Sunday, April 19, 2015

♡ Grocery Shopping For Bento and Japanese Cooking ♡

This post is a part of my mini bento and Japanese cooking series! Here are my other related posts:

This post is all about where you can get groceries for making bento and what sorts of items and ingredients you should look for.

Grocery Shopping

I generally prefer Asian markets for ingredients. Bigger grocery chains can have a small selection of basics, but they’ll often be more expensive, potentially “Americanized” products (meaning using some made up Chinese sauce LOL), and have less variety.

But, that still doesn't mean that you can't make Asian food without an Asian market! I read a book about Japanese cooking once and it told about how many Japanese mothers in the past would find the freshest vegetables, tofu and meat by shopping daily at their local neighborhood shops! In a similar way, think it is best to incorporate the freshest ingredients available to you--it will be cheaper, greener, and convenient. You can just change up your style of cooking!

However, for Japanese cooking, I think there are some basic must haves: 
good Japanese soy sauce--my favorite is Yamasa shoyu (fan for life ♡) 
cooking sake (Mirin is sweet cooking sake--so in a pinch you can use sake and add more sugar to create a similar taste)
rice (Japan uses a small to medium sized rice grain, use what you like. I buy from my Asian market and have a Zoujirushi rice cooker--rice cookers are a whole different topic! But if rice is in your daily diet like it is for us, it is essential. We used a $10 WalMart one for years before getting our Zou-san!) 

I think everything else is optional--there are plenty of very “japanese” ingredients but it just depends on how deep you want to get into it. (^o ^*) If you are just starting, get these basics and see below to get some good places to start finding easy recipes. No need to exhaust yourself on finding every single ingredient as a beginner.

Other items I keep stocked:

Miso (white and red), konbu, nori, wakame, katsuobushi flakes, sesame seeds (black and white), ginger, garlic, dried shiitake, panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and tofu.

Some other less *essential* ingredients I keep stocked are:

Ra-yu (Japanese version of Chinese hot chili oil), S&B Curry Powder, Shichimi, Japanese Worcestershire, Japanese Mayo (these all are different in taste than the Western ones), and Aonori.

Out of these basic ingredients, you can nearly make anything. No need for buying dashi powder to make miso soup, or furikake seasonings for rice, or all the tonkatsu/okonomiyaki/takoyaki/yakisoba sauces. Of course, if you do not have the spare time but you have the money and don't mind processed/packaged foods then it can be very convenient to just pick up whatever you need. I personally just enjoy the process of learning the fundamentals myself, saving extra money, and avoiding the fillers in many of the packaged goods. It's not really realistic to make everything from scratch of course, but I sure enjoy doing it as much as I can.

As for vegetables: 

From normal grocery stores I buy potatoes, onions, green onions, cabbage, green beans, and recently--acorn squash! A good alternative for kabocha (japanese squash) if you cannot find it.

From Asian markets, I buy daikon (large white radish), napa cabbage, big carrots, gobo (also called burdock root), edamame and Chinese "finger" peppers (Anaheim peppers work well too).

As for meat: (Cuts of meat I buy)

Chicken thighs, ground pork, pork belly, and pork loin

(I have never been a huge beef person, and Bo and I both prefer pork so I'm slowly venturing into learning more about cuts of beef for my cooking)

I have found it very difficult to get the same cuts of meat used in China and Japan. The easiest way out is to buy your meat at the Asian market where you can find thinly sliced pork and beef. But they are often more expensive than my local farm...and I wonder about the quality and hormones in the meat. So, I buy from my local butcher several basic cuts of meat and thinly slice them myself when partially frozen. If your butcher will thinly cut your meat for you, you are blessed. I asked for "as thin as possible" and ended up with 1/4 inch chops.. o(-`д´- 。)Both China and Japan tend to use meat with a little bit of extra fat to enhance the flavor. (In my family, my parents pretty much avoid meat with any fat on it haha) Japanese use leaner cuts of course for things like tonkatsu (either pork loin or chicken breast) and chicken (I prefer thighs to breast meat!). Another part of the difficulty for me starting out was that I used to be Pescatarian. So if you ever wondered why my username was "PescaMaryan" it's because I used to not eat meat! (This is a whole other story) So I used to be very clueless about cuts of meat.

As for fish:
Fish is also a really important part of Japanese cooking. We live in the midwest, and getting fresh fish at reasonable prices is not always possible. I usually look for shrimp (raw with the shell on is the best), salmon, octopus and mackerel. I try to get wild fish as much as I can, and we avoid eating fish all the time that tend to be high in contaminants. 

As for everything else--I buy whatever fruit is in season or on sale. Berries can be frozen and make great toppings for yogurt or smoothies. I keep regular milk, butter (sometimes I make my own--yes it's possible and very simple actually!) and eggs stocked, but make my own soymilk from soybeans from my local farmer's market. Baking is a whole other topic for another day. ^.^

So, to sum it up, I buy my meat from my local butcher, buy staple ingredients and Asian vegetables from the Asian grocery, and the rest I buy from the local farmer's market (cheap & fresh!).

Mary ´◡` ♡

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