Probably the biggest challenge I faced as a young apprentice in a traditional Japanese restaurant was cooking two meals a day — lunch and dinner — for the 60-year-old chef and his wife. The challenge was twofold: I had to make something that would please the finicky palate of a man who had eaten hardcore good food everyday since he left junior high to become a cook and do the whole thing on a budget that would make a housewife cringe.

One way to get around the budget and feed the restaurant staff was to make good use of leftovers and food that didn't make it to the customers' plate. Fish can generally be used sashimi for only one day before it loses quality. Depending on the kind of fish, it must then be salted and grilled, or put to use in some other way, often being passed along to the younger cooks to use. However, these scraps and secondhand foodstuffs don't always fill the pot, and invariably, food must be bought just for the purpose of keeping the hungry staff's bellies full.

Thank goodness for the Kuromon market. The young cooks mobbing the Kuromon arcade in downtown Osaka every morning are often looking for something cheap to use for the makanai, the "family meal" for the restaurant staff. The shopkeepers, therefore, stock the shelves — alongside the premium fish and produce procured for restaurant customers — with cheap fish and basic produce to fill the void. One day's makanai menu might include inexpensive chicken thighs marinated, fried and served as kara-age or tatsuta-age. If eggs are on sale, that day's makanai might feature an egg dish such as dashi-maki tamago or something similar. If nothing else is priced to fill the basket, a cook is sure to find cheap, salted mackerel.