No longer living in Japan and now unable to access many of the items I became used to purchasing left me wanting for a good Japanese grocery. Many Asian markets do carry a few of the specialty snacks and ingredients I like, but more often than not, good quality Japanese items were few and far between. In Virginia Beach I found – with the help of my nihonjin neighbor – a fabulous little place called Ichiban (“number one”) that carried Japanese products only. The store was very small but exceptionally clean and well organized – the products never looked like they actually traveled half-way around the world to get to the shelves. However, I’ve since moved and really miss my ready source for wakame, dashi, shichimi, shiromiso, konbu, unagi, mugicha…
Missed, I should say, until another wonderful friend pointed me in the direction of Uwajimaya in Seattle. I nary waited a full day before jumping in my Jeep and heading out with visions of umeboshi dancing in my head.
While there is a blend of other Asian and South-east Asian (and even American) cuisine found throughout the aisles, the majority of the items are from the Land of the Rising Sun. I was thrilled to find a huge store, bakery, and foodcourt - almost a mall - packed with an amazing array of recipe ingredients, snacks and many goodies I had not seen since I left Nippon. Take a peek:
"Vanilla Cream Oreo Stick" (Yes, that's really what it says. I can still read a little - well, enough to get by). This was one of the couple dozen flavors of ever popular Pocky-type snacks available.
Hello Kitty is Japan's Mickey Mouse, I dare say. She is seen on toys, candy and snacks, rice cookers, space heaters, wine, lawn mowers (yes, lawn mowers) and even toilet paper and...uh, feminine products.
Canned coffee is everywhere in Japan. There are literally hundreds of types - the best of which is Georgia brand by Coca-Cola (I miss it so...) and is not, to the best of my knowledge, sold in the USA. It's almost worth a trip back to Japan - it's that darn good. The same vending machines - located in absolutely every part of the country (we even saw one in the middle of nowhere next to a daikon field with no apparent power source) - spit out cold coffee (and tea) in the summer and perfectly heated stuff in the winter.
Only the Japanese make wine-filled chocolate (3.3% alcohol) and wine ice cream this delicious...
Fresh, "real" wasabi, anyone? Only $59.99 a pound. It makes me wish I'd taken greater advantage of having it in my neighborhood grocery store when we lived in Japan.
Fresh fish? This one was VERY fresh - I think he winked at me. Seriously though, they have fresh, in the shell sea urchin (uni), sashimi grade salmon (sake), tuna (maguro), and so much more.
Not Japanese, but very close to what we saw in every corner bakery in Japan was the deliciousness that is Yummy House Bakery and Beard Papa's Cream Puffs (where they fill fresh baked pastry clouds with two flavors of custard while you wait).
All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and I can't wait to go back. Now armed with all the ingredients I need to make shabu-shabu, yakisoba, sukiyaki - as well as many things I didn't really need, I'm excited to get cooking and eating and planning my next trip! Stay tuned...