In America as well as Japan someone might idly ask you, “So, what are you cooking for dinner tonight?” I often ask this of my own musume, curious to know what she’s feeding my beloved mago and also curious to know what local foods she might be eating. In Japan, my neighbors often answered with “Reizōko to sōdan shimasu.”
I get the meaning, but it still makes me smile. You could translate that literally as “I will have a consultation with my refrigerator.” This is especially meaningful at the end of the month before a gekkyū rolls in. And it also is a good way to ensure that you don’t end up with rotting vegetables or oniku past its prime.
I think there are two ways to grocery shop. In America, where people shop less frequently than in Japan, my friends often make up a menu plan for the week and then buy based on what is needed to prepare these dishes. I’ve tried doing that, but I cannot. I also can’t shop just once a week, or heaven forbid, once every two weeks.
When I was living in Japan most people shopped for food daily or once every couple of days. Many women my age still do it that way. Food shops are conveniently located near train stations so you could come home from work or school and buy what you needed for yūhan on the way home. My homestay mother went to the same local shōtengai daily to shop. Why? Why daily?
One reason is that Japanese homes are small and thus storage, be it reizōko or pantry is very limited. Think of the kind of refrigerator that you might find in a dorm room. Now they sell bigger ones, but they are still narrow and are simply taller. But I believe many women are still shopping daily or three times or more a week. This is because you want to see what is shinsen, what is in season, what is on sale and what simply looks good. In theory one should always be eating with the seasons and that is reflected in both food and tableware. It’s a lovely way to cook and eat. There’s not a Japanese alive who couldn’t tell you what month bamboo is in season and what fish is eaten in the autumn. The closest we have to any of this would be a pumpkin spice latte. (I cringe.)
It’s the end of the month today and I did indeed consult with my refrigerator. Plenty of carrots, so I pulled some chikuwa from the freezer and made a stir-fry with soy sauce and sugar. What else? Oh, this is embarrassing. But I had some sad looking broccoli and a lot of celery. A knob of ginger appeared and I always have miso.
So I cut the celery into small pieces, zapped the broccoli, and sautéd both vegetables with the ginger in sesame oil, adding miso and mirin to make a sauce. Not bad! But I now have two very rich dishes so I’ll add rice (already cooking in my suihanki) and daikon pickles—and cut up some fruit to eat along with it. Oshimai!
There’s enough left over for tomorrow at which point I’ll cook up a dashimaki to go along with it.
And…it would not be at all out of character to see me thanking my refrigerator for this gochisō!
- musume – 娘 daughter
- mago – 孫 grandchild
- reizōko – 冷蔵庫 refrigerator
- to – と particle and or with
- sōdan shimasu – 相談します to consult or to confer with, adding shimasu makes it a verb
- gekkyū – 月給 monthly salary
- oniku – お肉 meat
- yūhan -夕飯 dinner. You can also call dinner bangohan. Maybe this is like supper and dinner?
- shōtengai – 商店街 shopping street
- shinsen – 新鮮 fresh
- chikuwa – 竹輪. a tube shaped fish paste product. It’s cheap and easily found in Japan. And it tastes better than it sounds. Unfortunately, in America I can only get a frozen version.
- suihanki – 炊飯器 rice cooker
- Oshimai – お仕舞い Finished! Done! You could also use it to say “I call time.”
- dashimaki – だし巻き a Japanese rolled omelette made with dashi.
- gochisō – a feast. Used to praise food not just for a real feast.