Food shopping in Japan has a reputation for being a touch on the expensive side, and as you wander the aisles of your local supermarket looking at your basic groceries – cheese, fruit, freshly baked bread – it is hard to disagree. However, if you look at local produce you will find that the weekly shop doesn’t have to be such a pain in the wallet.
The only problem may be that you are unused to preparing and cooking with Japanese foods. If this is the case, a fun and interesting – not to mention potentially money saving – cultural experience is to take lessons in Japanese cooking.
Let’s start with the big boys, and they don’t come much bigger than ABC Cooking studios who have been going since 1987 and have 124 studios nationwide. There is a huge choice of menus on offer, from washoku (traditional Japanese dishes), bread, cakes and even Chinese, western and world foods. And it’s not just you who can learn to cook at ABC Cooking Studios, but your family too, with courses offered for children from four years old up to 3rd grade elementary. A percentage of profits from one day courses go to the UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to help promote better eating for refugees around the world. Please note that it is only the Tokyo Midtown location that offers lessons in English.
Average price: Depending on the course, lessons can range from between 500 JPY and 4,000 JPY*
Address: 3-1-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo (Head office)
Another well-known operation is Buddha Bellies. Having appeared in international news and media, Buddha Bellies are lessons with a touch of celebrity pizazz. Instructor Ayuko was trained at one of the top Kaiseki (Japanese fine dining) schools so she obviously knows her onions (and other vegetables too, no doubt). Being a JSIA (Japan Sushi Instructor Association) certified instructor, the sushi and decorative sushi classes are most popular, but there are also udon, washoku and bento classes for making those all important lunch boxes. For those of you who like a tipple Ayuko, who is also a professional sake sommelier registered with SSI (Sake Sommeliers International), offers a sake collection workshop with more than 100 bottles available for tasting.
Average price: 7,000 JPY*
If you’re after something a bit more homely, then what’s better then learning to cook directly in someone’s home? Mari is a soon-to-be published cookbook author, and lives a mere five minutes from the world famous Tsukiji fish market – 15-20 minutes from Shinjuku, Ginza and Shibuya stations – and she invites you into her life. Having lived and worked in the US her English is fluent and she is genuinely warm and open to students from all cultures. Class sizes are intimate (limited to 6) and there are various courses to choose from including vegetarian. Mari also claims to be the only cooking instructor to offer a course on making authentic Japanese sweets. A quick look on her website and the Tokyo community’s various online message boards shows her to be one of the most popular cookery classes for international visitors.
Average price: 7500 JPY*
Address: 2-13-5, Shintomi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Another cookery school in the area of the Tsukiji fish market is Tsukiji Cooking. This school offers various classes for both tourists looking for something different as well as those wanting to take their experience back to their Japanese home. Although there are also lessons for cooking okonomiyaki and gyoza dumplings, the courses focus predominantly on washoku; particularly sushi, which comes as no surprise when you consider the freshness of the fish coming directly from the nearby market. Speaking of the market, should your group wish to do so, Tsukiji Cooking can take you on a tour prior to your lesson. Vegetarian classes are available; as are lessons on preparing low sugar meals and home visit classes.
Average price: Up to 10,800 JPY, including market tour.
Address: 6-27-3-3F Tsukiji, Chūō-ku, Tokyo
Delicious Tokyo is another popular cookery school set in a private home. Instructor Hiroko Kobayashi has descended from an illustrious Edo period family and has inherited a strong interest in Japanese culture including tea ceremony and, most importantly, Japanese cooking. She has taught cooking and Japanese manners to over 1,000 people a year, including in Thailand where she worked with celebrity chef Phol Tantasathien to develop Thailand’s first Japanese home-cooking book. Her classes focus on simple, but delicious home cooking, including tempura, donburi (rice bowls) and tonkatsu (breaded, deep fried pork cutlet), as well as perfect presentation. Kobayashi accepts groups of up to six, and even does one-on-one classes.
Average price: 5,000 JPY*, 10,000 JPY* for solo class
Address: Central Tokyo
* Prices do not include 8% VAT
Please note that the above is for information purposes only, and is not to be considered as endorsement.
Photo: flickr.com "untitled" by minato (CC BY-SA 2.0) -Modified