Most of my knowledge on British school dinners actually comes from the documentary series ‘Jamie’s School Dinners‘ (2005) which saw the celebrity chef on a mission to change the terrible habits of schools around the UK. He attempted to improve their quality and nutritional value which subsequently led to a broader campaign to improve them throughout Britain. My experience of school dinners was limited to just a few occasions as I almost always took a packed lunch. As a fairly fussy eater back then I was more than happy with that though!
Japanese school meals are very different and not just because there aren’t any Turkey Twizzlers in sight! They are much healthier which may explain the low child obesity rate in this country but as I don’t work in an elementary or high school I have obviously never been able to experience what they’re like here and how they differ. That is until now…
Kyushoku Toban is a kind of themed restaurant which serves up Japanese school dinners and my wife and I popped along to visit it last Friday. The first floor is like any other restaurant and my initial reaction was one of slight disappointment before realising that if you bought a certain set then you could go upstairs to a makeshift classroom to eat it. 1500 yen each was a bit steep but as we’d come this far I felt we should go the whole hog.
Once we had selected our choice of six agepan and a similar amount of milk flavours we momentarily left the restaurant to go up the steps to the side of the main entrance. The set-up was like a typical classroom including hats and bags which we couldn’t help but try on. There are no canteens in Japanese elementary schools so the kids eat in the classrooms (alongside their teacher!) and they cannot leave until they’ve eaten it all.
It’s thanks to the excellent Only In Japan YouTube channel from John Daub that I know about this place and ever since I saw it (Watch the video here) I have wanted to visit. I could’ve gone alone but that wouldn’t have been the same so when my wife finally had a Friday off with me I saw it as a good opportunity to take her on a trip back down memory lane. Such a place brings back many memories for Japanese people and agepan is one food which evokes reminders of yesteryear. This bread roll is kind of similar to a donut and left to float in hot oil and then coated in a sugar. After sampling it, I decided to leave the rest until the end as it seemed more like a dessert to me but the Japanese don’t see it that way and eat it as part of the main meal.
Calorie intake and nutrition value is regulated in elementary schools thus showing how much thought goes into a weekly school menu. There was a timetable on the wall showing such information alongside the classroom duty wheel which my wife proudly explained to me regarding how each group of students take turns to do various tasks such as cleaning the room and so on. All a far cry from my student days where there was a caretaker to do such things!
It wasn’t too much of a wait for our meals to arrive and as usual we said itadekimasu (kind of translates as a slightly deeper bon appétit) but this was more of a ritual one enforced by the staff in an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a real Japanese school lunch time.
The set consisted of soup, meat sauce, curry stew, salad, noodles called softmen and kujira (whale). The latter was once a staple of school lunches as it was more available and cheaper than other meats but it’s rarely eaten today as other fish and meats are much lower in price. However, it still on the menu at this restaurant and I’ve got to say that it was very tasty but, like eating horse-meat, it’s not an experience that feels right to me.
Beforehand I had expected this meal to be quite light but it was way more filling than I could’ve imagined and one can only guess that the sugar rush from the agepan gets the kids through the afternoons lessons that follow. I’m a man of simple pleasures when it comes to food and this set really satisfied my hunger and desire. Recommended for anyone wanting a unique dining out experience.
How to get there: Kyushoku Toban is at 1-4-4 Motoasakusa, Taito-ku. It is just one minute walk from Shin Okachimachi station on the Toei Ōedo Line or a 15 minute walk from Okachimachi station on the JR Yamanote Line.