Food Shopping in Japan Week 5: What We Bought, What We Spent

We stopped at a snack store across the street from Tokyu on the way home in the evening to get Brett some crackers, and found a new flavor of KitKats: nuts & cranberry covered in ruby chocolate. Total spent: ¥600/$5.46.

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to post about our food shopping trip this week, but we decided to shake things up a bit and do our shopping at the Tokyu store, the other nearby grocery store. We wanted to see how prices there compared with Seiyu’s and if it was really all that much more expensive. We shopped at Tokyu almost the whole time we were here last year, only discovering Seiyu a couple of weeks before we left.

We were frankly getting a bit tired of Seiyu. Its floor area is smaller than the Tokyu store, so products were spread out over three floors: paper goods and cleaning/laundry supplies on the second floor, prepared foods, wines and snacks (i.e. KitKats) on the first floor, and groceries in the basement (department store basements are often grocery stores here). We always had to plan in advance what we were going to pick up first and then figure out whether we needed to use the stairs, escalator, or elevator to get from floor to floor. Shopping on different floors also required us to walk through areas of the store where we didn’t need or care to go (i.e clothing, cosmetics, etc. – Seiyu is owned by Walmart). At Tokyu, everything is on one floor and it’s strictly groceries. It’s also a newer store and brighter than Seiyu, which to be honest is getting a bit shabby in places. Tokyu also carries a larger variety of foods. However, Seiyu is less expensive and their quality is good.

Brett and I typically shop together but yesterday K was home sick from school and we were asked if we could come over and watch her for the day. Brett initially went over to our son’s on his own so I could do the shopping, then I joined him once that was done and things were put away. I bought everything on our list except for three items, which I forgot in my hurry to get done. We stopped in for those items on our way home this evening.

Here’s what we bought:

Dairy: I got the usual: milk, yogurt, Yakult and eggs. However, I was able to get both nonfat milk and nonfat yogurt, neither of which is available at Seiyu (both were store brands). Eggs were the same price, but the milk, yogurt, and Yakult cost ¥94/86¢ more at Tokyu than at Seiyu.

Meat: Meat purchases this week were sliced pork for a CookDo stirfry, and two packages of chicken tenders to use for Thai red curry chicken. Meat is definitely more expensive at Tokyu. The total for these three packages was ¥967/$8.80, around ¥150 over what they would have cost at Seiyu.Produce: With a couple of exceptions, produce at Tokyu cost less and was better looking too. I bought a tomato, four Fuji apples, half cabbage, three cucumbers, cilantro, a package of five bananas, and a package of strawberries. The strawberries and bananas were more than they are at Seiyu (¥498/$4.53 for one package of strawberries versus ¥377, and ¥178/$1.62 for the bananas versus ¥89/81¢, although there were five bananas in the package versus four).

Pantry items: I bought one package of CookDo sauce for a cabbage and pork stir fry for ¥178/$1.62, which is just ¥10 more than the regular price at Seiyu. The little bottle of sesame dressing (¥132/$1.20) will be used for coleslaw later this week. At Seiyu I would have had to buy a full-size bottle of dressing that we probably wouldn’t have finished before we left.

Prepared foods: Tokyu has an amazing prepared food section compared to Seiyu, especially their sushi, and their prices are more reasonable. The quality seems a little higher as well. Along with two packages of sushi I also bought one small package with three shumai and one of five gyoza for my lunch today (¥386/$3.50).

Miscellaneous: I picked up one package of “thick” matcha KitKats. They’re ¥50 more per package at Tokyu. Along with the cranberry ones above, we currently have 19 different flavors.

Second trip items: Brett and I picked up a bottle of fabric softener, an avocado, and a package of inarizushi. The total for all three items was ¥808/$7.35. The price per avocado was nearly double what we paid at Seiyu.

So, how did our total at Tokyu compare with Seiyu? I spent ¥5,996 on my initial shopping trip, then ¥808 on our second stop, and ¥600 yen at the snack shop for a total of ¥7,404/$67.39, still well under our ¥10,000 limit. Our total was around ¥600 (about $5.50) over what we typically spent for the same items at Seiyu, so not as much as we imagined it would be. We also had a much nicer shopping experience overall so we’ll probably be going back to Tokyu, but will continue to be careful about what we buy.

Food Shopping in Japan Week 4: What We Bought, What We Spent

This was our last food shopping trip during our first four weeks in Japan. Next week we will be restocking our yen envelopes once again for the coming four weeks.

