Eating in Transit

[In keeping with the current theme of transit and travel, I thought a post on Japan’s version of fast food meals would be appropriate. Alas, I don’t have any photos of the meals I’m about to discuss, so you’ll have to use your imagination.]

To me, food eaten “on the go” generally has a negative connotation, conjuring up images of wan French fries, prepackaged sandwiches composed of a slice of ham and an inordinate amount of mayonnaise, and mealy apples purchased in an attempt to be healthy. However, fast food here in Japan is quite a different story.

Early in my stay here, Steven and I were at Tokyo’s Haneda airport and needed to grab a bite of lunch before a flight. He suggested that we eat before going through security, because the food options would be better. I found myself wondering, “how much better could it really be?  It’s an airport, right?”  After browsing a number of takeaway shops, we settled in the food court, which was populated by about five restaurants, each serving a different specialty. None of the offerings were particularly fancy – there was katsudon (a bowl of rice topped with a fried pork cutlet and egg), karē raisu (curry rice), soba, and that famous Japanese fast food, ramen. When I peeked behind the counters of each shop to take a closer look at the food, I was amazed by what I saw.

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Thoughts On Eating Well

One thing that has struck me so far about my experience in Japan is the high premium placed on eating well.  Simply put, good food is an obsession here.  As someone once told me, “it’s very difficult to have a bad meal in Japan.”  Sure, you can splurge on kaiseki and sushi, but when it comes to everyday fare, even the grubbiest-looking cafeterias serve good food.

Several weeks ago, in Kanazawa, I ducked into just such a place for a quick lunch.  The special that day was a katsudon teishoku (set meal), which consisted of a freshly fried pork cutlet over rice, topped with sliced negi and a just-set egg; clear soup with udon noodles; and crisp daikon pickles.  This sort of meal is what I like to call “working man’s food” (to wit: I was the only woman in the entire place).  It is filling and hearty, quite affordable, and very fast.  But in this case, fast does not equal food that’s been sitting under a heat lamp for forty-five minutes.  In fact, everything I ate was freshly cooked.  As I waited at the counter for my meal, I could hear the pork cutlet bubbling away in hot oil, and I watched the construction worker next to me scarf down a whole grilled fish for his midday meal.

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