Food in the U.S.

At the Hotel – Full Kitchen
Cooking On Your Own
Convenience Stores – Not So Convenient in the U.S.
Grocery Stores in the U.S.
Eating Out at Restaurants
Dining Options on Rice University Campus
Shopping Vocabulary

At the Hotel – Full Kitchen

All student rooms at the Wyndham Houston Medical Center have full kitchens with a fridge, stove, oven, cooking pots and pans, plates, cups and utensils.  The kitchens all have cupboards or pantry where you can store items you have purchased at the grocery store.  The closest grocery store is the Kroger on South Main St. and you can ask the hotel front desk if the shuttle can take you there.  Target, a department store that also sells groceries, is also just a couple blocks down the street from Kroger. Buying groceries and cooking on your own will be more economical than eating out every meal while in Houston.

During the final week trip to the East Coast, rooms will not have kitchens but a free daily breakfast will be included each day.

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Cooking On Your Own

To save money and maintain good health, you should be prepared to cook some meals on your own.  This way, you can control the portion size, how the items are prepared, and bring any left-overs with you to Rice to eat for lunch. If you do not usually cook on your own, you may want to learn a few simple recipes for everyday Japanese dishes that are quick and easy to prepare.

Eating out at restaurants is comparatively more expensive in the U.S. than it is in Japan.  There are not as many ready-made or quick food options other than fast food and eating out often can quickly get very expensive. Most Americans who want to maintain good health (and save money) eat out only 2 – 3 times per week. Instead, they cook dinners at home and pack a lunch box to bring with them to school or work using the left-overs from dinners or salads, sandwiches, or other items.  At the grocery store, you can also buy frozen meals that can be heated up in the microwave and these can also be convenient to bring to campus for lunches.

Each building on campus (or research group) will have a small fridge and microwave that you can use – just ask your labmates where this is in your building.  If you plan to bring your own lunch each day to save money and eat more healthy, you may want to bring a bento box with you to the U.S. or purchase an insulated lunch bag and some food storage containers at Target (which is just 1 1/2 blocks from the hotel).

Spices/Seasonings: It may be helpful to bring some of your own spices and seasonings with you from Japan. However, be sure they are new, bought from the store, and individually packaged/sealed.  It is not recommended to bring bulk spices or grains that you have put into smaller bags or packages.

Basic Cooking Skills: If you do not normally cook on your own, it would be a good idea to learn how to prepare some basic/staple food items that you would typically eat in Japan. This is something that most American students have to learn to do for themselves too when they get to college or graduate school.  Below are some links to websites with simple recipes geared towards students just learning how to cook.

Rice Cookers: There is no rice cooker provided in the kitchen at the hotel.  Pots and pans are provided so you should know how to cook rice on the stove. Also, rice is not served at every meal in the U.S.  You will not find rice or congee included in any hotel breakfast.  If you prefer to eat rice with each meal you will need need to prepare it yourself at the hotel kitchen and bring with you to campus. You could also buy an inexpensive rice cooker at Target but it may be cheaper/easier to just cook rice on the stovetop.

Temperature & Measurements: Outside of the research lab, the U.S. does not use Celcius for temperature or the metric system for measurements. This means that stoves, measuring cups and spoons, and recipes you find in the U.S. will be different from what you are used to in Japan.  If you plan to cook or bake a lot on your own using Japanese recipes you will need to convert these to American measurements.

Alumni Question: Why do Americans not eat burdock? 

  • Burdock root is not native to the U.S., though it is a native plant in Asia and Europe.  So, people in the U.S. don’t eat it as it was not an ingredient that you could easily obtain since it didn’t grow here.  Though the burdock plant was introduced to the U.S. eventually, it was a wild plant and seen as a weed. Not eating burdock isn’t cultural so much as Americans simply not knowing you can eat it or how to cook/prepare it – after all there are lots of root vegetables we do commonly eat like potatoes, carrots, radishes, etc. Since the burdock plant is seen as a weed, its root is not typically sold at grocery stores in the U.S. though you can sometimes find it at Japanese or Asian grocery stores. For most Americans, the first time they will eat burdock root is when they travel abroad to e Japan where it is more common. The American will often ask “What is this?” and be told “Burdock” only to have them be even more confused and ask again, “What’s burdock?”.

