Monday, March 5, 2007

Mitsuwa Marketplace

Forgive me if this post makes no sense: the coffee machine spat out water speckled with grinds this morning instead of the usual normal coffee, so I'm flying without the assistance of caffeine. Unfortunately, we didn't do too much cooking over the weekend. We spent the majority of the day on Saturday in the suburbs, running various errands and having dinner with D's family. I was somehow able to convince D to take me to this wonderful Asian marketplace we'd heard about on Check, Please! which is one of the best local shows on PBS. Each week, the guests on the show visit three Chicago-area restaurants -- each guest picks one restaurant -- and they sit down to discuss the places and their experiences with host Alpana Singh. Alpana is fun to watch on television -- she's quite a personality -- and you know she knows her food, and her wine: she's the youngest person to ever pass the Master Sommelier exam, which is quite a feat.
A few weeks ago, Check, Please! featured Mitsuwa Marketplace, the largest Japanese grocery store in the Midwest. It's actually a chain, with most locations in California (and one, mysteriously, in Jersey) but it was far from a big-box experience. Although it is quite large, and the majority of the building is occupied by the grocery store, there is a sizable food court (which is what our visit was mostly for, aside from picking up some sesame oil and scallions) as well as a travel agency and a bookstore. Aside from the oil and onions, we had a third mission: a bentō box. D picked me up the cutest, greenest bentō in the store, complete with strange slogan: It Is So Wonderful To Be Able to Maintain Your Dreams is scrawled across the top of the box, as well as on the accompanying bag. I was kind of nonplussed by the selection of bentō boxes, but I was able to find the perfect one anyhow. In case you don't know, a bentō box is a Japanese-style take-out container or lunch-box, complete with small compartments for different types of food. It's all about pleasing presentation and compactness, which are two things that I am quite fond of.
The marketplace is overwhelming: since I don't speak Japanese, it was kind of a confusing venture, but we made out perfectly. We had a bit of luck: at the food court, everything is written in Japanese (with English titles that mean very little to me) but all the vendors have display cases with each meal inside, numbered and titled to make it easy to order. I wanted something noodle-based, and although many places had lots of soups that looked heavy on the noodles, I wasn't looking for liquid. I wanted a solid, stir-fried mass of wiggling noodles in sauce. Enter yakisoba!
Yakisoba is a fried-noodle dish made with cabbage, onions, bean sprouts, carrots, ginger, seaweed, and fish flakes. It's not too spicy, but it has a bit of a kick -- at least the version that we ate did. It's also quite healthy, aside from the sodium in the sauce, which is typically made from sosu, a Japanese worcestershire sauce. We split a gigantic plate between us for $3.40, which is a steal, especially since you get to stand there and watch it being prepared, which is extremely fun. They make it on a giant grill, and while we waited, three more people ordered yakisoba, which meant that they just kept adding more noodles and sauce and veggies to the pile. By the end, the entire grill was nearly covered in noodles.
It was fantastic, and we ate the entire plate in no time. I was full, but D wasn't. Good, because we hadn't tried the sushi, which was, according to D, downright fabulous. I personally don't eat raw fish, so I wasn't even able to try a bite of the tuna maki, but for $3.00 D got a large tray-full (twelve pieces total) which he says was delicious. The look on his face while he ate it confirms this fact: that's got to be some great sushi. They also sell sushi-quality fish in the grocery component of the marketplace, which is obviously very good. I considered buying a slab or two, but we weren't done with our errands, and it would have gone wrong by the time we were able to refrigerate it. I'm cool with that, though: just means we'll have to take another trip back!

Yakisoba (Adapted from Mitsuwa Marketplace recipe)
Peel and julienne one large carrot and one half an onion. Remove the core from one half cabbage and cut into long, bite-sized strips. Rinse a cup of bean sprouts and drain well.
Rinse a package of yakisoba noodles and place on a plate. Cover with saran wrap and microwave for one minute -- this keeps the noodles from sticking together when you stir-fry them.
Heat one tablespoon oil in a frying pan -- or, you can cook one slice of bacon, diced, in the pan, which is what they did at the marketplace -- and add the vegetables. Stir-fry the veggies until they begin to wilt. Add the bean sprouts last, however -- you want them to retain some crunchiness. Add the noodles and mix well. Once everything is incorporated, add the sauce. Most noodle packages come with a sauce packet; if not, you can use about 1/4 cup Japanese worcestershire sauce. Coat the noodles and vegetables with the sauce and heat through.
Serve with some grated ginger, seaweed flakes, and fish flakes on top.
Oishii! (Delicious!)


Susan said...

Mitsuwa's New Jersey location is only a mystery if you don't live in the NY metro area. There is a huge Japanese community (among other predominantly Asian areas) encompassing several towns just west of Manhattan who shop at the Edgewater store. Many New Yorkers frequent it as well. The store is always packed; it is impossible to find parking on the weekend. It's a fun place to visit, although overwhelming and a bit mystifying if you don't know the language. We wound up in the food court, too, pointing to and lunching on noodles.

K8 said...

Makes sense -- although I've lived in Brooklyn (and in Manhattan, briefly) I never ventured too far out of the city, so I'm ignorant of the surrounding area.
I agree: the store itself is a tad overwhelming, but very exciting and worth the confusion. After tasting those noodles -- and making some stir-fry with other dry noodles I bought there -- I can't wait to go back and try it again.
Speaking of parking, the lot was quite full when we visited (on a weekend) but we were still able to find a spot quite easily. I think that parking is easier to find out here in general -- driving is so crazy out near New York City.

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