I’m a cheapskate by necessity. I don’t eat out much, and I scout around for the best prices when shopping.
With this On the Cheap category of the blog, I’ll be sharing some of the places that have allowed me to be the bitter, frugal little man I am, as well as where to find those “foreign” ingredients to let me cook how I did before I moved here.
First up is Hanamasa, a wholesaler that deals mainly with restaurants but is also open to the public. By far the majority of their stores are in Tokyo proper, but they have a couple stragglers in outlying regions such as Chiba and Saitama (Japanese-only store locator is here).
Hanamasa is mostly known for its meat (the store’s proper name is 肉のハナマサ, or “Hanamasa Meats”), from sliced and processed cuts to whole chickens and massive ￥6,000 slabs o’ beef. They also sell produce (though frankly you can find better deals at your neighborhood 99-yen stores) as well as wines and beer, randomly stocking up on import deals of the latter and running specials on them till I drink through their inventory. (For a while they were selling 500mL cans of various flavors of Oettinger, which as a beer is sort of blah but is still cheaper than, and a nice change from, the usual Japanese macrobrewed stuff.)
What takes me to Hanamasa more than anything is that it deals in bulk, meaning you can stock up on a whole lot of whatever it is you’re after at a much cheaper price than the supermarket. Here’s a sampling of the things that are always on my Hanamasa list:
Tortillas (normal size 10-count, small size 20-count)
Salsa (if you see their Carlita brand salsa verde, get it, it’s awesome)
Vietnamese chili sauce
Bulk spices (much more cost-effective if you tend to cook a lot)
Enticingly large containers of jam and honey
Insanely large cans of things like tuna and tomato sauce
Frozen seafood and vegetables
Bulk coffee and tea (for example, 100-count “Ex Kobe” brand Ceylon for 350 yen)
2L bottles of jasmine tea, knockoff sports drink, etc. for 103 to 130 yen
Big bags of snacks (Kit Kat, etc.)
Regarding snacks, Hanamasa unfortunately no longer seems to carry large bags of tortilla chips, only smaller bags of rather dubious-tasting ones made in Belgium. (Why frickin’ Belgium?!) As for tuna in the large can, it’s actually quite a bargain compared to the wimpy-sized cans it usually comes in. I tend to buy the the large cans exclusively, draining and freezing the fishy chunks until I’m ready to use them.
Another nice thing about Hanamasa is that they tend to drastically cut prices when items have about a month left on their expiration date, meaning it’s not uncommon to find cans of refried beans for 98 yen and jars of salsa for 198 yen, which is pretty fantastic for Japan.
According to Tokyo Foodcast, Hanamasa runs a restaurant in Ginza called Carne Station with all-you-can eat and drink specials, which TF recommends. (Never been out there myself, so I can’t comment on it.) Hanamasa’s own web site lists several other restaurants they manage as well (Japanese only).
For more about Hanamasa and Carne Station in English, give the Tokyo Foodcast link above a click, and check out this informative post from now-retired blog My So-Called Japanese Life.