Umami Mart Registry

Greetings! My name is furochan, and I'm super stoked to be writing for Umami Mart. Welcome to my larder! 

For the last eight months or so, my home has been a dormitory located in an improbably posh part of Tokyo. Rent is surprisingly cheap for this city (part of being a university student) and not only do I have a room to myself (flatmates, fine; roommates, no way in hell) but I also have... wait for it... a mini-fridge in my room. 

No, seriously! What I considered a luxury for a dorm room -- true of, say, most English or American universities -- is apparently de rigueur in Japan for standard university accommodation, as the following exchange demonstrates:

Me: In England and America, it's not normal for dorms to provide fridges in your own room, you know...
Japanese friend: Are you serious?! Where do people put their stuff?
Me: In a communal fridge! Like at my friend's dorm in London, about 20 people shared a fridge. You can keep stuff in your room, of course. But no fridge there.
JF: Gee, Japan's really nice about this then... do people steal from the fridges often?
Me: Oh yeah. Even if you write your name on your container.
JF: Christ. That's just the worst. Unbelievable... 

It's ever so revealing about expectations that people have of other people's behaviour: Thou Shalt Not Steal Thy Dormmates' Food, Or Thou Shalt Risk A Passive-Aggressive Public Shaming On The Dorm Facebook Group And Warnings From The Management. Food filching is infrequent at best. That, and fridges in your  own room are the bare minimum expected of one's accommodation.

But anyway, let’s get on to the contents.

It's mostly full of vegetables and condiments -- I have a terrible habit of collecting fancy sauces and shit while travelling and then not managing to finish them before they go off. I'm trying to be good about that, since I have to bugger off back to London in about three months time. No more buying shoyu! Or gochujang! ...Okay, maybe just a wee bottle. 

Here are the remnants of 2kg of kimchi that I carted back from a slightly posh department store in Seoul.

My friend's mother forbade me from adding bottles of makgeolli to the suitcase, claiming the fermented cabbage and alcohol would explode on-board and I'd go down in history as the Kimchi Terrorist. I dunno about you, but a kimchi-makgeolli explosion sounds like a great place to be.

Vietnamese caramel sauce. Time to make kho?

Also some yuzu kosho from Hakone and gochujang, from the same fancy department store as the kimchi. My friend told me (with italics in her voice), that it was government-backed, and made with Korean, not Chinese peppers. Also, the air pollution in Seoul was most definitely Beijing's fault. Did I detect a hint of national pride there? 

Foot not included with refrigerator.

Condiment staples.

To the right: very fine soy sauce and a sprightly ponzu from Sawai Shoyu in Kyoto -- highly recommended if you're visiting. Also try their soy sauce candy!

To the left: 60dam fish sauce from Hanoi, which is like gold -- dam means percentage of fish sauce; the higher the number, the higher the contents of fish. I had to smuggle one of these bottles I bought after the airport authorities decided to confiscate the other from my check-in luggage. Pretty sure there is no international law that says you can't have liquids in your check-in baggage and they were just being mean. *Cries* Lesson: say nothing about the contents of your suitcase. Especially not about fish sauce.

A gochujang-based tare and dipping sauce for chijimi, made by the owner of a small Korean eatery in Kansai.

Parmesan cheese from Sainsbury's that... uh... expired a while ago.

Homemade dulce de leche from February in a peanut butter jar.

Hasn’t gone bad... yet.

This picture tells a lie:

There is no more ice cream in there, alas. Green tea flavour was great; mint tasted more like toothpaste than anything else. Other things: three slices of tofu bread, one of the oddest and least-recommended breads I have ever tried (not foul-tasting, but I think tofu shouldn't meet yeast. UPDATE: it starts to taste sour if you leave it in the freezer for too long. Even when you toast it. So I threw it out.), vegetable peelings (for curry stock), prawn shells, sad herbs, chicken skin, birds eye chillies. There's usually tupperwares of frozen curry for when I can't be arsed to cook, but there was a time a few weeks ago when I couldn't be arsed to cook and ate it all. :(

El cheapo fish and... a frozen towel for muscle injuries.

