There’s a different type of joy to be had from peeling away plastic wrappers from ready-to-eat foods and savoring the blend of tastes that have been melding for who know how long. The covering falls away, and what is left is a meal that requires nothing of the eater but the act of eating itself–no cooking, little to no cleaning beforehand, no dishes to wash. The luxury is a refreshing change from daily routines as long as you don’t look too closely at the nutrition labels.
A couple weeks ago, the ever-delicious Koufuku Grafitti sent me on a trip to the local Asian grocery store in search of my preferred to-go meals. It’s not often that I step away from slow cooker dinners and sit down restaurants, but there are times when nothing else beats the convenience and unique taste of prepared foods. And while my favorites don’t evoke specific memories like Ryou’s, I look fondly upon them as treats I never indulged in until I moved to Seattle back in 2013.
Unlike the plethora of convenience stores that can be found in most major cities of Japan, there are only a select few where I live that I go to for my instant gratification. If I’m in the area, I try to always swing by Uwajimaya in the International District of Seattle. They’re connected to not only Kinokuniya, a fantastic Japanese book store, but also to several small restaurants offering a variety of cultural cuisines. I more often end up at the Bellevue Uwajimaya, which is smaller and doesn’t include the extra businesses as distractions from grocery shopping. Below is my “usual,” including a bento box, an additional side, and a couple of snacks/desserts.
As much as love bento boxes, my only reservation with Uwajimaya Bellevue is its lack of options; they only have the one type of bento pictured above. Perhaps this is different depending on which branch you go to, but I haven’t seen any deviations at the Bellevue location. I eat and enjoy everything that’s included, but I do wish the main meats would occasionally be switched up every month, or even every season. However, all the items appropriately retain good flavor when eaten cold. If you have problems eating cold or even room temperature food, you can separate out the items and heat up whatever you prefer warm. My favorite inclusions are the grilled salmon, potato croquettes, pickled veggies, and fried tofu. I never find the tiny bit of seawood salad in the bento enough, so usually opt to buy an additional standalone side.
I tried out baumkuchen after seeing anime characters happily gobbling it down, like Shiina of Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo and Genko of Kobato. The one pictured here is way bigger than most others that I have seen in the store, and has an understated sweetness in its very dense and moist layers. While baumkuchen is one of my favorite packaged pastries, I would really like to try out the many other variations of it sometime, like ones dipped in chocolate, or flavored with green tea and cream.
Lastly, we have a local bakery called Kiki Bakery that has branches in Redmond, WA and California and supplies nearby grocery stores with their pastries. One of their products is a must buy each time I see it, their red bean paste cookies. The shiny, brushed surfaces on the flaky crust pairs beautifully with the semi-sweet red bean paste. Because of the packaging, these are very easy to re-tie and stuff into a bag if you can’t finish them all at once. I usually have no problem, given their subtle flavors that are all too easy to keep eating, but always appreciate still having some the next day.
What are your favorite convenience meals? Do you stop by grocery and convenience stores, or opt for fast food restaurant drive-thrus?