Going local at the food halls

The first evening when I arrived in Tokyo was a week night. Being the lazy me and still having a mind focused on keeping to my eating habits as much as I can, even though I am on vacation and should really let loose, I thought of checking out the supermarkets, to grab some fruits and yogurt, which are almost my daily staple these days. It just feels weird when I don’t have either, or have them in insufficient quantities.

Since Takashimaya was conveniently located within minutes away from the hotel, I popped over to the supermarket and food hall in its basement, and was ensnared in the evening peak of Japanese grabbing last minute dinners from the stalls. Most items were going at a discounted price, though not that significant but at least they became a little more affordable. Much as these are just takeaways in small portions, upon conversion back to SGD, even with the strong exchange rate now, it was still pretty mind-boggling. I can’t imagine spending this kind of money on dinner on a daily basis if I were living in Tokyo. Perhaps that explains the myriad of convenience stores and their convenient packed meals, or those “vending-machine” food outlets that dot the streets of Tokyo.

I bought 2 small portions of cooked pumpkin and a medley of broccoli, cucumber and french beans, things I didn’t used to appreciate too much, especially the variety, until the recent years. I have missed out so much but it’s never too late to start!  I also wanted to have some fruits in my system so I picked up this box of cut-fruit salad from the conbini (local abbreviation/slang for convenience store). It contains some pieces of kiwi, pineapples and grapefruit, and costs roughly about S$3.50! O_O But this is still cheaper as compared to the veggies above.Of course, what is a visit to a supermarket in Japan without picking up some strawberries!? These also do not come cheap but so far from experience, strawberries that I have bought in Japan are always sweet, not to mention that they are all of about the same size, with very vibrant colours and not in some odd deformed shape like some US-variants tend to be. These 2 boxes cost about S$7 each, which is actually not too bad, considering that in Singapore the same box could sometimes cost twice that, unless they are not from Japan. And they really do not disappoint. I could really just eat them strawberries everyday!One thing I feel doesn’t quite make the cut would be the yogurt. Even though we all know Hokkaido milk is probably one of the tastiest milk I ever had, their yogurt do not seem to match up to the European/Australian versions that I have had. Perhaps I haven’t tried enough Japanese yogurt to make a valid comment, and Soy Yogurt is a totally different ball game altogether, but the bigger tub pictured below felt a tad too watery, when I prefer my yogurts to be creamier and thicker. I love Greek yogurt too, which isn’t creamy unless it’s the Greek-style type, but then when I have Greek yogurt, my expectation isn’t that it is creamy so somehow I manage with that quite well. Hmm.  And this is the view that I got out of my window. Not a very pretty sight compared to what I have seen from hotel room windows of other places I have stayed at in Tokyo but I don’t need to sit by the window the whole day looking out at the city when I can just go out and be in the city. I love vacationing in Tokyo, and this was a good trip, despite some kinks that occurred before it finally materialised.  

wishing for the UFOs to whisk me away

I wished it was so simple, that this is just a post-holiday syndrome as described by my friend. But maybe I am just not wont to escape the 2-year curse, who knows? In any case, I am still trying to be patient.

Many years ago when I was in Tokyo for a business trip that spanned almost a month, a colleague and I spent an astronomical sum of money in the amusement arcades with those UFO machines. I think they are named thus because of the claw-like apparatus that is suspended from the top of the machine, which you navigate using a joy-stick to try to grab the plushies (usually that is the case) contained in the machine, that resembles a hovering UFO? Back then, since we went out together each weekend, we would pass by some of the shops and go in to deposit our 100-yen coins with these machines. Of course we didn’t leave empty-handed; such is the beauty and perhaps lure of the UFO machines. Although the plushies that we chose to try our luck for are the ones that we would want to have, it isn’t so much as owning them and adding them to our stash of soft-toys at home than the thrill and accomplishment at successfully getting a toy. Sometimes it was exciting enough to watch others do it but nothing beats personally winning a toy from the machine, and the thing is in Tokyo these machines actually yield results, not like the ones I’ve seen in Singapore where it is virtually impossible to get anything out of it.

In December when I passed by one such shop in Shinjuku I thought I’d just give it a go, but I do limit myself to say 500 yen; if I don’t get anything after spending 500 yen, I’d give up and walk out. So I got the pink striped thing, I don’t know what it is supposed to be, a rabbit? I don’t display my soft toys at home due to space constrains and also because they are huge dust magnets. This pink plushie, being small, could fit comfortably in a pouch that remains indefinitely in my luggage. I thought it’s cute and its smiley face could perhaps brighten up my day a little when I’m overseas and need some cheer.

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Last week when I walked past the same shop in Shinjuku, I popped in again to browse the machines and what they had. There wasn’t much that I was interested in but one of the machines contained some plushies similar to the pink one, so I tried my luck, and 300 yen later I got this yellow/pink-striped one that I think should be a bear. It looks a little sad though, but at least now they have company. 🙂

It is also strawberry season in Japan now, or at least based on what I have seen, strawberries and strawberry-flavoured items seem to be ubiquitous. While I was at the food hall of Takashimaya (oh how I loved these places), I got myself a box of giant strawberries that were not exactly sweet or too sour. I liked the way they tasted and also they were all similar-sized to facilitate easy packing I suppose.20130425-090502.jpg

I think if I were to live in Japan, I would be a regular at food halls and combinis. There are lots of great food all over and it isn’t hard to find affordable food that still taste really great, but I think I can already survive with the abundance of fruits and other groceries available in the food halls and combinis. 20130425-090512.jpg

I have always contemplated taking a break from work (yes again) and using that time more productively, to go to Tokyo to study Japanese, hopefully through the immersion in the language on a daily basis I would be able to improve. Studying the language in Singapore once a week for 2.5 hours without practising and using it hardly helps in improving but that is also partly my own undoing because I am hesitant to use it in class. Even when I am in Japan I don’t use it much because English is understood (to a certain extent) in Tokyo and I am not confident at all in myself and my grasp of the language. The Japanese speak too fast for me to catch what they are saying, and I can’t think on my feet fast enough to respond even if I were to comprehend. Sigh… decisions.