How did we do over the past four weeks? Out of our initial ¥40,000 ($365), we still have ¥8500 ($77.50). It will be rolled over into next month. Out of the $400 we brought with us for commissary shopping, we have $146.50 left. It’s doubtful we’ll need to go to the commissary again, but if we do Brett and I will take the train out to Atsugi and make a day of it.

This week we spent ¥7,418 ($67.60) at Seiyu, more than last week but less than expected since we bought meat again this week, more fruit than we did last week, and two bottles of wine as well.

Here are this week’s purchases:

Dairy: Along with milk (¥148/$1.35 or $5.12 per gallon!), yogurt (still ¥99), and Yakult we bought a package of cream cheese (¥348/$3.17) to enjoy with the bagels our DIL brought us this past weekend. I love the package design for the cream cheese – the English words seem almost a quaint design afterthought among all the Japanese.

Meat: We needed two packages of meat this week for the two CookDo stirfries we’re having. I chose the ground pork and beef mix because it was less expensive than pure ground pork. I will not get it again though as it had too much fat. The two packages cost ¥519/$4.73. Although it’s not meat, the tofu is protein so I’ve also included it in this group. It cost a whopping ¥46/42¢! Brett and I think at this price we should be eating more tofu (soft tofu was only ¥37 or 34¢).

Produce: We bought green peppers for (always so small!), a red pepper and a yellow pepper for ¥127/$1.16 each, 3 cucumbers, a bag of Fuji apples (six for ¥577/$5.26), four bananas (just ¥89/81¢), and two packages of strawberries (still ¥377). The strawberries are getting better and better as the season progresses.

Prepared foods: The two katsudon (¥398/$3.63 each) were purchased for our dinner on Monday evening, and Brett and I shared the 6-pack of inari zushi and the potato salad for Monday’s lunch.

Miscellaneous: We bought two bottles of French wine: Cabernet Sauvignon for Brett (¥780/$7.11), Chardonnay for me (¥898/$8.18).

Paper products: Paper towels were needed this week so we picked up this four-pack (¥298/$2.72) which should get us through the rest of our stay. Japanese paper towels are less sturdy than American ones, and yet not so flimsy as to be unusable (which is what we have found in other countries).

We found another new flavor of KitKats at Seiyu again this week – ‘strong’ matcha, whatever that means – but decided to get it next week.

We’re thrilled to have spent below our weekly allotment these past four weeks – it shows that if we’re careful we can live and eat well here!

Food Shopping in Japan Week 3: What We Bought, What We Spent

This was a very different week for our food shopping budget because this past Saturday we went out to the commissary at the Atsugi base and bought a LOT of stuff there.

Atsugi is the closest large military facility, but it took a long time to get there due to traffic issues (coming back was much easier, thank goodness), and we were all more than a little tired when we arrived. We stopped first at the exchange, where Brett and I bought an inexpensive Crock Pot ($19.99), some measuring cups, a set of measuring spoons, two bed pillows, a package of pillowcases, and a bottle of body lotion. We got lucky when we checked out and won a 15% off everything coupon, a very nice surprise.

We got all this plus three 12-packs of Diet Coke at the commissary for $193.63. The hard part was finding room to put it all away!

After shopping at the exchange, we stopped for lunch in the food court (Brett and I shared a Subway tuna sandwich), and then it was time to hit the commissary. As we discovered last year, the commissary is now about three times larger than it was when we were stationed at Atsugi (1989-1992), with a selection about three to four times larger as well. We took our time going through the store and filling up our cart. Our total at the commissary was $193.63, and along with our exchange purchases and lunch, we spent a total of $253.50. We brought $400 with us, so left with $146.50 still in our wallets.

Because of our commissary shop, we didn’t need as much from Seiyu this week, mostly just produce and dairy, along with a few other things. We spent ¥4929 ($45.43) out of our weekly ¥10,000 allotment and put ¥5,000 back into the envelope.

Dairy: We bought another liter of low-fat milk, 2 containers of yogurt (still just ¥99 each), 15 Yakult, a half dozen eggs, and we splurged on some New Zealand salted butter (¥498/$4.59). The eggs are called “red eggs” because the yolk is so deep orange it’s nearly red.

Produce: This week we got 2 ripe avocados (small, but just ¥87/80¢), one tomato, a head of lettuce, broccoli, 2 cucumbers, and 4 bananas. The cucumbers had gone up in price this week to ¥87/80¢ each also. We’re planning to use the tomato and lettuce for lunchtime BLTs later this week, and the avocados will be for avocado toast for breakfast some morning. I can’t remember the last time I saw an avocado for under $1 in the U.S. and was surprised by the price here as they’re definitely imported. We didn’t buy any strawberries or apples as we still have some from last week.

