Quickie Mart: Healthy and Cheap?

October 17, 2008 at 12:15 pm Leave a comment

The other day, I found an article announcing am/pm Japan’s new line of healthy bento lunches. One point made was that amid this economic downturn, Japanese people would rather indulge in a homegrown Japanese meal than a foreign one.

Japan is hardly an immigrant-rooted nation. So most foreign-born dishes – from garlic-simmered escargot to chicken satays – have an air of imported decadence. A so-called “gourmet market (gurume ma-ketto)” is nothing more than a showcase for exotic foods at inflated prices. So as Japanese people start tightening the belt, the general inclination is to ease up on exotic eats. Of course, eating more Japanese food would do the local farmers a favor, too. (Hello, farmers!)

These new bento boxes are stuffed with a hearty array of Japanese vegetables like Satsuma potato, burdock root, mustard spinach (komatsuna) and tofu hamburg, alongside a fluffy bed of multi-grain rice. In a way, it’s a show of national pride with only Japan’s best homegrown ingredients on parade. In the heyday of imperial Japan, bento rice was embedded with a salted plum in homage to the national flag. Of course, after the war they delighted in Western fare to exhibit a degree of sophistication.

Each healthy bento costs no more than $5 – an amazing deal. People sometimes ask me whether I thought food was more expensive in Japan than the U.S. My answer: Heck no! These days I spend over 9 bucks on lunch in Los Angeles – and that’s at the food court! In fact, the way things are going in the U.S. I might as well pack my bags and head for Japan. My money is better spent on a bento than on a 2-for-1 deal at Del Taco!

Himawari

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