the machine and WHOOSH! they’re cold. Here’s R again showing you how it’s done:
Second later, your perishables are ready for a long trek (in the melting heat and humidity) back home. J, you could use this for the island hauls:
So there you have it….my first serious foray into the mysteries of Japanese comestibles. I’ll have another blog soon on “The 100 Yen Store,” kind of like the Dollar Store in the US, but your eyes are probably glazing over by this point, so I’ll stop for now. Bon appetit!