By MARINA KONDO
As the cherry blossoms begin to bloom, a new school semester begins. At the Komaba Campus of the University of Tokyo, students crowd the campus, classrooms, Communication Plaza, and most of all, the school cafeteria. As the clock hits 12, the “shokudo,” as the school cafeteria is more commonly known as, begins to overflow with students forming queues to buy dishes from a variety of stations: noodles, bowls/curry, cafeteria, cold case, hot case, and the salad bar. For both newcomer and returnee students, choosing the right meal to eat for lunch or dinner can be one of the most important and overwhelming decisions of the day.
To provide some help (and also as a part of my personal interest), I’ve interviewed the Coop, the company that runs the first floor cafeteria, about their most popular* dishes, and decided to taste each dish myself.
*Based on sales
Here are the results:
1. Chicken Oroshi-Dare (Read da-ray)
Price: 300 yen
Where to find it: Cafeteria station
Comments: As simple as this dish may be, containing just French fries and boneless chicken with oroshi-dare, a soy sauce and grated Japanese radish based sauce, it kept me wanting more even after I was finished. At first, I was taken aback by the skin sitting on top of chicken, as I’m usually not a fan of chicken with skin, but the texture of both the skin and the chicken was a delightful surprise. The oroshi-dare sauce worked very well with the chicken, with only a hint of the Japanese radish flavor. The odd combination of French fries and oroshi-dare also worked surprisingly well – although it did leave my fries a bit soggy. The dish probably works best with a side of white rice and a cup of warm miso-soup.
Recommendation: I can definitely see why this would be a favorite! ★★★★☆
2. Uma-kara Tofu
Price: 130 yen
Comments: At first, I was quite hesitant to try this dish since I have never liked tofu or bean sprouts, but this dish absolutely blew me away. The sauce made from spicy red chili peppers is the true winner that brilliantly flavors the tofu, bean sprouts, and shredded steamed chicken breast. But don’t be fooled by the intense color – the sauce isn’t as spicy as it looks. The spiciness is complimented by a tang of sweetness and the mellowness of the tofu. Every element of this dish works so well with each other, but I really have no doubt that this sauce could make just about anything taste a million times better!
Where to find it: Cold case section
3. Kara-miso Ramen
Price: 360 yen
Comments: Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to try this dish myself because it was sold out when I went, but it’s definitely on my must-try list. According to the Coop, the kara-miso ramen may look extra spicy but the broth isn’t as bad as it looks! Even if you aren’t too fond of spicy dishes, it may be worth a try!
Where to find it: Noodles station
4. Curry Rice
Price: Ranges from 190 yen ~ 300 yen depending on the size
Comments: In Japan, the taste and ingredients of curry rice, a popular comfort food for many, usually varies depending on the household and restaurant. The curry rice at the cafeteria lacks uniqueness, but has the best cost-performance. The curry includes a few vegetables, probably carrots and potatoes, and comes with a side of rice. The flavor of the curry is quite standard, but you oddly never get tired of it. For an extra 160 yen to 170 yen, you can add a tonkatsu or pork cutlet.
Where to find it: Bowl/Curry station
Recommendation: A great go-to dish that keeps both your wallet and stomach happy! ★★★☆☆
5. Buta-miso Yakiniku-don
Price: Ranges from 320 yen ~ 460 yen depending on size
Comments: Another delightful surprise! This bowl, consisting of rice, onions, pork, and scallions really does an amazing job of filling you up. The miso flavor is not in any way overpowering as I had imagined it would be (which is definitely a good thing!), but you may become a bit bored of the flavor towards the end. (If that happens, I personally recommend pouring the leftover sauce from the uma-kara tofu to add a spicy twist.) The pork and onions seemed a tad bit oily, but the dish will definitely keep you satisfied until dinnertime.
Where to find it: Bowls station
Originally posted on April 22, 2016. All photos by the author.