By Tran Ngoc Lam Vy
Going away for college and living alone means that whether you like it or not, you will find yourself eating out a lot. At first this idea might seem exciting because, afterall, this is Japan, a culinary heaven. However when the initial buzz wears off, you will realize: there is no such thing as cheap, delicious and healthy as homecooked food. But how can you cook with a busy class schedule and social agenda? Here is how.
1. Bulk cook
You do not have to cook everything in advance, but it might be a good idea to make things which take time when you can . More specifically, dishes that require simmering and a lot of prepping should be made on the weekend. Some salads like potato salad or pumpkin salad, which keep for quite some time, can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for more than a week.
2. Freeze your food
A common problem with self-cooking is that you might cook too much and over-eat to avoid throwing away food. Moreover, cooking in small portions every time can be a challenge to measure ingredients. So instead of cooking less, you can actually cook more, enough for 2 or 3 meals, ration out the food in cling wrap or ziplock bags and freeze for later use. Especially with rice, you can save time by cooking a lot, cling wrap and microwave each time you have a meal.
3. Dorm kitchen
A common problem with dorm kitchens is that they are small. If this is the case, then think of cooking in a small kitchen as “mastering efficiency.” No matter what you cook, efficiency is first. Be ready to be quick and to move your things around to make room for others. Once you have got used to sharing a close space with fellow dorm mates, it could actually become a fun hangout spot.
4. Grocery shopping
The bigger supermarkets are not too far from the lodge, but it does take 20 minutes by foot, or 130 yen one-way by train. Some people might get discouraged by the walking or the train fare, but if you think about it, cooking by yourself and going to buy groceries by train is much cheaper than saving the train fare and eating out locally. Walking saves you even more money, but carrying heavy grocery bags back to the lodge by foot is quite tiring.
Popular supermarkets among PEAK students include Foodium, Ozeki and My Basket, all can be found in Shimokitazawa with another My Basket located right in Komaba. It is a good idea to shop around before you buy things because each place has special offers for different items but if you are running short on time, My Basket generally offers the cheapest price, although with limited variety compared to Foodium and Oozeki.
By and large, the most important thing to keep in mind about cooking at the lodge is, in actuality, learning to say no sometimes to other people who invite you to join them for a meal out. Don’t be tempted by the easy way out and avoid cooking, because eventually, eating out will wear you down.
Tran Ngoc Lam Vy is a first-year PEAK student at the University of Tokyo.