Japanese Cooking 101

Oishi America: おいしいアメリカ:アメリカ料理レシピと食べ歩き情報満載! – アメリカ料理のレシピブログ。アメリカの食べ歩き情報、食べ物や調理器具に関連する商品紹介、アメリカでの食生活についてのブログも満載!

ナ チョス と言えばメキシコ料理なんですが、アメリカのメキシコ料理はアメリカ独自に発展したものも多く、このナチョチーズソースもその一つ。もともとナチョスは、 コーンチップスにチーズやハラペーニョのピクルスをトッピングしたもので、北メキシコからテキサスに伝わったのが始まりとか。 The goal of this Japanese website is to introduce great tasting American food to Japanese people through recipes and blogs. After hearing positive feedback on how tasty and easy it is to make American food at home, they realized that they should also show the world how simple and fun it is to make Japanese food, comfort food they grew up eating since childhood in Japan.

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Convenience Stores – Not So Convenient in the U.S.

If you read websites or blogs about living in Japan that are written for foreigners, one of the common topics discussed is just how awesome and convenient convenience stores in Japan really are.  Within a 2 block radius there may be multiple convenience stores making it easy to pop in for an onigiri, drink or bento box at any time day or night. Americans especially are always very impressed by convenience stores and really wish that the ones in the U.S were like the ones in Japan.

In the U.S. we do have convenience stores, including 7-11s, but they are very different from the convenience stores you are used to.  Convenience stores in the U.S. are typically attached to gas stations and this means they are usually located on busy streets or intersections where it is convenient for cars/drivers.  The food available in convenience stores is typically limited to soda, coffee, chips, and candy or other small snacks that you can easily eat in the car. For pedestrians in Houston, convenience stores are not convenient at all.

Unsweetened vs. Sweetened Beverages in the U.S.:  In the U.S, especially in the Southern part of the U.S. where Texas is located, most teas and other bottled beverages that you can buy at convenience stores or in vending machines are sweetened and/or carbonated.  You may be able to find unsweetened bottled tea or beverages at the grocery store, but you should carefully read the label first and buy a small bottle to try and see if you like the taste before purchasing a large quantity.  It is usually easiest to bring an insulated thermos/mug and green tea bags with you if you prefer to drink unsweetened tea.

There is one small convenience store at Rice University, call RechargeU, and it is located in the Student Center. However, it is an American-style convenience store and mainly sells soda, coffee, chips, candy and other small snacks. Most things here will be more expensive than buying the same items at the Kroger grocery store next to the hotel; so we recommend purchasing food/drinks in advance from the grocery store and bringing them with you each day.

In more urban cities, such as New York City or Washington, DC, there are more pedestrian-friendly small stores that are often located near subway stations where you can purchase drinks and snacks.  They also have plenty of 24-hour pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreen’s or Duane Reede and these pharmacies usually have a small food section where you can buy frozen meals, drinks, and snacks. 

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Grocery Stores in the U.S.

If you want to get prepared food in the U.S., you typically have to do this at a grocery store.  Grocery store chains in Houston include Kroger (can take the hotel shuttle here), Safeway, HEB, Whole Foods Market, and Fiesta.  These are chains so you will find these grocery stores all throughout different areas of the city.

Prepared Foods: Most U.S. grocery stores will have some prepared foods, but not as extensive a variety as you may find in Japan.  In Houston, HEB and Whole Foods have the most extensive array of prepared food items that you can purchase via weight. Often there will be a small section with sushi, though only a few varieties, prepared sandwiches or salads, fried or roasted chicken, and other small items.  Sometimes there is a salad bar or soup bar where you can choose what you would like to eat. At the Deli counter there may also be more substantial prepared food items that you would need to ask for by weight from the person behind the counter and then take home to heat up and eat (though often there is a small eating area with a microwave near the prepared food section too).

Buying in Bulk: At grocery stores in the U.S. it is common to purchase large or bulk packages of items such as bottled water, soda, chips… well everything.  Since most Americans don’t live within walking distance of a grocery store, they usually make 1 trip per week via car and purchase everything they need to cook for the entire week.  This means that the sizes of packages may be much larger than what you are accustomed to in Japan.  It is also usually cheaper if you buy the larger package rather than the smaller package. You might want to share the cost of purchasing items with your roommate/s.

