Wednesday, March 5, 2014

To the Produce Stand.

Returning home from a long vacation usually involves greeting an empty refrigerator. Instead of immediately rushing to the grocery store to randomly select whatever looks good I am finally attempting to form a meal plan. So far I’m still in the thinking and researching stage. Until pen hits paper, though, we need to eat.

My pantry is well stocked with canned food and dry goods and the freezer contains meats and leftover meals so there is no need to rush, except for the produce. My Tuesday focus was fresh produce.

Empty fruit and vegetable drawers are a sad sight, so I pulled them out for some loving cleaning and figured I might as well wipe out the inside of the fridge while I’m at it. Then I stepped out into the beautiful, sunny, fifty degree day for my favorite errand, walking to the local produce market.

I’m not sure the name of this particular produce market, but it’s tiny, with an open storefront, and all the prices are written in marker on pieces of cardboard. The prices are good, the quality is great, and, as is customary in Japan, the customer service is warm and friendly. There is usually one person near the front packaging and stocking, one person near the back manning the cash register, and a couple others are in the back room (from what I can tell).

Not having a plan at the produce stand is perfectly acceptable, as long as you keep your purchases to one bag so you have time to use everything while still fresh. I generally choose various items that are easy to use along with one unfamiliar vegetable.

When my arms are full the woman near the back helps me to the register. Even though I can’t yet speak more than the basic handful of frequently used Japanese words, she smiles and talks to me as if I understand everything, which I like because she is treating me as she would every other customer. I’m still working on Fukuro kekko des which I was told means “No bag thank you” because I usually carry my own.  This time I had my awesome, new Whole Foods bag that my sister lovingly gave me; it is big and sturdy and shows a dinosaur loving up on a giant beet.

After paying for my produce with ample arigatou gozaimasu (thank you) I walked up a couple stores to the Family Mart, a konbini (convenience store). Whenever I go out locally I like to stop at more than one place just for the interaction and the experience and I sometimes combine that with a small snack purchase of something new and unfamiliar.

Curious about what I came home with?

Broccoli/Burokori – I tossed the florets in olive oil, roasted them in the oven, then sprinkled sel gris French sea salt on them and ate almost all of them while standing at the stove finishing the main course.  Yum!

Carrots/Ninjin – One of these is cut up the slow cooker right now.

Ginger/Shoga – This is the package at center bottom with the panda face. It is not a dry root but two knots that are moist; the taste is the same because I used it to fancy-up leftover beef guydon last night.

Potatoes/Jagaimo – Just simple white potatoes.

Apples/Ringo – Local apples are delicious, which comes at a price, ¥398 for 5 apples ($3.90 with today’s exchange rate) but so worth it. These particular apples are crisp and juicy without a single flaw or blemish.

Mushrooms/Kinoko – I love mushrooms and frequently buy these three types (from top to bottom of photo): Bunashimeji, Maitake, Shiitake.

Garlic Chives/Nira – This was my mystery vegetable. (Well, a mystery to me). I assumed correctly it was a type of green onion but the flat leaves threw me off. With the help of Google Images I learned about it and used it last night in the guydon, this morning with eggs, and tonight in an experiment.

All that produce came to ¥1458 ($14.28), a deal here because the price of produce certainly gave me sticker shock right after we moved, it still does actually. Notice that nothing was over ¥180 except the apples.

Now, what treats did I find at the Family Mart? 

Gokuri Ume – I knew ume is “plum” so it had to be good, and it was. The bottle reads 1% of something, I assume juice (?) because I didn't see kanji for “alcohol”.  Fruity- and soda-like alcoholic beverages are popular here and are sometimes difficult to distinguish. Gokuri seems to be a line of juice drinks produced by Suntory, a leading beverage company in Japan. It cost ¥158.

Sweet Potato-something – This was 100% sweet deliciousness with a smooth, slightly chewy outer layer and silky-cream sweet potato interior.  I highly recommend it even though it seems rather small for the ¥115 price.

This small excursion took a little under an hour in time and just under two miles in distance. I am so happy and thankful that such a short journey provides so much fulfillment. 


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