Minimart Challenge: Japan

So I have THE MOST AMAZING IDEA for a competitive cooking show and it goes a little something like this: cheftestants (yes, I hate that word too) are dropped into a random minimart in a random country and they have a specified amount of time and money to spend in said minimart. After they have made their selections, they are whisked away to an Airbnb where they’re obligated to craft their minimart purchases into something delicious. The challenge, of course, is that the Airbnb kitchen will most definitely NOT be stocked with the high-end equipment they’re accustomed to in their shiny professional kitchens. Instead, it will contain the oddest assortment of dull knives, thrift-store cookware and mismatched plates and cutlery. Good luck, cheftestants!

One of the biggest challenges of extended travel for me is not cooking. I’m well aware that most people would wholeheartedly disagree with this statement, but I cook virtually every single meal when we’re at home, including all of the food packed for N’s work lunches. (The irony, of course, is that I’m regularly asked for restaurant recommendations. We never eat out.) While others might relish a break from cooking, I dread it – because, as I teach in all of my classes, when you cook at home you hold sway over exactly what goes into your food. When we’re traveling, especially for a trip as long as this one, I have to relinquish a great deal of control over what we eat – and that doesn’t come easy. It’s not only that I want to know exactly what we’re eating, but also that as a chef I want the opportunity to cook with unusual ingredients that I might never find at home. And also that cooking sets everything right in my world.


Sites like Airbnb, however, have made travel so much easier, especially if you want the option of staying in a home with kitchen facilities. We’re currently in an Airbnb in Arashiyama, just outside of Kyoto, and we have access to a reasonably well-stocked common kitchen. (I’ve certainly cooked in worse.) Today was a bit of a rest day for us, and as we didn’t feel like going out to a restaurant we opted for the minimart up the road.

The result: sesame-soy cucumber salad with crunchy rice crackers, steamed shu mai, bacon and cheese sandwiches and crispy broccoli. All procured for about $17, and that included the wine. It took about 15 minutes to put this meal together. Was it the absolute healthiest? No, but it did include two different vegetables and honestly, there was a lot of rather mysterious unidentifiable fried food that we didn’t buy. My loves, the point is this: not every meal you cook at home is going to be perfect. Sometimes, it might even be a hot minimart mess. But – and this is specifically directed to all those busy parents reading this who think they’re not doing a good enough job – it matters. Cooking matters. So keep it up, because you’re doing great. See you on TV, cheftestants.


P.S. I’m sorry for the above photo; N was busy setting up the cribbage board. Let’s just put a copyright rule in place: if the photo is good, N took it. If it’s lousy, it’s mine. Avert your eyes accordingly.

12 thoughts on “Minimart Challenge: Japan

  1. Having morning coffee and enjoying your photo and insights from your travels. Looks pretty tasty to me! Simple fare can be some of the best.
    Bob is heading to Hong Kong with a friend next week.


  2. Looks good to me, recipes please. I would make a good cheftestant, you just described my kitchen to a tee, especially the dull knives. Need more classes I guess.


  3. Are you seeing more pre-packaged foods or fresh foods there? Reason I ask is that on our trip to London, most of the shopping marts were stocked with packaged foods and only two/three isles of fresh food. I am interested in how Japan relates to our groceries here in the states. Thanks for keeping a blog, I am enjoying reading this very much! 🙂 xx


    • Thanks for your comment, Cheryl. It’s perfectly timed as the most recent post talks more about our food discoveries here. Really appreciate you following the blog and hope you’ll continue to enjoy our stories!


  4. Pingback: Food for thought | Finding Quiet Farm

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