How to Shop at a Japanese Supermarket

Watch as Adina Steiman navigates the aisles of Mitsuwa, New Jersey's legendary Japanese specialty supermarket.

Released on 7/27/2016

Transcript

00:00
Split it right down, hopefully, the middle.
00:05
Wow.
00:06
[Voiceover] Like a jumbo, seaweed-wrapped rice ball,
00:08
Japanese food contains a treasure-trove
00:10
of delicious surprises.
00:12
I'm here at Mitsuwa, a legendary Japanese supermarket
00:15
in Edgewater, New Jersey with a mission
00:18
to go beyond teriyaki and explore
00:20
one of the most food-obsessed cultures on the planet.
00:23
Mitsuwa is a magical place
00:24
where pastries are wrapped like birthday presents,
00:27
the fancy herbs are almost microscopic,
00:29
and the bags of rice are human-sized.
00:31
And it all starts in their super-seasonal produce aisle,
00:34
which features the largest root vegetable I've ever seen.
00:37
It's time to get lost in the supermarket.
00:41
This looks like just a typical bin
00:43
of baby sweet potatoes, or something like that.
00:45
The sign says purple yam.
00:47
And you open it, see this amazing purple color?
00:50
When you cook them,
00:51
basically syrup and like, honey pours out of them
00:54
because they're so rich and flavorful.
00:56
Ooh!
00:57
This is gobo, AKA burdock.
01:01
Just... a whole lot of gobo going on over here.
01:06
A huge part of Japanese cooking
01:08
is about preserving vegetables.
01:10
They usually have some combination of vinegar,
01:13
or salt fermentation.
01:15
Boiled royal wild vegetables in water.
01:18
There's a certain grandeur
01:20
to this package of pickled vegetables that
01:22
I don't think is entirely earned.
01:25
You can come to Mitsuwa and get a jar of mold.
01:29
That is what rice koji is.
01:31
Rice kernels covered with a fragrant, white bloom
01:34
of Aspergillus oryzae mold.
01:38
Here we have white bait,
01:40
'cause it's usually used as a bait fish.
01:41
You can still see the glint of silvery eyeballs,
01:45
it's kind of staring back at you.
01:48
This one little clump is probably
01:50
at least six tiny, little fish in there.
01:54
It's actually really delicious by itself
01:56
but if you served it over rice it'd be a lot easier to eat.
02:01
A lot of times people are intimidated by
02:04
eating sushi or sushi meat at home.
02:06
Here in Mitsuwa, all of that is taken care of.
02:09
You have everything from chopped up fatty tuna,
02:12
that's perfect for hand rolls, or maki rolls.
02:15
Or you have a segment of big eye tuna.
02:17
Slice it up, put it on some rice, you're done.
02:25
This is practically a shrine to rich, fatty,
02:28
well-marbled wagyu beef from Japan.
02:31
This is some pretty expensive stuff, 49.99 a pound.
02:35
But you only need a few thin slices of it
02:37
to totally blow you away.
02:39
And then over here, you think like,
02:40
are these just random cuts of beef?
02:42
This is actually hunks of the beef fat itself.
02:46
So if you are going to like, grease a skillet,
02:48
you start out with one of these pieces.
02:51
Free fancy Japanese wagyu beef fat.
02:55
[Voiceover] With my hunger already triggered
02:56
by a taste of tiny fish,
02:58
I'm ready to delve into the endless snack aisles of Mitsuwa,
03:01
where options range from the adorable,
03:03
to the strangely chewy.
03:05
Ooh!
03:06
Green tea cream-filled cookies,
03:09
that are shaped like koalas.
03:12
This is like, way too adorable.
03:15
When you decapitate it,
03:18
you can see the matcha filling.
03:23
Mmm!
03:24
It's crushed black sesame seeds,
03:26
which have almost like a nutty, chocolate-y flavor to them.
03:29
It's surprisingly good with a fish-cake flavor.
03:33
You just have to make sure your neck is in good shape
03:37
before biting into these!
03:39
Seafood-flavored snacks shaped like full moon.
03:44
Hmm... very seaweed-y.
03:49
[Voiceover] Nestled right alongside the aisles of Mitsuwa,
03:52
you'll find a food court.
03:53
But this isn't your typical shopping mall pit stop.
03:56
It's a curated selection of vendors
03:57
serving Japanese food to a mostly Japanese clientele.
04:01
Complete with rice balls made right before your eyes,
04:03
freshly fried pork katsu,
04:05
and shockingly lifelike plastic food replicas.
04:08
Everything's made on premises,
04:09
and it's, you guessed it, insanely good.
04:12
Ugh.
04:14
So right now we've got some spicy miso ramen.
04:17
I'm seeing rich pork belly over here,
04:19
perfectly cooked ramen noodles, wood ear mushrooms,
04:23
some bamboo shoots that I'm sure are very flavorful.
04:26
I'm just gonna start digging in.
04:30
Noodles are really good.
04:32
Firm, not mushy at all.
04:33
The broth is just like, pure umami.
04:38
I'm about to eat Japanese rice balls.
04:40
It's kind of like piney, vaguely minty,
04:43
some people call it Japanese mint.
04:44
But what you might not be able to see at first glance:
04:48
squiggly bits poking out from my rice ball.
04:50
I'm realizing they are tiny, little fish.
04:57
It's completely sealed in seaweed,
04:59
it's not giving away any of its secrets.
05:01
I'm just going to split it right down the middle.
05:07
Wow! (laughs)
05:09
This is an explosion of cooked salmon,
05:12
seaweed, like 15 other things.
05:17
It's just like, completely drenched in spicy mayonnaise
05:20
and it is so delicious.
05:22
This is katsu sauce, a sweet sticky sauce
05:26
that actually has some fruit boiled down in it.
05:28
So it has a nice, caramelly sweetness to it.
05:31
Panko is super crispy, pork is tender.
05:34
It is like absolutely mind-blowing to me
05:36
that you can get katsu of this quality in a supermarket.
05:40
And you have these balls of I know not what!
05:43
I think they're... oh shoot,
05:45
I've trapped my chopsticks in it.
05:47
The only way to escape this
05:49
is to eat it off my chopsticks, so...
05:56
(muffled) I can't eat this.
05:58
It's so big.
06:02
It's some sort of fibrous root vegetable
06:04
that's cooked in like a fish broth.
06:07
Kind of hard to chew.
06:09
It's very flour-y.
06:11
It's like a ball of hardened,
06:14
week-old mashed potato that you have thrown in a fish broth.
06:18
But I got through it,
06:20
and now I'm going to eat some more katsu.
06:25
[Voiceover] Sure, I ended up buying too many things
06:27
at Mitsuwa, but how could I resist a place
06:29
with an obsessive attention to quality,
06:31
and cartoon characters on the packages of artisanal tofu?
06:35
And I have no regrets.
06:37
Like my unfortunate experience
06:38
with that ball of mountain yam,
06:40
I hope that my time at Mitsuwa keeps going,
06:43
and going, and going.
06:46
(smooth jazz)