Monday, July 11, 2011

Jeepney Press July-August page 21

by Rey Ian Corpuz

Japanese School Lunch

A lot of my friends from my hometown envy me for eating such delicious variety of Japanese food everyday. Almost everyday, once a new menu debuts in my school, I immediately grab a picture of it and upload it right away in my Facebook profile. Here’s a brief introduction about Japanese school lunch.

A typical Japanese school lunch would comprise a main dish or shushoku
(主食) in a form of rice, bread, ramen, udon, or pasta. The rice that is used in the school lunch is most likely the produce of the city, town or prefecture. Rice is sometimes mixed with vinegar or sumeshi (酢飯), and chopped seaweeds or wakame (若布). Occasionally, rice is accompanied with a pack of furikake (振り掛け) which is used to dash on top of a plain rice to add color and flavor. Sometimes, rice is served with a pack of dried nori paper (the one used to wrap temaki). And on special occasions like the Tanabata Festival, rice is mixed with violet-colored sour-tasting flavored stuff, in which the rice is called yukari rice (ゆかりご飯). During autumn, rice is mixed with chestnuts (kuri / 栗). If bread is served, a pack of honey and butter combo is served. Sometimes, margarine or cheese is served with bread. And in a few instances, bread is served plain. Ramen and udon are both served with a soup stock. Spaghetti and yakisoba is served once in a while but I don’t really like them much.

Okazu (おかず), the accompanying main dish, or “ulam” in Filipino, could vary every week. Menu would differ from hamburger, fried cuttlefish, karaage, yakitori, grilled salmon, mackerel, saury, and many more. Beef is rarely served except for hamburgers. Shumai is sometimes served along with soy sauce. Veggies are always on the list. Carrots (人参), cabbages, moyashi (萌やし) or bean sprouts, broccoli, beans, tofu, daikon (大根) or radish and kabocha or pumpkin (南瓜) during autumn. Veggies always appear in the form of soup, and/or salad. When salad is served, mayonnaise or vinegar with sesame is served. I think autumn has the best food menu since most fruits and vegetables are harvested after summer and before winter.

Desserts are always served fresh or chilled. Banana is never served as it’s a common fruit here. Fruits depend on the season, during autumn and winter, apples and strawberries are served. Chilled pineapples (imported from Philippines), peaches, tomatoes, kiwi, and mandarin oranges are served all-year-round. Preserved sweetened fried sweet potatoes and anchovies with apples are sometimes served in replacement of desserts. Frozen crepes, sugar coated deep fried sweet potatoes and ice cream are served alternately every month. Ice cream though was only served during the last day of spring, which is in time for summer.

Prefecture-produced milk is always served and occasional milk, coffee or milk yogurt is served. Traditional Japanese food is served almost thrice a week. Last autumn, oden was served as the okazu. One thing I hate about the oden is the kombu (昆布) or the thick seaweed green thing that they include in the oden. Gobou (牛蒡) or burdock, hijiki, a kind of black seaweed, natto (納豆) or fermented soybeans, onigiri or riceballs (sometimes with umeboshi or sour plum inside), sengiri daikon (dried radish strips / 千切り大根), misoshiru and tonjiru soups (miso and pork soups), appear in the menu from time to time. All of these traditional Japanese foods are very healthy and contain rich amounts of fiber. But sad to say, most kids do not eat much of these foods.

Indian inspired food is also served in school lunch. Curry, is served once or twice a month. Chilled Nan, an Indian-type of grilled bread similar to pita wraps is served. Minestrone wanton soup, a mix of European and Chinese and the traditional gyoza, chopsuey (happousai / 八宝菜) and many more.

How much does it cost? Normally it depends per city, town or village. A meager share of approximately 5,000 yen per month is charged regardless on the number of days you had lunch at school is being collected from teachers and students every month. It’s really affordable. Also, you can have refill as many as you want as long as there is still left. Excess food can be brought home by teachers but not by students. I always stack milk at home. So, what do you think about Japanese school lunch?

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