Early in the day the prepared food and bento section would be well stocked with a variety of freshly made meals and separate packages of all sorts of different foods - sushi rolls, rice balls, sandwiches, salads, noodle dishes, dumplings, stirfrys (or is that stirfries?), breaded pork cutlets, tempura,... and the list goes on and on. By the time I'd get there, however, the pickings were usually pretty slim and somewhat random. I'd end up with a couple of skewers of yakitori and a caesar salad one night, and a cheese and roast beef wrap and shrimp tempura the next. It was a bit of an adventure never quite knowing what I might find! Given how tired I was some nights not having to make a choice was very much appreciated. The real bonus, however, was the price. At that hour most things were 10% or 30% off, or even half-price.
Supermarket prepared foods have a limited shelf-life. In some stores there is a set time of day when all the remaining foods go on a certain discount. An employee will go around with a sticker machine, affixing bright red and yellow discount stickers to the plastic and styrofoam containers. Often times the employee will be followed by a trail of shoppers who swoop in and grab packages of certain items as soon as the sticker goes on. One grocery store near where I used to live closed at 10pm. At 5pm the bakery counter closed and baked goods went on various discounts. Prepared foods were 10% off after 5pm, 30% after 7pm, and 50% (if anything was still left) after 9pm. At 24 hour places, however, food tends to be prepared at different times during the day, and so the discount stickers will go on items based on how long they've been sitting out. The older the item the better the discount and the more likely it is to be snapped up by an eager shopper.
Now that I am back in an apartment and have a kitchen, I do find myself cooking a lot more than I did when I was in the dorm (when I all but lived off of the discounted prepared foods and bento from a network of different grocery stores). I especially like to make up a big pot of soup or stirfry or stew and freeze individual-sized portions for later meals. But there are also days when I have evening classes and find myself sizing up the discounted prepared foods at my local grocery store...
on the menu for tonight: salad, kara-age chicken with a spicy Chinese sauce
note the big red and yellow sticker emblazoned with "taimu sabisu" or time-service, and a discounted price
and one of my all-time favourites, negi-toro maki (rolled sushi with green onion and tuna belly)
at half-price (han-gaku) how can you go wrong?!!
Perhaps not the best way to ensure a healthy balanced meal, but still a cheap way of getting a quick and yummy late meal (or breakfast, if you dare to defy the eat-before time stamp and save a couple of things for the next morning - I've done so a number of times and lived to tell the tale!)