Pantry: We bought just a couple of things in this area: 3 packages of CookDo (mabo dofu, pepper & pork stir fry, and sweet & sour pork, still on sale for ¥155 each) and two fancy instant udon packages (¥178/$1.64 each). Brett chose tempura shrimp noodles and I got kitsune (fox) udon, so-called because foxes supposedly like the fried tofu (aburaage) on top. They’ll be good for lunch one day.

Paper goods: One 12-pack of “Ariel” 2-ply toilet paper was ¥398 ($3.67), a bargain compared to what it costs in the U.S.

Miscellaneous: Seiyu had bags of KitKats on sale for ¥198/$1.83 per package! They didn’t have a big selection, but we found three flavors we didn’t already have: matcha, dark chocolate, and yuzu green tea (yuzu is a kind of citrus fruit), a new flavor for us. I also got a few take-out items from the prepared food section for my lunch: a pickled plum onigiri (rice ball), steamed kabocha squash, and coleslaw. The three items cost ¥386/$3.56.

We didn’t buy any meat this week which is one reason our total was low, and there were a few other items we decided we could go without. I forgot to get Pam at the commissary on Saturday though and was hoping I could find a similar product at Seiyu, but no such luck. We are now two KitKat flavors short of reaching our goal!

Food Shopping in Japan Week #2: What We Bought, What We Spent

KitKat collecting has begun with boxes of wasabi and rum raisin flavors! Our record is 17 different flavors on one visit but we’re aiming to beat that this time.

I realize this post comes close on the heels of last week’s shopping post, but Brett and I have decided that just like when we were in England, Monday will be our regular weekly shopping day. We don’t have any school pick-ups to do on Mondays (our grandson has activities late into the afternoon) so it’s a good day for us to shop in the morning with time leftover to head out for something else later in the day.

The Seiyu department store is about a five-minute walk from our apartment. The grocery store is in the basement and on the first floor.

After shopping at Seiyu in the morning and getting our stuff put away yesterday, we headed over to the Hiroo neighborhood to get some peanut butter at the National Azabu Market and also go to the New Sanno Hotel to make reservations for Easter brunch (the event will be sold out by March). Hiroo is about 30 minutes away from us by subway and requires us to change subway lines twice each way. The New Sanno Sunday Brunch is always amazing, but on Easter there will be added events for children including a small petting zoo and some arts and crafts activities. We thought the grandkids would enjoy that, and as Easter is also the week before we depart, the brunch will be an additional way to say thank you to our son and DIL for all their help while we’re here. The New Sanno also carries Diet Coke in their mini-mart – it’s unavailable in Japanese stores or vending machines – so we also wanted to pick up a 12-pack while we were there. Lucky Brett got to carry that all the way home.

The National Market is not very big, but it carries an amazing selection of items. It’s also a very smart location for a Baskin-Robbins!
Besides peanut butter, you can also grind cashew butter, honey roasted peanut butter, and almond butter at the National market.
On the way to the New Sanno from the National Market, we pass by my favorite small shrine in Tokyo. I don’t know its name, but it always moves me, this tidy little shrine tucked in among lots of big, expensive, and modern high rise apartments.
A little further down the same street is the French Embassy.
And, right around the corner from the embassy is the New Sanno Hotel!

The National Azabu Market is on the way to the New Sanno Hotel from Hiroo station. The Azabu and Hiroo neighborhoods are home to several embassies, and the National Market not only contains Japanese brands but many foods for foreigners living in the area. In our case, we were looking for unsweetened peanut butter as Japanese brands contain way too much sugar for our taste, and are also quite expensive. National has a machine where we could grind our own fresh peanut butter so we filled a small container with enough to get us through until we get to the commissary next weekend and stock up. Yes, we miss peanut butter that much, especially Brett! We also picked up some whole wheat rolls to have with our sausage dinner as well as a bag of small potatoes. Although it was hard to stay away when we were in the neighborhood, I am happy to report I did not go into the Sawamura bakery, where my favorite raisin bread is sold. I would have not been able to resist.

Below is what we bought this week, definitely less than our first week’s shop. Our shopping total from yesterday was ¥7055 ($64.68 plus $3 for the Diet Coke), but we still have a couple of things to pick up at the end of the week to go with our take-out takoyaki. I put ¥3000 back into our grocery envelope when we got home.

Dairy: We bought another liter of milk, two containers of yogurt (still ¥99/91¢ each), and 15 bottles of Yakult. Brett is now also drinking a bottle of Yakult every morning so we increased the amount from last week. Each container of yogurt provides three American-size servings.

