Back when I was in college I could barely make Jello or mac and cheese. Over the years I have grown to be pretty decent in the kitchen. I love to cook and bake. However since moving here I feel like I have had a whole new learning curve.
First, no matter how hard you try, there are just some items that you cannot find here. Fresh jalapenos, spices like celery seed and cream of tarter, noodles, buttermilk, most cereals, rotel tomatoes, most cheeses, most salad dressings, biscuits, wheat and multigrain breads, and cool whip to just name a few. Some of the items we can bring back in our suitcases after homeleave, and a few we can have shipped from the states (for a hefty cost), but mostly we just have to set some recipes aside until we return stateside.
Many of the Japanese brand items are just different than what we have in the states. For example, butter, flour, brown sugar, powdered sugar, sour cream, and yogurt all are a different consistency and taste than what we are used to. Sometimes it is trial and error to get our recipes to work with these items. Other items may have the same name as a US product, but upon opening we find out it is something totally different. Italian salad dressing is one example.
As I have mentioned before, there are import stores we can get some items not typically found in a Japanese store, such as canned vegetables, pasta sauces, brownie and cake mix, chocolate chips, nuts and other baking items. However, all these items come at a price. I have not been able to figure Japanese flour out for baking so I buy a bag of Gold Medal flour –– for $10 USD a bag. Occasionally the import stores will have a loaf of frozen multigrain bread –– for $8. And when we can get items at the import store, many times they are not the brand we want. For example, you cannot find Nestle chocolate chips here, only Hershey's.
I have to say, in some ways the challenges have been good. I have been forced to try new recipes, expand our menus, experience some different international foods, and cook more from scratch. Prepackaged, low fat and processed foods are not common here. And even though I have lived here almost two years now, there are still days I find myself banging my head on the kitchen counter because I just spent $30 for something that totally flopped and is uneatable. Or I really want to make a certain recipe to realize there is just no way to find all the ingredients.
So the next time you are walking through a grocery store take time to stop and "smell the groceries". Then email me so I can live vicariously through you –– just for a few moments.