Japanese Grocery Stores in Houston:  There are two main Japanese grocery stores in Houston: Seiwa Mart and Nippon Daido. Both are located in West Houston and you would need to take an Uber or have someone drive you to the market.   There are also a number of very good Asian grocery stores in Houston such as Super H Mart, 99 Ranch Market, and Hong Kong Food Market.  These are not located near Rice University campus, you would need to take an Uber or have someone drive you to the market. The first Saturday you are in Houston, we have arranged a shuttle to take you to/from H Mart where you can buy many Japanese and Asian food items.

Finally, in Downtown Houston there is Phonecia Specialty Foods market.  This is an international market that may have a wider array of Asian ingredients or fruits/vegetables and you could take the Houston Light Rail to get there or an Uber.

Purchasing Alcohol at Grocery Stores: To purchase alcohol in the U.S. you must be 21 years or older and will need to show your passport to the clerk when checking out to verify your age.   Each state in the U.S. has different laws regarding where and when you can purchase alcohol, even if you are old enough and have proper ID with you.  In Texas, you can purchase beer and wine at grocery stores but to purchase hard liquor (e.g. whiskey, vodka, etc.) you must go to a separate liquor store. In Texas, stores cannot sell any alcohol from 11:59 PM on Saturday until 12:00 PM (noon) on Sunday.

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Eating Out at Restaurants

According to the Visit Houston site, “With 10,000 restaurants representing cuisine from more than 70 countries and American regions, Houston’s restaurant scene is as ethnically diverse as its more than 6-million residents. With so many options, it’s not surprising that visitors leave the city with plenty of good things to say about dining in Houston. In fact, Houston was named the “newest capital of great food” by Food & Wine in 2013 and the country’s most exciting food city by Tasting Table that same year.”

Texas Food PyramidThis diverse restaurant scene means that you can find restaurants from around the world in Houston.  However, because Houston is such a large city, you may need a car or need to take an Uber to reach many of them.

Staying Healthy When Eating Out: Eating out in the U.S. is comparatively more expensive than in Japan and the low-cost, fast-food options can be very unhealthy.  Most Americans only eat out a few times a week and cook most meals at home, especially if they are trying to save money or eat more healthy foods. You will also notice that many of the foods you can buy in restaurants, especially in Texas, have a lot of meat, are fried or have a lot of cheese, and there may be only a few vegetables.  If you want to eat healthy at a restaurant you should look for items in salad or sandwich section or ask if they have any vegetarian meals. These are usually marked on the menu or you can ask your waiter or waitress.

Japanese Restaurants in Houston: If you look on Yelp you will see that there are many Japanese restaurants in the U.S., some more authentic than others.  However, they are not located very convenient to the hotel or campus so if you want Japanese food you may need to use an Uber.  The neighborhoods on Yelp that are closest to where you will be in Houston include Medical Center (near hotel), West University (near Rice), Downtown, Midtown, Montrose, and Upper Kirby.  Taking an Uber to these locations would likely not be too expensive.

Asian Restaurants in Houston: There are also many excellent Asian restaurants in Houston, particularly Chinese and Vietnamese, and these restaurants typically have more healthy/vegetable options.  Most of the best Asian restaurants and excellent Asian grocery stores are located in Houston’s Chinatown District.  You will need a car or need to take an Uber to get here though. No matter which city you are in, it is best to ask for advice about where the best Asian restaurants are as there are many in the U.S. that are not very good.  Your professor or lab group members are great people to ask for advice on where they would recommend you try to eat.

Tipping: Why do we have to pay tips at restaurants in the U.S.?
Waiters and waitresses and some other professions (like taxi drivers or hairstylists) in the U.S. are paid a lower minimum wage than other workers For example, the minimum wage in Texas is $7.25 per hour for almost all jobs but for waiters and waitresses can be paid as little as $2.13 per hour.  The expectation is that a waiter or waitress will make up the difference in the wage through tips and that this will encourage the waiter or waitress to provide good customer service.  If they provide good customer service they will typically receive more in tips.  If they are a bad waiter/waitress they will likely receive less in tips.