Prepared foods: We purchased only two items in this category this week, a package of five nikuman (pork-filled steamed buns) and two tonkatsu, breaded pork cutlets that we had for dinner last night. The tonkatsu were huge but cost just ¥298 ($2.73) each. They were amazingly tender and delicious. The nikuman will get us through a couple of lunches.

Meat: We bought one package of beef cubes (about a half-pound for $4.53) for curry this week. For an additional ¥100, we could have gotten a slightly smaller package of Wagyu beef but we passed.

Produce: We bought a bag of six Fuji apples; three cucumbers; a huge stalk of celery for ¥149 ($1.37 – celery is not a traditional ingredient here); a bag of green peppers; four bananas; and two packages of strawberries. Fuji apples here are so much better than the ones we get in the States – much juicier and sweeter in comparison. I’m trying to eat one every day. The strawberries were still ¥377 ($3.46) per package. Green peppers in Japan are always very small for some reason, and typically come prepackaged in a bag of five.

Pantry items: Brett wanted some tea, so we chose a box of Twinings Darjeeling for ¥394 ($3.61), sort of a splurge (although I like Darjeeling too). We also got Bulldog tonkatsu sauce (which can be used to make yakisoba too); CookDo sauce for sweet & sour pork; curry sauce (enough for two meals); and a package of spaghetti that was on sale for ¥198 ($1.82). I love that the spaghetti is bundled into servings! CookDo sauces are still on sale, so I plan to buy a few more packages later this week.

The three items from National were ¥1078 (the peanut butter alone was ¥528/$4.81. However, that  was still less than a tiny jar of Smuckers Natural peanut butter, which cost over $6! Foreign products are not cheap.). The potatoes were ¥298 ($2.74), not a bad price, and the four rolls were ¥252 ($2.31 – sort of expensive, but less than we’d pay at a bakery). Our 12-pack of Diet Coke was $3, and the KitKats were $9.99 each (too much!!) but that expense comes from our miscellaneous fund as we’re not eating them while we’re here.

Finally, we took 8,178 steps (3.3 miles) and climbed and descended 20 flights of stairs on our shopping day!

Food Shopping in Japan Week #1: What We Bought, What We Spent

We always take our own reusable bags when we go food shopping, ones we’ve collected from different places during our travels. They include the Beatles bag from Portland; famous sights in Bath, England; flowers from Perth, Australia; and Mt. Fuji from Japan.

One of our first tasks on our first full day in Japan, besides getting some yen, was to walk over to the Seiyu store and get some food. We had brought along coffee, oatmeal, and granola bars in our suitcases so we had enough for breakfast on our first morning, but after that, the cupboards were bare.

Our weekly goal while we’re here is to spend no more than ¥10,000 ($90) or less on groceries for a week. Our first shop, on Wednesday, was over that, ¥13,025 ($118.40) but that’s because we purchased a few pantry items that will last through our stay, things like rice, oil, Parmesan cheese, butter, and mayonnaise, and we also bought two bottles of French wine (less than $8 each) that will last us for the next two to three weeks (we have a glass of wine of Friday and Saturday evenings only). We also bought a package of sushi (¥398/$3.62) to share for lunch because we didn’t have leftovers or items to fix anything else. By using the extra ¥4,000 we got from YaYu we stayed under our regular budget, but it was still a bit difficult.

Here’s what we bought for our first week’s shop:

Dairy items: We purchased 1-liter low-fat milk, a small container Parmesan cheese, 2 400-gram containers of plain yogurt (¥99 or 90¢ each), a half dozen eggs, 2 packages wrapped cheese cubes, 200 grams butter, and 10-pack of Yakult. What we call “real” cheese is difficult to find and expensive in Japan. Even though they’re sort of pricy at ¥398 ($3.62) per package, we like these snack bags for the variety they provide and because they’re pre-portioned. Yakult (fermented milk drink) is great for the stomach and digestive system so I plan to have one every morning. When I came to Japan as a teenager I could not drink Yakult without gagging but now it tastes good to me.

Meat: We bought one package of ground pork, one of thinly sliced pork for stir fry, one of cubed pork, one of chicken tenders, and a package of six Johnsonville smoked sausages. I really like that we can buy meat in Japan in these smaller portions of around 300 gm or 2/3 of a pound (larger packages are available though). Also, note the silhouette of the pig on the labels – it’s very helpful for making sure I’m buying the right product versus chicken or beef (which also have an appropriate silhouette). The prices can be seen on the packages and range in (converted) price from $1.87 for the chicken tenders to $2.88 for the ground pork and pork cubes. The sausages were the most expensive item at ¥697 ($6.34) but will be used for three meals. We also bought a package of frozen shrimp but I forgot to put it in the picture.

