(The following post comes courtesy our good friends Tokyo Cheapo, who always seem to forget their wallets when we meet them for drinks)
While there’s a definite appreciation for wabisabi buildings and objects, misshapen or imperfect foodstuffs rarely make it on to the shelves. Luckily for cheapos, there are some common byproducts that you can get your hungry hands onto – for cheap and sometimes free.
Tenkasu (or Agedama)
Tenkasu, as the “Ten” suggests, is the leftover bits from Tempura. This is also one of the easiest to get your hands on. Regular supermarkets like Maruetsu sell this stuff in sealed plastic packages, but if you want to get the tastier (and cheaper) version, you need to ask in the section of the supermarket where the tempura is. They often just throw this stuff away, so you can usually get a huge oily bag for next to nothing. If you sweet talk the staff or you live in the semi-rural inaka, you might even get it for free.
Tenkasu is commonly used as a crunchy topping on noodle dishes as shown below. It’s also an ingredient of takoyaki – although you’d need to make a small mountain of octopus balls to use it all up.
Okara (aka Unohana)
Okara (more than often re-branded as ‘Unohana’) is the protein rich leftovers from the Tofu making process. Like Tenkasu/Agedama you can get the vacuum packed commercial version at your local supermarket. It’s not that expensive, but if you’re lucky enough to have a Tofuya near where you live, then you can enquire directly to the Tofu maker and get a hefty bag of the stuff as you can see below. If you buy some Tofu together with it or you’re a regular customer, the tofuyasan might throw it in for free.
Unlike Tenkasu, this stuff is actually pretty healthy. You can use also use it in a variety of dishes – from cakes, to cookies to fritters to cold salads.
Pan no Mimi
Japanese like their bread to be fuwafuwa – light and soft. That’s why your average loaf of bread comes minus the crust on either end. The prosaic name for these offcuts is ‘Pan no Mimi’ – literally ‘Ears of Bread’.
Unlike the previous two, pan no mimi can sometimes be a real challenge to find. The bag above cost 40yen from a local bakery but it sells out straight away and is only available at a certain time of day – usually late afternoon. You’re not buying old stale bread though, it’s fresh and perfectly edible.
Don’t bother asking at your local supermarket or at a big chain bakery – you’re more likely to have success at small, suburban bakeries. Like the others, you can sometimes pick it up for free, although it’s more common to pay 20 to 100 yen for a bag.
If you’d like to try asking at your local bakery, you should ask “Pan no mimi arimasuka?”. Don’t be surprised to get a funny look though – most ‘classy’ places probably don’t have many people asking.