I knew one of the best things about moving to Japan would be the food. And my weight gain in the past year has shown that to be true.
I also knew that one of the hardest things about moving to Japan would be the food. I knew I would miss so many things – experimenting with baking, farmer’s market foods and the treats from back home that I liked to indulge in. (Elm Cafe lattes or nachos from Hudson’s, anyone?)
Luckily there are ways to adapt here. There are many import food services which we have used a few times. It is otherworldly to order cheese and other cold products and have them arrive at your door fresh and cold via a delivery man in a refrigerated truck. The prices are high, but you will pay. Yes, you will.
Okinawa is a bit of an odd beast since the American influence has brought a few products to grocery stores that might be hard to find in other parts of Japan. While we do not have access to on-base (military) food, it is also there. It is a bit complicated and I seriously could not be bothered to ask someone to go through that for me, although parents of one of my students have offered. You need US cash, you need someone to shop with you, escort you in…it is like bringing someone into Costco, only harder.
So, I rely on the local grocers, and big suitcase allowances when I come home from vacation in other cities. Luckily there is a selection of stores that offer up some amazing finds. I am trying to cook with more Japanese ingredients at home, but sometimes you just want chili or a plate of nachos, dammit.
First up is Jimmy’s. There are a few different locations of this Okinawan chain around the island. The first few I went to were just tiny bakeries, with stale “American Taste” cookies and tasteless pies. However my birthday cake was from Jimmy’s, so it is not all bad. I just thought every location was as sad as the one nearest my home.
But when we got a car and my mom came to visit, we stopped in at a larger location – one with a grocery and cafe on top of the bakery. I was blown away.
This is the Jimmy’s just north of Naha on the 58. Very easy to find, even by bus. Just take any bus going from the Naha bus terminal to Chatan, and look for Jimmy’s on the right about 20 minutes out of Naha.
While I tend to order tortilla chips from aforementioned foreign food supplier, it is nice to have expensive emergency chips if I need some guacamole dippers. Most of these bags run $3-7.
I shudder to think of eating such MSG salt laden fat popsicles, but I cannot deny that being overseas does weird things to people, and there may come a day when I crave these Johnsonville “sausages.” These are about $8.50
Lots of baking ingredients. When I made nanaimo bars at Christmas it took me a few weeks to source and buy the products. If we had a car at that time, I could have been done in about 15 minutes.
Everyone will tell you how hard it is to find pit stick in Japan. EVERYONE. However, I have been seeing it everywhere recently, although not all places have as good a selection as Jimmy’s.
Huge bags of baking soda for cleaning and deodorizing.
TimTams. Oh god, TimTams.
It is weird to say this, but maybe I can because I once worked in a grocery store – but the store is merchandised in a more western way which is oddly comforting. It is a little cramped and busy on the eyes. Maybe because they have so many products.
Some okay pies from the bakery. They are good, but missing the zazz my mom’s pies have, in the form of cinnamon and other spices. It is weird to eat an exclusively all fruit apple pie.
There is also Mitsukoshi My Kitchen. Mitsukoshi is a well known and respected department store in Japan. It got started in 1673 selling kimonos. They know their shit. In Okinawa they have a formerly glitzy department store with a smallish depachika (basement food hall) in downtown Naha and this really nice grocery store called My Kitchen, on a manmade island.
Hahahaha! I wonder how many Canadian JETs wasted their baggage allowance on bottles of maple syrup as gifts. (Not me, I just brought maple candy. Score!)
Bakeries are abundant in Japan, and Mitsukoshi has some fine vendors. This is a bamboo charcoal bread loaf.
Some nice looking fresh soba noodles.
They also host cooking lessons, but my Japanese is no where good enough to go yet and not be a burden.
Obviously a great fish selection.
Again, lots of well marked baking products. It was a challenge before I could read to find out what these things were, so I appreciated any bit of English to help decipher the numerous white powders and flours.
How dare you, no I did not. I did kind of love that it was with the legit Italian pastas, though.
Lots of imports – from southeast Asian, Italy, Germany and England. And also some Japanese onigiri kits.
This is the peanut butter we bought before I started ordering in Costco sized jars from the foreign food club.
Mitsukoshi is also a great place to buy cheese and deli meats. One of my favourite memories this winter was coming home from school lunch to have a charcuterie plate instead.
As if anyone eats potato chips with tongs.
There are also a few other more common grocers who carry a few different items. You just need to remember where you saw what when the time comes.
You can also check out my post on A-Price, another store that carries western imports, in western sizes.
Map and more
locations all over Okinawa