Prepared foods: We bought a package of sushi for our lunch and packages of karaage (fried chicken) and potato salad for our first night’s dinner. We also bought two ready-to-cook packages of Chinese food items: shumai and gyoza. Prepared foods are a big thing in Japan and can be found everywhere, from convenience stores to high-end food establishments. They’re affordable and made from high-quality ingredients, and are sold fresh every day. The fried chicken and potato salad cost ¥848 ($7.71) but there was enough for two meals.

Produce: These purchases include package of three Japanese eggplants for making CookDo mabo nasu, a package of three carrots, a package of three onions, a head of broccoli, five Japanese cucumbers, one-half head of cabbage, a small box of fresh blueberries, 2 packages of strawberries, and a package of four bananas. Strawberry season is just getting started in Japan – be prepared to see them for the next several weeks! We bought the least expensive packages available at ¥377 ($3.43) each and will have them along with some blueberries on our morning yogurt. We skipped the packages going for ¥697 ($6.34) although the berries in those ones were huge. Fruit is generally quite expensive in Japan, but we hope to find ways to have it every day.

Pantry items/wine: Purchases in this category were Kewpie mayonnaise, three packages of CookDo sauce (eggplant with ground pork/mabo nasu, chili shrimp, and stir-fry pork with cabbage), a bag of rice (our most expensive purchase at ¥1,050/$9.56), canola oil, and a bottle of white Bordeaux wine for me, and red Bordeaux wine for Brett. The CookDo at Seiyu is currently on sale for ¥155 ($1.41) per package. If the sale is still going next week I will buy more and start stocking up as the typical sale price is $3.98 back in the U.S., and they don’t have the variety we can find here.

Paper products/cleaning products/personal items: Toilet paper was the only item we bought in this category. The apartment came with extra rolls of paper towels, boxes of tissues, lots of shampoo, laundry detergent, and plenty of cleaning supplies, so we’re good for a while.

We did not buy any bread nor snack items – we’re trying to keep away from that stuff this time around. It all looked very, very good and very, very tempting though.

Food in Japan can expensive, but there are bargains to be found if you look and shop carefully. We noticed that there had been price increases for a few items we used to buy when we were here last year, so we’ll do without those things this year. Also, by shopping at Seiyu we saved over what we would have spent at the slightly closer but more expensive Tokyu grocery store, so that was a win. Finally, we’re determined to spend less next time we shop!

Livin’ La Vida Lo-Carb

Zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) topped with meat sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese

I knew before we arrived in Portland that I needed to change how and what were eating because both Brett and I had been steadily gaining weight ever since we left Hawai’i. During our time on the road we indulged ourselves in delicious bakery items, telling ourselves that other countries used less sugar so how bad could it be? We were in France, we told ourselves – we were supposed to eat pastries! We were in Italy – we were supposed to eat gelato and pasta! We enjoyed a big glass of wine every evening (because we were in Argentina! in France! in Italy! in Australia!), often along with a treat of some kind. We ate rice or noodles almost every day in Japan but told ourselves it was OK because we were walking a lot and also eating lots of vegetables and fruit.

However, in spite of all the walking we did, in spite of there being less sugar, it wasn’t enough to keep up with the calories and carbs we were consuming. We gained weight, for me to the point I was often very uncomfortable in my clothes.

I decided that once we arrived in Portland, we would try going back to low-carb eating once again. I had lost weight and shaped up when we lived in Hawai’i but only when I limited my carb intake, and doing so was much easier than counting calories or points or eating vegan or whatever. I also wanted to get back to drinking at least eight glasses of water a day, and make sure we kept up with our walking.

It’s now been eight weeks since we arrived in Portland and embraced La Vida Lo-carb once again. I have no idea whether we’ve lost any weight or how much, although my clothes seem to be less uncomfortable. I have more energy these days too.

Nonfat plain Greek yogurt with berries is a frequent breakfast – the peach was a special treat!

Sticking with a low-carb diet has been easier than it was back in Hawai’i. There is a wider array of foods to choose from in Portland that don’t cost an arm and a leg, and we can find substitutes for rice and noodles that could were often difficult to find on Kaua’i. I feel too that I can now better figure out how to make substitutions when we’re on the road again, and know how to include some higher-carb foods once in a while without going overboard.

Avocado on thin-sliced whole grain bread topped with a poached egg and red pepper spread from Trader Joe’s. I could eat the pepper relish right from the jar with a spoon – it’s that good.

My breakfasts these days are usually nonfat Greek yogurt with berries, a small frittata or other egg dish, or occasionally a piece of avocado toast made with thin sliced whole grain bread. Brett usually always has a bowl of oatmeal with fruit, and enjoys a bagel once a week or so.

