Japan truly is the land of the salary-man. Even as a foreigner working in Nippon, you may find yourself sucked into the Japanese work ethic – early start, late finish, long hours, no lunch break… It happens to the best of us.
Before you know it, you’ve eaten at Yoshinoya twice and Coco Curry House thrice and it’s not even Wednesday yet. But even if your working hours are stretching further and further into your leisure time, with a few different ideas and tricks up your sleeve you can easily find the time to knock up some much needed home-cooked food. Nothing too fancy here – just some simple, filling food that isn’t served in a convenience store bento box. So here are Genki Gaijin’s Top 3 favourite meals to make on a busy schedule.
I had no idea that the Japanese were so keen on curry – and exactly the way I like it, too. No fiery vindaloo in sight – just simple flavours that tickle the tongue rather than blowing holes in your stomach. Homemade curry from scratch is a delight – but also a pain. All those various spices and ingredients – it’s not exactly what your average salary-man is looking for when it comes to fixing a quick bite.
Introducing…. the curry block. Whoever invented this – jolly well done! It’s so simple to use, even a cooking novice could knock up a batch. Basically, after preparing your main ingredients (I usually go for a few healthy chunks of potato or sweet potato, sliced carrot, broccoli, meat (pork works well), onion and also some tofu thrown in at the end) you let them boil down for a while (following the recipe on the back of the packet. Once it’s nearly done, add the curry block piece by piece, letting it slowly dissolve and permeate all your ingredients with a delicious spicy flavour. Many of the curry block brands come with spice rating on the front so you can gauge your spice level. Another plus point is that this meal keeps really well. Stick it in the fridge for a couple of days or freeze it ready to defrost when you need it. You can make a big batch all at once and have meals ready to go for the next three days.
Something else I wasn’t expecting to find in such abundance in Japan was pasta. The Japanese love Italian cuisine – as well they should – and they make it super-easy for hard working salary-men to fix themselves an Italian dish. I do a lot of my shopping at Daiei/Aeon where they sell these great little packets of pasta that cook in less than 3 minutes, I kid you not! Put one of those on the stove and your meal will be done before you’ve even set the table. Coupled with one of the Daiei/Aeon ready-sauce packets, it’s a meal in under 5 minutes. Mix it up a bit by adding some pan-fried meat and mushrooms, or seasoning with fresh herbs and a splatter or parmesan cheese. Delicious – and perfect for you to make extra portions of and take for lunch the next day.
Last of the list is a simple stir fry – once again made easy by the wide selection of ready sauces on the market. Just prep your veg and meat, chuck it in a pan and – bingo – your meal is ready. Only a couple of minutes to prepare and so much more satisfying than eating the same convenience store bento box night after night.
Even with a busy working life, workers in Japan can find ways to cook for themselves! In the long run, it works out cheaper than all those ready-meals too.