Homesick?! Comfort Food Cures, Part 1
Mexican Mood: Salsa, Tortillas, and More . . .
I am not the best person to shop with if you're in a hurry. Always the curious child, I take a long time scouring shelves for good deals and new flavors. While everybody knows that one of the shops of the nation-wide chain Kaldi is a great place to get coffee and some things for the pantry, not many are aware that they carry many types of tortilla (flour and corn) and ready-made salsa, which are usually in the ¥300-500 range for a bottle.
The Cowboy Caviar Salsa is spicy and addicting, and definitely time-saving over bringing out the bulky food processor to mix tomatoes, onions, lime, etc. If you are looking for an even cheaper alternative, look for tortillas and big bottles of salsa (for about ¥500) at Gyomu Super, the chain of markets that sell to local eateries.
Pro tip: Not all of the more than 900 Gyomu Supermarkets are created equal, so choose branches surrounded by many international cafe and restaurants, which are more likely to carry a variety of goods.
If you are more of a carnivore and need thick skin pork for lechon chancho ala caja china (crispy pork belly), you can score really big slabs at cheap prices in Hanamasa, an industrial supermarket chain of over 50 stores around the Kanto area. Their primary business is distributing butchered meat and selling products sourced from farms (seafood, dairy, or vegetable). A slab of pork belly good for four retails for only around ¥1,000.
South East Asian comfort food: Sisig, Bulalo, and more
The small-stature of many Southeast Asians actually hides big appetites. Almost always coming with rice (or rice noodles), every meal is full of flavor, with no raw ingredient wasted. If there's anything common about Southeast Asian cuisine especially Filipino, Vietnamese, and Thai, no animal and animal part is off-limits.
The Filipino sisig uses pork ears or cheek, belly, and liver. Often topped with chicharon (crispy pork crackling), this is a cholesterol-loaded dish that's a hit in parties, and is often paired with icy cold Coke or a bottle of beer. The meat parts for this delicacy are easily available at Hanamasa shops, Tokyo Rose, which has a shop in Yokohama, and the popular online shop for meats of all kinds, The Meat Guy.
The Filipino bulalo uses bone marrow for a rich, comforting beef broth soup mixed with veggies like onions, bok choy, and corn.
Long before the bone broth trend hit L.A. and New York, Southeast Asians have been using beef bones for cooking soupy staples. For legit Vietnamese pho, cheap and yummy veal (baby beef) Wagyu bones could also be sourced from The Meat Guy, with a kilo selling for only 1,000 yen. Make sure you roast the onions, cinnamon, star anise, and spices before dumping to the cauldron for more flavor, just like in this authentic pho recipe.
Pro tip: In Yokohama's Isezakicho, there are several Asian stores that sell everything from salted duck eggs to hard-to-find spices, halal chicken, anchovy sauce, fish sauce, and more at affordable prices. Usual favorites along the Isezakicho row are Land Asia and Thai Super, which sells everything from fresh produce to kitchen condiments.
Isezakichō, 4 Chome−121
And to go with your Korean TV drama watching . . .
Whether you are from Korea or not, many of us want to dine on the mouthwatering dishes we see being eaten on our TVs by the seaside villagers on Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha or the funny squad of Crash Landing on You, or the ambitious Start-up gang.
Affordable spices and condiments could easily be found in OK Supermarket or even Tomiz (some shops like in Futako-Tamagawa and Yokohama carry beyond baking supplies). Specialty shops like Kitano Ace Shop (online with a shop in Tokyo) and PX Store at the Yokohama Station, also regularly offer discounts on their products.
Pro tip: Cheap soju is also available in OK Supermarket and Kitano Ace Shop. Also, if you're making toppoki, aside from letting the dried anchovy simmer in the water for taste, you can also use smoked fish dashi or katsuoboshi sold in tea bag packets.
American food from Cajun to barbecue
If you are looking for a cheap rack of ribs, Hanamasa (with more than 50 locations in the Greater Tokyo Area) never fails. Depending on the season's demands, Hanamasa also has frozen turkey for only about ¥3,000, whole chickens for ¥500-800, and even lobsters for only about ¥1,500— perfect centerpiece dishes for any celebration.
Pro tip: The Hanamasa stores situated in restaurant-filled neighborhoods (like the one in Sangenjaya) serving international cuisine have a wider selection of affordable seafood, perfect for your next Cajun Seafood Boil (the food pictured above costs less than 2,000 yen, good for six servings).
Up next: Part II, Shopping for Filipino, Latin and South American, Indian, Spanish and French ingredients.