Every once in a while I enjoy a “power breakfast” like this one: bacon, avocado slices, and scrambled eggs topped with corn & chili relish

Our lunches are often cheese and fruit or vegetables (I have to watch how much fruit I have though – it can be very high in carbs), a small bowl of vegetable soup, or sometimes leftovers. Now and then I sometimes have an open-faced sandwich on the thin-sliced bread.

Open-face tuna salad on thin-sliced whole grain bread with one cup of grapes

Havarti with dill cheese, cherry tomatoes, avocado, sour cream, and kale chips

Open-faced crack chicken sandwich with cucumber slices

We both substitute cauliflower rice now for regular rice, and zoodles for pasta or other noodles, and are fine with that. Gone from our table are bread, potatoes, cakes, cookies and other starches, although Brett still occasionally enjoys a couple of his much-loved graham crackers or Triscuits when he wants a snack. A handful of nuts are a more frequent snack for both of us these days. I make a homemade pizza on Friday evenings and enjoy one slice (Brett eats one slice and has the leftovers during the week), and we each have a small glass of wine on Friday and Saturday evenings. I measure absolutely everything these days though, and know exactly what I’m getting in the way of carbs. I’m not following any sort of keto or other low-carb plan, but I aim to keep my carbohydrate intake around 50-75 grams per day; Brett’s allowance is a little higher.

Zucchini frittata and sausages: a nearly zero-carb dinner.

All-beef Polish sausage, fresh sauerkraut and roasted zucchini is another almost zero-carb dinner.

A Mediterranean dinner with spanakopita, hummus, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes and cucumber had just 23 carbs.

I also include low-carb splurges for myself every day: heavy cream whipped cream is one of my daily indulgences as is a spoonful of natural peanut butter. We also discovered grain-free low-carb granola bars (11 grams each) and low-carb chocolate bars (12 grams each) at Costco, and I treat myself to one a few times each week. I’ve yet to feel like I’m going without anything.

Heavy cream whipped cream is very low carb (and fairly low calorie too) and a sweet treat every day.

Low-carb grain-free granola bars and low-carb dark chocolate bars are a once-a-week treat.

It’s been said that it takes 21 days to create a habit, but new research says it’s more like 66 days. We’ve been eating low-carb for over 50 days now, and this time it really does seems like it may stick. I know I will indulge again now and again once we’re back on the road, but hopefully never again to how it was during our previous travels. La Vida Lo-Carb this time around seems to be a better fit for us than it was before with all the choices we have in Portland and the fact that we don’t have to feed anyone but ourselves. We’re learning lots of new tricks this time as well. We won’t know for sure if we’ve lost any weight until we visit the doctor at the end of July, but for now we’re feeling great and that’s what’s important.

Gelato Every Day: Week 4

Our first stop this past week was Gelateria dei Neri. Both Brett and I chose the Sacher torte flavor which was filled with actual pieces of cake and apricot jam, and he added a scoop of cherry cheesecake while I tried the rice pudding flavor (which was amazing!).

I have good news and bad news this week about our daily gelato tastings.

Back for a second time at Perche no? I ordered the offbeat but wonderfully delicious curry with mango and pear gelato along with a scoop of honey sesame crunch. Brett chose coffee and chestnut flavors.

Bad news first: Winter has arrived in Florence and it has gotten quite cold, especially for us former tropical island dwellers. Because of the cold our desire for gelato has dropped way, way down on the scale of enjoyable pastimes. We’ve had a couple of days where almost didn’t stop for our daily treat, but in the end we got out there and did – yeah us (and, of course it was wonderful)!

We had spotted the La Strega Nocciola gelateria on an earlier walk but had already had gelato that day so we went back this week to give it a try. I chose Azteca (white chocolate & cinnamon) and lavender flavors, and Brett had buontalenti (vanilla custard made with mascarpone cheese) and orange cream gelatos. Although our cones were kind of sloppy, the gelato was very, very good.

The good news is that in spite of the cold we were able to experience some very exciting flavors of gelato this week, up to and including curry! Who would have guessed that one? It has been a genuine taster’s market this week, so we feel like we’re leaving Florence on a high note when it comes to gelato.

At our first stop at Sbrinno for the week I chose quince and red grape flavors, and Brett decided on mulberry and walnut.

We made a second stop at Sbrinno the next day for some of their chocolate flavors: Brett enjoyed chocolate hazelnut with raspberry and chestnut cake while I tried white chocolate and Sbrinno’s Sacher torte (which I preferred to dei Neri’s).

