Becky and I took a road trip to Mitsuwa, in Arlington Heights. We went for the food, had a great time and I stocked up on cooking supplies. It is truly one of the most striking markets if you like Japanese food. When we were leaving, we both had to laugh when this little girl walked in with her parents, wide eyed in wonderment, and said loudly, “Wow, Japanese food is awesome.” Yes, yes, yes indeed!!
In 2000, Mitsuwa took over where the Yaohan Japanese shopping center was located, maintaining the core business concept. If you like Japanese food and want to make it yourself, this is THE place to go. Mituwa also has several independent boutiques, including one for Shiseido Cosmetics, a shop for Japanese dishes, Hippo Bakery, and a food court where the food is worth the wait. Overall, the store is well kempt, and well staffed. They also have a bucket of chipped ice, where you can fill plastic bags to keep your perishables cold for the trip home.
I haven’t been there in quite some time, so it was a fascinating trip on all accounts. Some things remained the same, being the high quality, very fresh cuts of meats and fish, including sashimi grade fish. I wanted to make a fish soup stock, and purchased a fine piece of sea bass to make soup stock with. I purchased soba noodles and was hoping to put fishcake in the soup but to no avail. One thing changed for sure. I could not find a single fishcake that did not have MSG in it. Becky helped me, and we looked through what seemed like endless fishcake versions. I forgot to take a photo of the huge refrigerated case. Mitsuwa also has some awesome housewares. On the bottom shelf are food dividers, for lunch boxes. They are washable and reusable. One can hardly not realize that this is a far more ecological solution to providing lunch meals in containers that can be reused, versus thrown out.
My favorite containers were these glass containers, in various sizes, with locking snap plastic tops. I’m unsure why the price tag below the items is marked the way it is, because they were definitely not $18.99 each!
Becky found the Progresso:
Anyone who knows of my love for flan will appreciate the next photo:
I’ve always known Kamaboko to be made out of fish, although anyone who has never seen it in context of a bowl of noodles, for example, may consider it the Japanese version of “mystery food.” I was really thrown then, when I saw “cheese kamaboko.” Who knew?
Well, this isn’t the clearest photo, but you can see the great assortments of dressings. I picked up a curry coconut one. They also had an incredible selection of fresh miso, and I was able to get a decent sized organic one for $8.00, about twice the amount for a fraction of the cost at Whole Foods.
One of the modern mysteries I’ve noticed is how incredibly thin most Japanese nationals are, and the New Issei, especially the younger folks, are incredibly thin. I say this because there is no shortage of sweets, from red bean pastries, mon-ju, ice cream, cookies, and these cake rolls and other sponge cake based desserts. The mocha and coffee rolls were tempting – maybe next time!
A friend of mine asked me to pick up natto, and being that he was recently diagnosed as diabetic, avoiding anything with high fructose or sugar was important. One thing that amazed me was how much natto they had – the assortment was truly awesome. Unfortunately I had to settle for natto where sugar was listed toward the end of the ingredient list, since all of them contained sugar.
I found a brown rice vinegar, and purchased a bottle so I can make brown rice sushi. I also bought quite a bit of “nori” or the flat, sea laver that is used for maki sushi rolls. There were small pieces of hamachi, or yellow tail that were very fresh and the perfect amount for a meal, as well as a Korean style marinated beef. We both bought green onions and bean sprouts for an unbelievably cheap price, and like the meats, the vegetables were very, very fresh.
We also visited Hippo. Hippo has been a part of Mitsuwa and Yaohan ever since I can remember. They have some great baked goods and pastry items that are not overly sweet. I picked up an apple tart, as well as cookies made with almond flour. You can see some of their items by clicking the link for Hippo. The name amuses me as it reminds me of the Mexican bakery called Bimbo. My mother used to love getting baked treats from Hippo, because they were not as overly sweet as many other bakeries.
