Monday, July 18, 2016

Climbing the supermarket chain ladder in Osaka

My first evening in Osaka. Straight from the airport. I found my AirBnB, dropped my bags, and dashed out to grab a snack and some milk for my morning coffee. Just around the corner, I found everything I could wish to eat or drink at the 'Family Mart'. 

Family mart juxtaposed with a traditional shrine dragging activity
There is a convenience store on pretty much every block it seems. Either Family Mart, 7-11, or Watson's. They are all super brightly lit with white fluorescent bulbs and have a steady stream of customers. Many use some machines in the corner to pay their bills or some such banking activity, but most are buying food. I picked up an eight dollar bottle of Bordeaux from the 'Family Mart Collection'. A staggeringly unappealing labeling ploy from the point of view of the western oenophile market, but it wasn't bad. I spent 3 days shopping only at Family Mart. Rice snacks, frozen edamame beans, ready made dinners, a few cans of different brands of Japanese ビール (Beer) and, of course, my bottle of Family Mart Collection Bordeaux.

The "Family Mart Collection"
The weekend arrived. More time to explore the neighbourhood. And I did have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps, despite full satisfaction on my first evening in Japan, Family Mart might not cater to every possible culinary desire. I did not have to go very far. A few hundred meters away, in the direction away from the train station, and deeper into what appears to be a sort of lower middle class neighbourhood, I found スーパー玉出 (SuperJade Exit).

Tamade mural with bright yellow and red colour scheme
Checking out of Super Jade Exit
玉出 ワイン おいしい Tamade Delicious Wine
It would be pretty hard not to find this place actually. Everything is bright canary yellow and red with lots of blinking lights - a sort of pachinko parlour aesthetic prevails. It turns out food is cheap in Japan! I filled my Basket with premade tamade goodies and, although my wine label radar warning bells were screaming at me not to do it (justifiably it turns out), a four dollar bottle of wine labelled entirely in Japanese (ワイン おいしい = wine delicious). Life at 玉出 was perfect. But after a week I noticed that the map my airBnB host had kindly provided of the neighbourhood indicated the place I was shopping as "cheap supermarket", while in the other direction, up the income gradient on the other side of the railroad tracks, was something labelled as "nice supermarket". Could life be better somewhere else? That place was ライフ(ra yi fu - can you guess what English word this is transcribed from?).

Checking in to Life
Lessons on how to attractively display fruit
Gentle mist falling on lettuces (nearly a Haiku?)
Air conditioned to arctic conditions. Lettuces with cold mist falling down over them. Wine with original labels and even suggested food pairings. I watched a team of workers being instructed on how to lay out the fruit properly and all bowing to the instructor and saying 'hai, hai'. Two pears, a bit overly plastic wrapped for my taste, though I don't know how they tasted because I could not stomach the price - for 10 dollars?

Two pears for ten dollars
Wine with original labels and suggested food pairings!
Well, that is as far up the supermarket chain ladder as I have managed to climb in my first two weeks. I have no doubt there are higher rungs. The Japanese equivalent purveyors of fine gourmet food such as Le Bon Marche in Paris or Dean and DeLuca in Manhattan with their little 100g tubs of prepared salad, organic home made granola and artisanal breads.  I look forward to finding it.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like us when we moved to Osaka :)

    It's worth knowing that even thought Family Mart or 7-eleven don't have the same selection as supermarkets, the quality of food is pretty good! Their ready meals are fantastic, even sushi! Something that you wouldn't expect from a corner shop in England.

    PS. Although the Japanese are pretty snobby about Tamade, I often shop there (in addition to more upmarket places like Foodium and Kohyo) and I don’t think it's bad. But as you noticed, they don't pay attention to aesthetics in Tamade the same way as more expensive supermarkets (which might contribute to the fact that food costs a fraction of what it does in some other places).