Food & Drink | JAPANESE KITCHEN

A brief guide to dining after a disaster

by Makiko Itoh

The earthquakes that hit Kumamoto last month likely have many people in Japan thinking about disaster preparedness. The country is in one of the most seismically active regions of the world, and no stranger to other disasters either.

Stockpiling emergency supplies can seem like a daunting task, especially if you live in a small apartment or house. It’s easy to think you can rely on the authorities when disaster strikes. However, many survivors of natural disasters have said help is not always readily available, and the long lines and confusion at supply centers and stores immediately following a crisis can be stressful.

Thankfully, it’s not necessary to fill up a storage room full of supplies, just enough to carry you and your family through the critical period; the Tokyo Metropolitan government recommends a minimum of three-day’s worth of supplies. Even if you don’t have a closet to spare, try to at least keep some bottled water nearby. Also keep nourishing food that can be eaten with minimal preparation, such as the meal-replacement foods described here. You won’t be in any position — physically or mentally — to do any cooking after a disaster.

The good news is that many of the items you’ll need are available at convenience stores and supermarkets.

It is a good idea to have one emergency backpack per household member, packed and ready with the bare essentials. The food in each pack should be compact and easy to eat; meal replacement products are great, such as the CalorieMate line of nutritionally fortified snacks from Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Chocolate bars and other snacks are sources of ready energy, and it’s good to have a couple of your kids’ favorites on hand in order to keep their spirits up. Vegetable juices are also a source of vitamins and are easy to store.

Water, electricity and gas may not return for days or even weeks after a major earthquake, which is why water is the single most important thing to stockpile. Eventually, you’ll start craving something more nourishing than chocolate bars and water. Almost every Japanese household has a kasetto konro (tabletop cooker) that’s fueled with cans of butane gas, normally used for cooking nabe (hot pot). A kasetto konro only costs a few thousand yen, and the butane-gas cans are available at convenience stores. In emergencies, they can be used to heat up water or do some quick cooking.

There are many types of food that will keep for a long time and require minimal preparation. Retort pouches of things such as curry, stew and rice porridge can be heated using a little water or even eaten as-is. Microwaveable rice packs can be heated in water or combined with liquid to be heated through. And, of course, there are many flavors of cup noodles that can make for a quick, hot meal.

When thinking of disaster rations, many people will turn to canned goods. There are many ready-to-eat options that are so tasty there are even “can bars” around the country that serve only these items. Try experimenting as you build up your stockpile to see what you like most. (My personal favorites are canned yakitori, and mackerel in miso sauce.)

Last but not least, a small supply of your favorite herbs, spices and condiments can make all the difference when it comes to flavor.

Even nonperishable items can go off eventually, so keep an eye on the shōmi kigen (best-by date) or the shōhi kigen (consume-by date) indicated. To keep your stockpile under control, use up items in your daily meals that are set to expire and then replace them. Keep in mind that even bottled water can go off, but expired water can be used for washing, flushing toilets and cleaning.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has an excellent manual in Japanese and English called “Disaster Preparedness Tokyo” (“Tokyo Bosai”), which covers a lot more than stockpiling. A PDF of the English version can be downloaded from www.metro.tokyo.jp/ENGLISH/GUIDE/BOSAI; you can also get a free Kindle version from Amazon Japan.

The recipes included this week are for a stew that uses little or no water, and a salad or slaw with vegetables that will keep for a while without refrigeration. The latter is inspired by a popular sandwich filling at Wakafuji Bakery in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.


Tomato stew with macaroni and soybeans

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 can (400 grams) of whole tomatoes
  • 1 container (200 ml) of vegetable juice
  • 1 can (120 grams) of cooked soybeans or other canned beans
  • 1 cup (200 ml) of elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons of onion flakes, dehydrated or fried
  • salt and pepper
  • dried herbs (optional)

Directions
Put the tomatoes in a pan and crush with a spatula. Add the vegetable juice and macaroni and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent the pasta from sticking. When the pasta is cooked, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for two to three minutes Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add some water to turn this into a soup.

Cabbage and potatochip slaw with tuna

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 1 can (70 grams) of tuna packed in oil
  • 1 tablespoon of rice or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 small carrot
  • ½ small cabbage
  • 1 bag (60 grams) of potato chips, salt or nori flavor

Directions

Combine the tuna and oil with the vinegar. Shred the carrot and cabbage. Mix well with the tuna-vinegar and crushed potato chips.