The Last School Lunch Before Summer

This is it.  The last week of school lunches before students go to summer break and I go back to eating convenience store bentos (lunch boxes) for the next month.  I’m going to miss the variety and relative healthiness (and standardized portions) of school food.  Since students aren’t in school, I’ll be working at my local Board of Education.  Most other teachers will alternate summer vacation days with work at school.  When they’re in town they’ll likely alternate between bentos, going out to lunch at local restaurants, and cooking in the small teachers’ room kitchens, but before long, everyone will be looking forward to those orange trays of food again.

Don’t worry though, I’ve got plans for this Friday post slot until the students get back.  For now, though, here’s a look at this week’s school lunches from Kume Island in Okinawa.  Of course, Monday was Marine Day, so there are only four this week.

Tuesday July 17

Milk, basil spaghetti, tomato omelet, eggplant and burdock salad, grape fruit

It has been awhile since we’ve had a straight one bowl on the Japan scale.  This meal was tasty, but pretty different from anything I’ve ever eaten before, at least when taken as a whole.  The spaghetti was tossed with a few vegetables, oil or butter, and basil, and came together quite nicely.  There wasn’t much meat in it aside from a little bacon so the omelet was added for protein.

The salad was another surprise.  Usually in this spot there’s a soup of some kind in Japanese meals.  This time was an interesting mix of vegetables I wasn’t quite sure about, but it turned out to be very tasty.  In case you didn’t know already, I’m a huge fan of burdock (gobo) root, and it worked very well here.  The grapefruit was a strange addition, and I’m not much of a fan, but at least this time I remembered to eat it before I finished off the pasta.  Milk and grapefruits are NOT a delicious combination.

Wednesday July 18

Milk, brown sugar bread, hamburger, vegetable irichi, asa minestrone

OK, so you’re probably wondering how this gets two bowls of rice when there is no rice present.  I agree, this meal is definitely not Japanese… except parts of it are.  In Japan, hamburgers are far more likely to be served as they are here, separate and almost as a steak would be back in the States.  Why?  Since meat has a shorter history here, and is more expensive since grazing land is at a premium, many people couldn’t afford steaks, so hamburgers got substituted.  Add to that the lack of a sandwich culture (that needs its own post) and you get a Japanese take on an American favorite.

You might at this point say, hey, there’s bread.  Yes, while there is bread, it is a slightly sweet bread that most people here simply break chunks off and eat separately.  If they’re feeling super adventurous they might dip a bit in their soup.  Which brings me to the other half of that second bowl on the Japan scale.  Where else would you get ABC noodles in minestrone?  ABC noodles AND the sea plant known as a-sa?  Hence the second bowl.

Along side the hamburger was a common stir-fry of vegetables.  Unlike chanpuru, this irichi was cooked with a bit of vinegar and other spices for a brighter taste.  The plating didn’t stop me of course.  I broke open the bread, cut the hamburgers, and made myself a delicious sandwich of burger and irichi.

Thursday July 19

Milk, barley rice, small fried fish, winter melon clear broth soup, Chikuzen, shiso flavored hijiki

We’re back to full on Japanese food for this meal.  White rice mixed with a bit of barley for an extra range of vitamins and lower cost.  Whole fried fish meant to be eaten whole (yes I cut off the heads… sorry Japan).  Chikuzen is a dish we had back on March 5th and is an old name for Fukuoka-ken.  It’s a mix of common root vegetables cooked with a bit of seasoning.  In this one we had carrots, connyaku, burdock, lotus root, bamboo shoot, shitake mushrooms, and more.

To change-up the white rice, shiso (a leaf also used to dye umeboshi) flavored hijiki (that black seaweed we saw last week in a stir fry).  On the side was a clear broth soup with winter melon and daikon.

Friday July 20

Milk, summer vegetable curry, marinated vegetables, cookies n cream ice cream

The local School Lunch center knows how to end a semester on a high note with students. Curry is a favorite Japanese lunch that almost always ends in empty plates.  Add some ice cream (desserts are pretty rare, even fruit is only occasional) and you have a winner on a hot summer day.

Today’s curry was a bit different from any I’ve had before.  Usually curry is based around the protein, either chicken, pork, or even beef.  Today’s curry was centered around summer vegetables, with edamame, eggplant, and even tomatoes.  The tomatoes gave the curry a lighter reddish color rather than the usual brown.  It was almost like a semi cross between a meat sauce and our well-known curry, but all around it was still tasty.

Beside the curry was a small salad of cucumber and bean sprouts marinated in vinegar.  There was also bits of bonito flakes in for flavor.  Finally, each person got a little cup of Blue Seal cookies and cream ice cream.

A great week of food.  Which was your favorite?  Vote below.

[poll id=”17″]