  • Tipping for Table Service: For a waiter/waitress who takes your order and bring the food to your table, a common tip is 15% for good service and 20% for excellent service.The lowest amount you should tip is 10%.
    • Paying at a Sit-Down Restaurant: At a sit-down restaurant, you will typically ask the server for your bill when you are ready to leave and pay at the table to them directly. If you want to leave the tip in cash simply say “No change needed” if the money you give the waiter/waitress to pay for the meal includes the amount you want to tip or leave the money for the tip on the table when you leave.  If you are paying via a credit or debit card, you will typically put your card into a small folder with the bill and then the server will take it to the register to run through/ring up.  The server will then bring you back a a receipt that you will need to sign and  you can add in the tip amount you would like to leave on that line.  You then keep your card and the receipt that you did not sign, and leave the signed receipt with the tip amount in the small folder or tray they brought to your table.
  • Tipping for Counter Service: If you order your food at the counter and pick it up yourself you do not always have to leave a tip. There will often be a small jar or box on the counter near the cashier where you can drop in a dollar or two for a tip and you’ll see this at coffeeshops like Starbuck’s as well. If you are paying via credit or debit card, you can write in the tip amount on when you sign the receipt.
  • Click here for more on tipped wages in the U.S. 
  • BBC America: Tipping in America: How to do it and what to expect if you don’t

To-Go Boxes or “Doggie Bags”:  Portion sizes at restaurants in the U.S. can be very large. If you cannot finish your entire meal, you can ask for a ‘to-go box’ or ‘doggie bag’ to take the left-over food home.  You can then eat that later for dinner or the next day for lunch.  This is a great way to get 2 (or sometimes 3) meals for the price of one.

Yelp: One helpful app you may want to download to your phone is Yelp.  This app (or the website) will allow you to look up restaurants that are nearby you and will usually give you information on the type of food, approximate cost, and reviews from customers.  The neighborhoods on Yelp that are closest to where you will be in Houston include Medical Center (near hotel), West University (near Rice), Downtown, Midtown, Montrose, and Upper Kirby.  Taking an Uber to these locations would likely not be too expensive.

Near Rice: Starting in Sept. 2016, Rice University began offering a free lunch time shuttle to the Rice Village Shopping Area.  The restaurants here are mid-range, not too cheap and not too expensive, and there are a variety of types of food you can try.   Be sure to ask at the restaurants and shops in the Village if they offer a Rice University student discount and if they say yes just show them your Rice ID. If you want to come to Rice Village at night, you can ask the free hotel shuttle to drop you off/pick-up here.  As your labmates what their favorite restaurant is in Rice Village as there are many options to try!

Japanese in Houston – Yelp

Chinatown | About Houston’s Neighborhoods

How to Eat Healthy Meals at Restaurants

America’s Top 10 Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants

Dining Out Dos and Don’ts: Healthy Choices at Popular Chain Restaurants – Cooking Light

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Dining Options on Rice University Campus

For dining options at Rice, see Only degree-seeking undergraduate or graduate students are able to purchase a meal plan to eat in the residential college cafeterias. Food options for visiting researchers are only available as described at the above website and below.

  • @Sammy’s (Rice Memorial Center, 1F)
    • 4point Taco: Tacos
    • Whoo Deli: sandwich and soup
    • In The Loop: pizza
    • Grillosophy: hamburgers
    • Parliament of Chefs: daily different dishes by Rice Dining’s chef
  • Ambassador Chinese (Rice Memorial Center, basement)
  • Droubi’s (South Servery near Hanszen College): Mediterranean and American grilled lunch and dinner
  • Valhalla’s: set of a sandwich, a bag of chips and a can of soda for from $5
  • Salento at Brochstein Pavilion: : coffee, muffin, croissant, sandwiches and salad
  • The Faculty Club: Members only dining. You can become a member by paying one-time fee of $30.
  • Rice Coffeehouse: coffee, muffin and cakes
  • Mobile Dining/Food Trucks:
    From 5:30 – 9:00 PM, located on the Mudd Loop Road (in between the Mudd Building and Hamman Hall, north side of Brockman Hall) there are food truck options on Monday – Friday Night. Food truck options vary by day.

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Shopping Vocabulary

This shopping vocabulary sheet may be helpful when grocery shopping if you are looking for specific ingredients and aren’t sure of the English name or if you need to ask someone where to find that food item or ingredient in the grocery store.


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