Sunday, April 18, 2010
Hiru-gohan, noon rice, lunch
A lot of people have been asking us, what do you eat there? Well, at home we can cook whatever we like. The things that are hard to find are good cheese, health food/vegetarian specialties, ethnic foods, etc. Even those are possible to attain if you are willing to spend the money and/or take the time to buy it online. Slowly we are finding everything we need, even for baking. This week I found brown sugar and vegetable (I hope!) shortening--a coup! As for school lunch, that's another story.
Like most everything in Japan, school lunch is very organized and efficient. As soon as the bell rings the kids don aprons, head scarves and face masks and file down to the lunch ladies' windows where the chopsticks, plates, bowls and buckets of food are waiting. My school only has 300 kids so the lunch ladies are actually chopping carrots, cooking huge vats of rice, etc. in the morning. The school nutritionist plans all the lunches. The kids bring the food up to their homeroom class, dish it out and serve it to each other.
Perhaps the most amazing part about school lunch is that every single kid and teacher eats it. Can you imagine 335 Americans ever eating the same thing every single day? Apparently no kids have food allergies or aversions. No one starts eating until they all say "itadaki-masu" together and no one gets up until they all say "gochisou-sama". Lunch consists of whole milk in glass bottles, rice (or noodles or bread sometimes), soup, salad or vegetables and some kind of fish, meat or miscellaneous. It's pretty funny to watch the kids try to eat lasagna or apple pie with their chopsticks. Every kid either eats everything or trades with friends. They weigh any leftover food and keep a log of the results.
The whole process is quite remarkable... and banal. Let's just say that chocolate milk day is a pretty big deal. I mean, the kids get dessert maybe once a week and that could mean strawberries or half an orange.
As vegetarians, we bring our own lunch--bento box style. We are the only ones in school to do so. They wanted a foreigner in their school so they got one with weird western habits and individualistic tendencies! The kids are always curious about what we bring. They're especially impressed when we have Japanese food--sushi, yakisoba, onigiri, inarizushi, etc--that we've made ourselves.
Here's a picture of the cute bento box and chopsticks case that some of my friends here gave me for my birthday along with the awesome handmade lunch bag my friend Katie sent me.