The quest for American food

Be still, my beating heart

I know there’s the saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and I think that beautifully applies when you’re traveling.

Living abroad, however, means I can throw that saying out the window, I think. It’s one thing to travel to France for a week, for example, only to seek out the nearest fast-food restaurant before heading home; it’s another to have lived in France for over a decade and need a hit of fast-food grease every now and then.

I’m that way living near Tokyo for over 14 years now, anyway. I find myself constantly looking at grocery store shelves for any hint of American food because every now and then, I need it.

Food is the heart of a culture, I think I read somewhere, and for me that means crazy cereal, candy from America and “real” frosting on cake – like buttercream.

A few years ago, I remember a local grocery store actually, to my complete shock, stocked Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. They even offered samples in the hopes of getting more Japanese to buy it. It was a short-lived campaign – I guess not enough people hear enjoyed the fantastic combination of chocolate and peanut butter to keep it on the shelves. I was heartbroken to see it go, though, and now every time I stumble across an “international grocery store,” it’s one of the first things I look for.

I was at a shopping center the other day, and I found amid rows of plates and accessories for sale at a random store promising everything was 300 yen, rows upon rows of Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese.

I’ve had dreams about this sort of thing, where I’m able to pop into a grocery store in America long enough to buy food I dearly miss, then immediately come back to Japan. I wasted no time filling my basket with about six boxes.

Having been burned before by food from America that was on and off the shelves within months, I quickly asked the cashier if they were planning on stocking the macaroni and cheese for a while.

“Yes, we plan on reordering it should our stocks become low so it should be here a while,” she replied, bemused by the intense look in my eyes.

With my luck, the store will suddenly go out of business and I’ll never see my beloved macroni and cheese again, but for now, I have a new favorite store.