I honestly can’t believe I’ve already been here a whole month! It feels like it was just a week ago that I got off the airplane. It’s strange thinking about how quickly I adjusted to being here, and how quickly this place began to feel like home. The streets that were so confusing and crowded, are now familiar (and crowded). I know my way around most of the local subway lines, and which Japanese words to look for on the labels at the grocery store.
Food in particular is an adjustment that I’m really quite proud of. I’ve always been fairly health-consctious, as well as an “ethical eater.” Since arriving here I’ve managed to maintain – if not improve – my typical style of eating. It still continues to baffle me how much of a cultural gap there is here when it comes to vegetarianism.
So in an attempt to avoid the the the meat-saturated Japanese cuisine, I’ve settled into a mostly-vegan diet, cooking for myself in the shared dormitory kitchen.
Although fresh fruit and veggies (the foundation of almost all my meals) are ridiculously expensive here, I’ve found ways of making do. The discount rack at the grocery store is my new best friend, and usually offers day-old produce which otherwise I wouldn’t be able to even think about buying.
My typical breakfast is a bowl of fruit mixed with coconut milk and toped with granola and chia seeds.
For a while when I fist arrived I was using yogurt, but I switched over to coconut milk because it’s cheaper, healthier and just plain yummier.
Last week I was lucky enough to score two grapefruits off the discount rack (normally the cost of citrus here is absolutely ridiculous), so I was able to enjoy some vitamin C with my morning coffee. (Typically I’m more of tea person than a coffee person, but every once in a while I just need that extra kick).
(Chia seeds are a staple in my diet back home; I put them on everything! So I was happy to find that they are relatively the same price here).
I’ve been eating lots of miso soup, and edamame – both of which are familiar favourites from back home.
I also made a big pot of acorn squash and carrot soup, with ginger and coconut milk. I could probably live off soup alone, and it was nice to have something a little more heavy and comforting to have on cold rainy evening.
Even though I won’t really get the “authentic” sushi experience while I’m here, I’ve experimented with making my own vegetarian sushi rolls – with quite delicious results, I might add.
I’ve recently starting making “nori rolls” with just the veggies (no rice). It’s a really great low-crab lunch, and gives me that “sushi-hit” without feeling too heavy afterwards.
This roll had cucumber, avocado, beansprouts and some veggies from a stir-fry mix.
I don’t really bother trying to cut the thing into slices. I just dip one end in some soy sauce and chow down!
Every once in a while I feel like being totally lazy, so I’ll just pick up a cup of instant noodles from the 7Eleven around the corner for my dinner. But even in these situations I’ll try to fancy-up the noodles as much as I can.
Almost every soup base here is made with some sort of fish or meat product, so I always make sure to substitute whatever package of powdered flavouring that is included for some vegetarian miso paste.
*Side note: since coming here to Japan, I discovered that even the miso paste here often contains dashi (dried fish flakes). But I’ve learned to look out for the certain words on the list of ingredients (鰹削り節, けずりかつお, 花かつお, おかか).
This Wednesday was my 21st birthday, which was fun in a very low-key kind of way. I didn’t do much to celebrate – although I did go and open up a Japanese bank account (yay, adulthood!). I kind of enjoyed just having a “normal” day, (walking around the city, going to class, getting groceries, doing homework, etc.), and I think that more than anything, it was a celebration of the fact that I can and do consider that normal now. I’m living in Tokyo! And living well! That evening I made myself a big sushi dinner and took the night off, as a similar sort of yay-adulthood/yay-Japan festivity.
I bought some inari (tofu pockets stuffed with rice), and sweet potato tempura from the local grocery store. I made avocado and tempura rolls (with rice this time, since it’s my birthday after all), with edamame, miso soup, and a Sapporo to wash it all down.
I’ve gotten into the habit of purposefully making more than I need every time I cook, and then taking the leftovers for my lunch the next day. So I even got a second round of birthday sushi on Thursday as well.
Yesterday, (Thursday) I made plans to meet up with a woman named Ruth for dinner. She is from North America, but she is currently living here in Japan with her husband. Her parents live in Annapolis Royal, and have known me basically my whole life. So during a visit to Annapolis, Ruth met my mother, and extended an invitation for me to visit her while I was here.
Ruth lives near the Tokyo Tower, so we agreed upon that as a meeting place. Originally we were planning on going up the Tower to see the view, but the weather was not cooperating, and we decided to save the experience for another time.
Ruth took me out to dinner at the Tokyo American Club, which she has a membership to. It was nice to have some western-style food with lots of vegetarian options, and it was fun getting acquainted with Ruth and learning about her life. She even bought me a birthday gift (what a sweetheart)!
She even walked me right back to my subway station and on the way we stopped at a cool shrine with a huge staircase.
It’s strange how being in such a huge city can bring people together, and in ways that make the world feel surprisingly small and familiar. Ruth was so kind and friendly, even though she knew nothing about me, other than my home town. But she has already offered for me to come visit her any time, and she’ll let me know if she’s ever planning on going anywhere cool so that I can maybe tag along.
Anyways, this weekend Tokyo is having an Earth Day celebration at a big park that’s actually really close to where I live. Apparently there will be food vendors (with lots of organic and vegetarian stuff) and activities and free concerts all weekend! So I think that’s what I’m going to do, at least on Saturday. Because if that’s not a yay-Tokyo/yay-life celebration, I don’t know what is!