When you walk into Hippo, you need to get a tray and a pair of tongs. Customers open the cases and pick out, with the tongs, whatever baked goods they want. If you want items that require refrigeration, you’ll need to buy those by the check out case.
The items below are filled with red bean paste (Anpan).
Becky and I both bought the spinach item on the left. We both planned to have it for breakfast. I enjoyed mine, and didn’t realize until I bit into it that it had a bit of bacon. The faces on the right were so cute that I almost wanted one just because it was adorable.
The next item is filled with apple and custard. I love the artistry!
At Mitsuwa, there is also a section for fresh sushi, and some meals in a bowl. I purchased one of their nigiri sushi (sushi rice with fish on top) and it was very fresh and very good. It was $9.99 for TEN pieces, less than $1 each!!
Our lunch from the food court was nothing short of spectacular. Becky had the teriyaki beef, which came with rice, a little taikwon (pickles that you eat with rice), and miso soup. I had the tempura udon, which was delicious. The udon was in a fish stock, with 3 pieces of shrimp tempura, squash tempura, green onions and soba noodles. I’ve always preferred the soba noodles over the udon noodles because they are more substantive.
We also picked up a tiny container of red bean and green tea ice cream. It was that perfect amount that allows you to have a taste without over eating.
I was purchasing some supplements there and spoke to the lady who runs the health shop. She immigrated here 20 years ago. The new wave of Japanese immigration, or the “New Issei” came in from around 1990, which makes her part of that wave. What was interesting is that she was very proud of the fact that her husband went back to Japan during that time, which would relate to a cultural signal about their status.
While many of the Kaisha (corporate relocatees) came here because their companies sent them to the USA, many of them have had children and I wonder what will happen to those who are teenagers, children who experience their formative years in the US when it is time for them to return, since the US is such a different culture. Back in my martial arts day, a friend of ours, Uichi, came here to go to school. He fell in love with this country, and was very sad to return home. He exemplified the difference between our cultures. He told us that as much as it broke his heart to leave this country, and Chicago, he had no choice because it would disappoint his family (parents) and that he had a responsibility to not do something for purely selfish reasons. Watching the manner in which the Japanese people have conducted themselves under the most desperate and dire circumstances, one can only respect the inner strength that it takes to put others above your own immediate desires.
I watched in amazement at the numbers of Japanese nationals of all ages, from young teens to parents, who have come here for varying reasons, and while some will return to Japan, certainly others will stay, and by doing so they are truly the ”New Issei,” unscathed and unburdened by the exclusionary laws that tried to tear down the Issei and Nisei. They do not share the Asian American historical experience; this creates the unique situation where older generations of Asian Americans have more in common with Chicanos and urban Native Americans. Having shared severe discrimination and burdens often unloads the painful history from generation to generation, and has been something that has weighted on the older generations of Japanese Americans. The new immigrants may have a shared genotype but they came here under different circumstances and freedoms.
I’ve seen this with Latino immigrants who come to the US, highly educated and from middle class families. It is often difficult for them to relate to the poverty stricken immigrants from another generation. Similarly affluent African immigrants have often told me that just “don’t get” African Americans here, which makes sense because they don’t have the shared history. Not having a painful shared history can be very liberating, because you are not anchored and tied back into the past, which frees you to move forward. It is perhaps because of this that the 1.5 generation, a term originally coined to refer to Korean immigrants who came here as children with their parents, have experienced an accelerated rate of acculturation and business and financial success.
Our trip to Mitsuwa was fascinating on many levels, and from a cultural marketing perspective, seeing the influx of educated immigrants, untethered by the discriminatory laws of the previous waves of Japanese immigrants, seems like a breath of fresh air for our State and our Country. Like all immigration, it brings new hope, new ideas, new ways of looking at things, and a diversity that shakes up old ways of thinking, to help our country move forward the best way that we can.
It also brings translation issues. Props to Becky for her find. The box says: “Speedy Thumper – Endless feeling wonderful.”
100 East Algonquin Road
Arlington Heights, IL