After four weeks, both Brett and I unanimously agree that our neighborhood gelateria, Sbrinno Gelatifacio Contadino, is our hands down favorite in Florence. Other places have been very good but Sbrinno has always had interesting and on-point flavors, their gelato is made by hand in the shop (we’ve gotten to watch them make it) and they use natural ingredients sourced from local farms. It hasn’t hurt either that they’re also conveniently located near to our apartment and are open every day, making it easy to stop by the shop on our way home.

We were not particularly hungry following our pizza class on Sunday evening, but we noticed Cantina di Gelato was open on our walk home so we stopped in for a small cone: I had a scoop of peanut butter, and Brett again chose creamy buontalenti.

While we are not exactly tired of gelato and have had a lot of fun searching out different gelateria, both Brett and I feel like we need a break, so are not sure how much gelato we will eat while we’re in Rome. We’ve been warned though that the gelato there is quite delicious, so we may not be able to resist! Brett may not be ready to give up his hand model gig either.

We went back today to La Carraia today but none of their flavors appealed to us, so we walked back once more to Sbrinno where I discovered they had licorice gelato (and licorice is one of my favorite things)! After some discussion with the server and a few tastings I paired it fresh pear, which contrasted nicely with the strong licorice flavor. Brett chose dark Sicilian chocolate and added a scoop of strawberry. We will miss this gelateria – their gelato and flavors have never disappointed!

Gelato Every Day: Week 3

Day #1: We tried Cantina di Gelato, recommended by the ticket seller at the Palazzo Pitti, and it had some interesting and unusual flavors. I had (roasted) pumpkin and turmeric with fig; Brett chose rum with chocolate chips and hazelnut. The flavor cards were written in Italian, English and Russian (and the gelato was delicious)!

We have learned a lot these past few weeks about gelato. For example, this past week we found out that gelato was most likely invented in Florence – who knew? We’ve also learned several tips on how to choose true artisanal gelato. We’ve been on a hunt ever since to eat the best and avoid the worst . . . and mostly succeeded, I think.

Day #2: Vivoli, near Santa Croce, has been making gelato for 80 years! They only serve their product in cups. My flavors were rum with candied nuts and orange cream, and Brett had blueberry and Japanese persimmon.

Day #3: On our way to visit L’Accademia and after my fall, we stopped in at My Sugar. I chose rose (so good!) and matcha latte flavors while Brett had black sesame and hazelnut.

The ticket seller at the Pitti Palace that we chatted with last week, a local, told us that one way to find quality gelato is to look for small, covered containers. Or, look for small rectangular containers where the gelato inside does not come up to the rim (small batch). Also, make sure the flavor is written first in Italian. Finally, look for muted colors that are found in nature, and not bright “Pokémon colors.” He said if we see gelato in mounds we should run away as quickly as possible, same if we see the flavor cards written primarily in English as it means the gelato is industrially produced and pumped full of fat and made for tourists.

We also found a list of recommended gelateria written by a food writer and sommelier in Florence who leads culinary tours in the city – her site provided us with several new places to try. We were pleased to find our neighborhood gelateria, Sbino Gelatificio Contadino, made her list as we stop by frequently.

Day #4: We stopped at small gelateria in Vernazza. Their selection wasn’t great and definitely non-artisanal. I opted for sorbetto instead of gelato for a change, choosing passionfruit and strawberry flavors. Brett decided on cherry cream and fiori di latte.

There were a few gelateria open in the Cinque Terre, but we ordered ours in Vernazza, where flavors were limited. Just to show how seriously gelato can be taken though, apparently a gelato war is going on between two shops in the village of Corniglia, with each claiming to be the best. Apparently the whole village has taken sides in the dispute.

Day #5: Back in Florence we were tired so walked down to Gelateficio Contradina and they did not disappoint: We both chose the egg cream with sweet marsala flavor, but I chose orange and ginger (very yummy!) for my second flavor, and Brett had coffee.

Sunday in Florence was cold and drizzly, but Brett took one for the team and went out in the late afternoon for takeout from our neighborhood shop. They didn’t have much left to choose from, but he put together chestnut and Speculoos cookie flavors – delicious!

Brett’s hand work continues to get better every week. I don’t even have to ask any more – we buy gelato and he’s ready to pose! He’s glad though that we have just one more week to go (maybe two if we continue our quest in Rome).

We finished the week back where we started, at Cantina di Gelato because it was one of the few gelateria open on Monday. I got rum with chocolate chips and hazelnut with Nutella swirl and chopped hazelnuts; Brett got passionfruit and ricotta and fig.

