Exploring Mitsuwa Marketplace

new jersey’s japanese megastore

By Lily Chin

Onex

(Photographs by Lily Chin)

New Yorkers usually avoid trekking to Jersey. But for large grocery runs, many Japanese expats and Japan enthusiasts willingly head across the Hudson River to Mitsuwa Marketplace in Edgewater, New Jersey. Huge and well-stocked, Mitsuwa offers a wider variety of Japanese staples and hard-to-find products not normally found in smaller city stores.

Rice is a key component in Japanese cooking, and Mitsuwa sells several varieties of American- and Japanese-grown rice: short grain white rice, Jasmine long grain rice, short grain brown rice and zakkokumai (a mix of rice and other grains, such as millet, adzuki red beans, barley and quinoa). Customers can even use a rice milling machine to mill brown rice imported from Hokkaido, Japan. Freshly milled rice tastes sweeter—and is supposedly more nutritious—than pre-milled rice stored in bags for long periods of time.

Miso soup is another Japanese staple, eaten at almost every meal. The base for the soup is made with dashi, a light broth flavored with kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (bonito fish flakes), two essentials in any Japanese kitchen.

To make miso soup, miso paste is added to simmering dashi. Made with fermented rice, soybeans or barley, miso paste comes in three main types: shiromiso (white miso), akamiso (red miso) and awasemiso (mixed miso).

Shiromiso has a mild, slightly sweet flavor and a golden-yellow color. It’s the most versatile miso, used in many dishes. Akamiso, used in braised dishes, rich soups and thick sauces, is darker in color and has a saltier, stronger fermented flavor. Awasemiso is a happy medium between lighter and darker miso—a good option for cooks who like both pastes but prefer to buy just one. At Mitsuwa, miso samples are often available for customers to try.

Tofu and wakame (seaweed) are often added to miso soup. One of the more unique brands of tofu, imported from Kyoto, is Otokomae (literally meaning “handsome man”). Otokomae’s Johnny Tofu (photo below), packaged in small, single-serving oval pods, is especially popular because the soybeans used to make the tofu are selectively chosen and processed, yielding a sweeter flavor.

Side dishes made with fish, vegetables, pickles and other fermented items are also an important part of Japanese meals. Tsukemono, Japanese pickles, can be made from cucumbers, carrot, gobo (burdock), takuan (daikon) and ume (plum). Natto (fermented soybeans, photo below) is a favorite breakfast dish in Japan—though its strong smell, fermented taste and slimy texture can be off-putting.

Another side dish with more Western appeal, Berkshire Pork cocktail sausages (photo below) are commonly eaten with breakfast or in lunch boxes. These cocktail sausages are much fattier, juicier and softer than typical American hot dogs.

Mitsuwa’s large food court is also worth a visit—for ramen, rice bowls, sweets and baked goods, and even onigiri. In addition, a Japanese book store and shops selling Shiseido beauty products, housewares, and stationary are located nearby.

These amenities, along with Mitsuwa’s many cultural events—including Mitsuwa’s traditional Matsuri celebration each summer, its Japanese Gourmet Fair and a Hokkaido Fair (September 26-29)—draw Japanese expats and curious New Yorkers who are hungry for both food and culture from Japan. A shuttle bus ($3 per person; $2 for children and seniors) runs from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Mitsuwa every day.

Mitsuwa Marketplace
595 River Rd (map)
Edgewater, NJ 07020


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