Not everyone can just jump on the next plane to Japan and experience a Japanese supermarket. The next best thing would be L.A, right? Unfortunately for me, I live amidst the corn fields that make up the Midwest (ok, Chicago isn’t exactly a corn field…). We have Chinatown and Koreatown… but not much when it comes to Japanese culture. Imagine my surprise upon learning that there is a Japanese market about 35 minutes from my house! Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights is a supermarket, bookstore and food court all rolled up into one. I finally got the chance to re-visit this past Sunday. I’ve been there once before, but it was almost too much to take in. I was X-mas shopping for the co-workers… so didn’t get a chance to buy much for myself. And this time, I made sure to take pictures.
Ok, ok so those aren’t my pictures. They aren’t even of the Arlington Heights location, but you get the idea. I hadn’t even thought of taking pictures of the bookstore, and by the time I did it had gotten crowded. I felt creepy taking pictures for some reason, so I refrained from doing so. What to say about this bookstore? SO MUCH JAPANESE! If you have no experience with the language whatsoever, don’t even try it. There’s maybe a teeny section for Japanese learning, but other than that the store was stocked with native speakers in mind. They have a kids section, a manga section (Japanese only), craft books, cook books, stationery, cds and a good selection of magazines. I was interested in purchasing a children’s book, but they were all wrapped in plastic so I couldn’t even take a peek. It was a little hard trying to figure out pricing as not much was labeled in English. And Japanese cds, as we all know, cost about a thousand dollars each (lol). I was tempted by an Utada Hikaru cd, but figured I could get it on itunes for about half the price it was listed for. In the end, I decided on a young women’s magazine “MORE” that came with a cute gift. Figured I could practice my katakana this way. And surprisingly, I recognized a lot more Japanese celebrities on the magazine covers than I would have thought (Arashi, Kana Nishino, Koyuki and Yu Aoi to name a few)
Two words… Koala’s March. Yes, Mitsuwa has them 😀 The supermarket section was a little overwhelming, especially if you don’t have much knowledge of asian groceries. There were so many things and so little time! Luckily, I was with a friend who had been to Japan and helped me navigate through the candy aisles. We went a little crazy with the candy, considering that neither of us are candy lovers. I am also a bit tea obsessed… a lot tea obsessed actually and had to narrow down my selections before deciding on 3 boxes. We each purchased a box of “Beautymate” tea, a chinese tea that promises us it’ll make us beautiful if we drink 2 cups a day. For $6? Why not. The full-time school + full-time job + third langauge combo has wreaked HAVOC on my face, so I think I need it :-).
The Calpico beverage seemed to be EVERYWHERE in that market so I grabbed an Original flavored one out of curiosity. I was also intrigued by an instant miso soup pack and threw that in my cart as well. I grabbed some tofu (a staple for me) and some sparkly chopsticks (kawaii!) and my friend and I decided to end our spree before we did any more damage. Plus, we were starving. The best part is still to come…
OOOOH… AHHH…. so many choices, not enough room in either of our bellies! On my last visit I had tried the Gabutto burger, and man was it oishii… but I wanted something different. My vegetarian friend bought a tofu Gabutto burger, but as for me, meat was on my mind.
I decided to go with the Bul Go Gi at their Korean restaurant and it was delicious! Finally, after seeing my favorite drama stars devour Korean food so many times, I got my chance. Aside from the Korean food and burgers, they have a ramen place, typical Japanese food stall (tonkatsu, etc.) and Chinese food. After demolishing our dinners, we followed up with some delicious matcha tea ice cream. I went with the soft serve matcha tea/vanilla swirl and it was DIVINE! I would return to Mitsuwa for the ice cream ALONE, seriously. The food court gets an A+ from me, especially considering how small it is. It packs a punch!
Is Mitsuwa worth the drive from my house? I think so. Perhaps not weekly, but I definitely will be back. I was being a bit critical in this blog post but in actuality I am just thankful it’s there. Come on, a Japanese market in the Midwest? How awesome is that! Before taking my next trip, I plan to be a bit more knowledgeable about Japanese food so that I can explore the grocery sections a bit more. I would also like to research some popular children’s books to study from so I won’t feel lost in that section. So yeah, more research basically. Any suggestions for foods or books I should try would be GREATLY appreciated!