Gelato Every Day: Week 2

Day #1: We stopped at what turned out to be an expensive gelateria near the train station to get out of the pouring rain that day. We both ordered malaga (rum raisin) but I added fondonte, a dark, rich chocolate, and Brett chose peanut butter with chocolate.

A friend remarked on Facebook the other day that she loved how we had a “sweet tooth in spades” these days. I wrote back that one thing we have enjoyed so much since we started our adventure is how much less sweet bakery items and gelato have been since we left the U.S. Everything from cookies to pastries to pies to gelato seems to have a lot less sugar and fat, and I’m convinced that the reasons Europeans don’t suffer from being overweight like Americans is that a) everyone walks a whole lot more over here; and b) people here eat a whole lot less sugar than we Americans do.

Day #3: We had gelato with limoncello at home for Day #2, but on Halloween we headed to our neighborhood gelateria, Gelatificio Contadino, for some of their special flavors. I ordered egg cream with orange and pumpkin pie for my flavors, and Brett had a “beige” cone: cinnamon cookie crunch and ameretto.

Gelato looks to be very high calorie but actually has less sugar, fat and calories than ice cream. That’s because it’s made with milk versus cream and usually does not contain eggs or other fats, and does not have as much added sugar. Gelato does not have air whipped into it like ice cream does so it stays creamy.

Day #4: We stopped again at La Carraia, rated one of the best gelateria in the city. They have loads of flavors to choose from, and there’s always a crowd there. Brett got chocolate mousse (amazing!) and coffee flavors; I chose walnut & fig and strawberry cheesecake.

Day #5: Since we were near the Ponte Vecchio this day we decided to have gelato again at Da Angelo, another highly-rated gelateria. We both got their yummy chestnut flavor, and then Brett added green tea and I had ginger (which had a lovely kick to it).

This week we visited our neighborhood gelateria twice because for us they have the most inventive small batch flavors. We also stopping in at Da Angelo again (over by the Ponte Vecchio) and at La Carraia to try some more of their delicious flavors, and checked out another new stop when we were out. One rainy day we stayed home and didn’t go out at all, but had vanilla gelato in the freezer and topped some of that with creme of limoncello – heavenly!

Day #6: We were back to our neighborhood shop on Sunday. I decided on apple (so, so good!) and pumpkin flower; Brett ordered persimmon cinnamon and Vinsanto cream.

Day #7: Brett is on a quest to stop at all of the Top Ten gelateria in Florence, so today we tried Porche no? (Why not?) which has been making gelato in Florence since 1939. Their selection and product did not disappoint: chocolate with peanuts & milk cherry for Brett, eggnog & strawberry mousse for me.

As we did last week, we try to look for new and unusual flavors, but it was a bit more difficult this past week. Brett again did superb work as the hand model.

Gelato Every Day: Week 1

Day 1: I chose banana and tiramisu flavors (they paired well); Brett had mint chocolate and cookies & cream with chocolate.

We’ve been in Florence now for just over a week. One of our many goals while here was to try to have gelato every day, and we’ve been doing a pretty good job of it so far. We missed going out the day before yesterday because of the weather, but otherwise have made a point of indulging ourselves every day.

Day 2: Zuppa Inglese and a scoop of panna with chocolate & orange for me; cherries and cream and peanut butter for Brett.

The availability of different flavors has been frankly astonishing, limited only by the gelato makers’ imaginations. I think too that we’re already becoming “gelato snobs;” that is, we always choose the shop with a wide variety of different flavors versus one that only carries the “standards.”

The persimmon flavor was so amazing we both had to get some. I added green tea, and Brett had honey vanilla with his.

One other great thing we’ve discovered is that you can have two flavors for the same price as one – gelato is sold by the size of the cone or cup, not how many scoops you get. What a concept! We usually opt to have our gelato in a cone, but tried cups the other day. I didn’t think it tasted as good from a cup or was as fun so it will be all cones, all the time for me now. Brett is fine with having his gelato in a cup now and again.

Day 4: I chose ricotta with figs and black sesame. Eating gray gelato was a bit strange but the flavor was fantastic! Brett had mandarin orange and crema, which combined in sort of Dreamsicle. As you can see, the gelato was melting fast that day – it got kind of messy for a while there.

One week down, three more to go! Stay tuned for updates. Also, Brett’s job as a hand model is secure.

We tried out the little gelato shop just down the street yesterday, before the thunderstorms returned. After sampling almost all their interesting flavors I chose pomegranate and bergamot; Brett had stratiacella (crema with chocolate chips) and zabajone al marsala (egg creme with sweet marsala). Man-oh-man was the gelato at this place good – we’ll definitely be going back!