Kitchen confidential

By on February 27, 2009

cell-phone-in-shopping-cart-300x270“Honey, what are you doing?” my husband asked me.

“Um,” I said. “I’m just texting….”

“You took a picture of that Japanese cereal box, didn’t you?”

OK. I admit it. I’m addicted to taking pictures of grocery store items. I wasn’t always like this.

In fact, when we first moved to Japan, I entered my local grocery store with money and a list. After walking around the store, I returned home empty-handed.

“Where’s the food?” my sons asked me.

“Apparently,” I said. “I need more yen. And a #2 pencil and a calculator.”

The Japanese grocery store stumped me. I went to buy meat and instead found myself faced with a complex word problem. The meat was so small, so thinly sliced, so metric. How much is 200 grams? How many grams can I carry home? How many slices does it take to smoosh together to create a hamburger for a hungry teenager? If one train leaves the station at 9 AM going 45 mph carrying a bushel of apples and the other train leaves station B at 11:30 going 60 miles per hour….

“Hey, Mom,” my son said when I returned home. Whats for dinner?

“TACO KIT,” I said as I held up the box. “And, you will wash it down with POCARI SWEAT. Maybe you’re supposed to drink it when you are sweaty, but if nothing else, it will build character.”

OK, I admit it. Until I could read the Japanese labels, I decided the best survival strategy was to buy anything that was in English.

“Hey, Mom,” my son said the next night. “What’s for dinner?”

“Dinner,” I said as I showed him the small box I bought earlier at the store. I had no idea what it was, but the label said DINNER so I bought it.  

“Hey, Mom!” my son said after his first bite. “My lips are on fire! DINNER is too spicy!”

“DINNER is making me sweat!” said another son. “Pass the POCARI!” 

It was after this DINNER incident that I decided it was time for a better strategy to improve my shopping success in Japan.

“Isn’t that the milk the boys like?” my husband asked me one day. 

“Oh, yes, it is,” I said. Click! 

I admit it. I started grocery shopping with my mobile phone. For me, the phone camera was the ideal way to record the Japanese grocery items my family liked and did not like. I might not be able to read Katakana, but I can snap a photo. 

“Work with me. Work with me,” I said to the package of our favorite bread, snacks, noodles and soy sauce. Click.

“Smile, Tony the Tiger,” I said to the cereal. “I’m filing your photo under GGRRREAT.” Click.

“You,” I said to the puffed pastry while shaking my head. “You surprised me. You are not puffed pastry. You are some kind of bean-filled bun. I’m filing your photo under BUYER BEWARE.” 

OK, I admit it. I have learned that shopping in Japan with a mobile phone camera can be very helpful, but it does not necessarily make you a better cook.

That’s why I have a new strategy now: I’ve renamed my kitchen. It is now referred to as “The Lab.” 

About Karen Pond

Karen Pond is mother to 3 boys and author of Getting Genki In Japan: The Adventures and Misadventures of an American Family in Tokyo