If you’ve ever wondered what a Japanese school lunch tastes like, you’ll want to head to this hidden gem.

Japanese cuisine has long been touted for its variety, nutritional benefits and beautiful presentation, but for locals it’s simply what they’ve grown up with, as this culture of careful meal planning is instilled in people from a young age, when they’re introduced to school lunches, starting from elementary school.

Carefully planned and usually served up by the children themselves, who push the trolleys of food to their classrooms where they eat, these school meals become intrinsically tied to the nostalgia of growing up in Japan, so much so that when people become grown adults they still find themselves fondly remembering the meals.

The only problem is, without going back to school, it can be difficult for a grown adult to get a taste of these meals again. However, for those in the know, there is a secret place where you can eat a school lunch, and it’s not just a replicated version made for nostalgic adults — it’s exactly the same lunch served at schools today.

▼ The school lunches are on the menu at the Adachi Ward Office cafeteria in Tokyo.

Cafeterias in government buildings like this one are usually only known by staff and locals. Our reporter Seiji Nakazawa didn’t know of its existence until recently, when he heard that the recipe used for two of the dishes on the menu was exactly the same as the ones used for school lunches in Adachi Ward.

One of the school lunches is on the fixed menu while the other is a special that changes daily. Both cost 748 yen (US$5.02) each, including a mini salad and a small side dish.

When he asked about the daily special, staff told him it was fried mackerel, a dish he never really cared for at school, so he opted for the fixed menu item instead, which was…

▼ …white stew!

This dish is very popular with school children, which is why it’s permanently on the menu at this cafeteria. Seiji never had white stew at his school, so he was impressed to learn that students get to enjoy it nowadays as part of their regular roster of meals.

It certainly looked fantastic, but how would it taste? Dipping his spoon in for a good mix of rice and stew and lifting it to his mouth, Seiji let the hearty, warming combination melt on his tongue, and he was instantly amazed at its quality. He’d expected it to be thin and bland but instead it was thick, creamy and bursting with flavour.

Seiji had never had a meal this good at school, so he felt a slight tinge of jealousy that kids in Adachi Ward were eating so well. One thing children can’t do at school is add soy sauce to their lunches, though, and seeing as that’s something Seiji’s come to love with white stews as an adult, he added a good squirt for a dose of mature indulgence.

Even without soy sauce, the meal exceeded all of Seiji’s expectations, and now he can’t wait to return to find out what other daily specials they offer. Plus, the cafeteria itself is nice and modern, with comfortable seating and fantastic views, making this a gem of a find.

After eating here, Seiji later learned that Adachi Ward aims to provide “the most delicious school lunches in Japan”, and according to an article in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, the ward even has a “Delicious School Lunch Department ” to help them achieve this goal.

If the dish Seiji enjoyed is anything to go by, the ward is certainly excelling in its goal of serving up Japan’s most delicious school lunches. So if you’re ever in the area, be sure to stop by the cafeteria to get a taste of what the local kids are having. And if you’re looking for another secret cafeteria closer to Tokyo, there’s the school cafeteria for adults in Shinjuku, which serves up a tasty Japanese curry.

Cafeteria information
Shokudo Soranoshita / 食堂 ソラノシタ
Address: Tokyo-to, Adachi-ku, Chuohoncho 1-17-1, South Building 14F
東京都足立区中央本町1-17-1南館 14F
Hours: 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. (last order 8:00 p.m.)

Images © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]