Always know where your towels are!

What, you thought that was all? Here are my kitchen lockers -- a bit of a misnomer because there aren't actually any locks.

Always have avocados on hand!

Indo Mie, my favourite instant noodles! Thai Mama comes in a close second.

Calabrian olive oil from Borough Market and Maldon sea salt!

This was a part of a care package from a friend London; I should be so lucky to find olive oil of that calibre for a fiver here.

Also from that locker: the contents of a care package from a good friend who lives in the Midwest.

From right to left: wild rice, chokecherry syrup (lovely and tart), apple butter, maple syrup, wild berry honey, some really goddamn good salted milk chocolate coated peanuts, plus look at its name it’s called Babe’s Blue Ox Poop!!!, fake snow. FAKE SNOW. Bring it on, summer! 

For the grand finale, welcome to the condiment jungle under the kitchen sink.

By the way, that black stuff on the floor is mould. We are a truly disgusting kitchen. That, and everything you hear about things being prone to mould in Japan is true. Kabi on all the kabe (mould on the walls)!

As you may have guessed I am not the most organised person.

What do we have in here...

Small bottles o’ spice, teaspoons of each filched from my mother’s large collection back in Malaysia. There’s more in the box.

Stash of Chinese goodies:

From tupperware: Sichuan peppercorns (present from Sichuanese friend), dried chillies (ditto), bak kut teh spice packets (a Malaysian/Singaporean Chinese dish - add pork, garlic, water), dong choy (preserved winter vegetables), ground Sichuan pepper and homemade chilli oil! The latter is super easy to make. 

For making dashi!

Cheap cooking caramel, a staple in my mother’s kitchen, quite useful in mine:

On the right is an extremely tasty, rather fancy salt from Wajima. My friend asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I told her I wanted salt and here we are. No regrets!

Bits and bobs, tuna, pasta, an open packet of doubanjiang. Er. And a box of surgical gloves.They double up as dishwashing and darkroom gloves, so it’s all good...

 Never, never, never, never, never run out of garlic.

Also, isn’t that mould just so rank?

The usual suspects: mirin, sake, Shao Xing wine, supermarket soy sauce, sugar, etc.

 Saved the worst for last.

This seems to be the box I chuck stuff into when I don’t have the time to organise anything. Not that I do, anyway...

Hey mum, remember when I saved the mikan skins back in November for drying?

They seem to have escaped their box. Oops.

I’m sorry you had to witness this chilli-oil stained packet of corn flour...

From my friend’s box: shichimi (which is actually mine but we share all our condiments) and some gorgeous shrimp paste from Vietnam (which is hers).

If you visit Vietnam, this is one brand to look out for. It tastes freaking amazing.

Life is not complete without Kewpie!

Some final thoughts: how, how am I going to finish all these condiments by August? What was I thinking? Bring your meats and vegetables and I will cook you a storm.

See you next month!

*When not thinking about what to eat next, Furochan is thinking about what she last ate. A Malaysian student uprooted to Tokyo via London, she blogs at the adventures of furochan
Column: Fridgin Out


  • Welcome Furochan! The size of your fridge makes me nostalgic for mine in my old apartment in Shimokitazawa. I am impressed by the eclectic mix of all your condiments and ingredients. It’s hard to keep that much stuff and actually cook with it in Tokyo apartments.

    yoko on

  • Many (if not most?) universities in the US have mini-fridges in the rooms… Not sure where you’re getting your intel from. Most of them have mini-microwaves as well.

    Jason on

  • Hello Yoko, thank you very much! So coincidental that you used to live there – I actually live a few stops down from Shimokita :) (2 if you take the express, so I guess you know which station it is now!)

    furochan on

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