As a student in Japan, it’s almost too easy to cruise into a convenience store and pick up a few cup noodles or snacks to fill up. It’s cheap, easy, and delicious but unfortunately not nutritious. Furthermore, spending money at convenience stores or cheap eateries can drain your wallet fast unless you keep tabs on your spending. However, sustaining your health and finances is surprisingly easy if you know what to buy at the supermarket. As a fellow student on a budget, I’ve compiled a list of some foods I’ve been eating at home this winter – cheap, easy, delicious, and nutritious!
Japan’s fruits tend to be a bit pricey since many of them are imported. Buying seasonal fruit is the best way to save money while enjoying nature’s candy.
In the winter, apples, asian pears, and mandarins are can be found at virtually any supermarket for low prices. I personally love to bring them to school as small snacks to replace the candies that I’d otherwise buy at convenience stores.
Strawberries are also in season but they tend to be expensive. However, if you do have some cash to spare, you should definitely try them. The only thing you could regret is eating them too quickly.
I usually buy seasonal vegetables, but I’ve been on a bean sprout kick as of late. They’re a great option when running low on money or energy, costing less than ¥50 at supermarkets and taking just minutes to prepare. Put a frypan on some heat, add sesame oil, dump the sprouts in, season to your liking, and viola, done. Bean sprouts aren’t very calorific so they work well as a quick snack or side dish.
Firm root vegetables, such as daikon and renkon (lotus root) are in season during winter. Renkon is starchy and firm, its texture lying somewhere along the lines of potatoes, jicama, and carrots. It’s easy to prepare and takes just about 15 minutes. Start by cutting it into thin pieces, soak them for a little over 5 minutes, drain them, and then stir fry them with sesame oil, a bit of garlic, and soy sauce. I’d recommend renkon stir fry with some rice.
Japan is an island country, so it’s no surprise that fish is a popular food. It’s a fantastic source of protein and healthy fats while also being reasonably priced.
I like to cook fish at home on the stove or in the fish grill (yes, Japanese kitchens have small fish grills). For those who don’t mind the smell, I recommend cooking fish at home. It’s a lot cheaper than going out to eat it, and seafood quality is great in Japan so it tastes great, too. When cooking fish on a frypan, I recommend using frypan foil (フライパン用フォイル), which can be found at most supermarkets. The foil keeps the grime off the pan, gives the fish a crispy texture, and is non-stick so you don’t need to use cooking oil.
Treating yourself to sushi or sashimi once in a while is nice, but it’s possible to get your hands on it for a lot cheaper at a supermarket. Many raw products go on sale at the end of the day – the perfect time to buy your favorite fish for dinner. Supermarkets are often flooded in the evening with people looking to take advantage of these sales, which start at around six of seven. Get there early and take your pick from any product that has a bright, circular, red and yellow sticker on it. Once home, you feast on a meal of fine Japanese cuisine for a price impossible to beat.
Eating healthy in Japan is easy and accessible. With affordable seasonal produce and many types of fish, you can enjoy preparing and eating foods that you have never tried before! By experimenting with new ingredients and flavors, any student can experience a new side of learning about Japan outside of the classroom.