"Located on the west side of the Hudson River, Mitsuwa Marketplace, New Jersey store at Edgewater is the largest of all Mitsuwa stores. Once inside the shopping center, you think you are transported to Tokyo! This Japanese superstore will bring you to the heart of Japan when you see our vast selection of Japanese grocery, succulent sashimi & sushi, premium sake to scrumptious Japanese cuisines in the Restaurant Row. In specialty stores located just adjacent to the supermarket, you will find books, cosmetics, Japan-Pop household items, beauty parlor and other convenient services. You are sure to be pleased by a spectacular view of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline from the comfortable seating area of Restaurant Row."
Hell, they had me at 'Japanese superstore'. As a japanophile, there's no way I wouldn't want to go to take a look at this place. I might not be a complete weeaboo (though this is debatable), but I find a lot of Japanese culture and products interesting. So this past Sunday we trekked out to Mitsuwa, which was located around a hour north of where I live, just across the river from NYC.
Walking in, the foodcourt area was pretty amazing and packed to the brim. I didn't actually snap any pictures of the building or the general layout, but there were a lot of different shops in the food court area. There was a place serving ramen, one for mainly fried goods, one for rice platters, one for noodles, a bakery, a place for japanese desserts, a place for bento boxes, and God only knows what else I might have missed in my once through the area. What I found especially amazing is that almost every store had a glass case of food sculptures showing you what dishes they provided.
Isn't that freaking amazing? The menu itself was often in Japanese so this was the equivalent of the Gaijin menu where you could look at the food art and then order by number. It was pretty freaking amazing and reminded me of a show I once saw about a company that specialized in making this sort of plastic display food. Restaurants basically send in pictures of their dish and the company will churn out a replica for display. Hell, a lot of the replicas looked good enough to eat.
In the end, we decided to go to the restaurant that didn't have a line. I would have loved to have gone to try some of the tonkatsu/fried shrimp offerings at one of the other places, but they had a line a mile long. It was really a sea of humanity in there.
So we decided to order from the rice platter place and I began to peruse the glass case of replica food. In the end, I chose to get #40, the omelet rice with fried chicken.
You know how people are always complaining that their food doesn't match the advertised pictures which are primped and manipulated by food photographers to look absolutely delicious? Well, that was certainly not the case here. I know that this wasn't 'fast food' exactly and most people complain about fast food burgers, but considering the food was out in 10 minutes or so, it's not far off. Anyway, I'll let you look at the picture below and come to your own conclusions.
It looks even better than the plastic representation, right? I mean, part of that is because the chicken in the replica is this sickly white color as if it's been dipped in mayonnaise. Which, as I recall, was an option if you wanted it that way. Still, it almost seemed like a work of art with the chicken even piled into its own little pyramid instead of just being dumped on the side. You gotta love the Japanese. They may make some of the world's weirdest crap, but as a culture they are meticulous and wonderful.
Everything was about as good as it looked, except I couldn't handle all of the shredded radish. I can take it in small amounts by itself, or more with salad dressing or something to cut the taste a little, but after the dressing was done, so was I. I'm not sure what the green stuff was, but it tastes exactly like a Chinese jellyfish dish. The difference being the Chinese version isn't green.
So after that we decided to grab dessert. I had noticed a stall selling taiyaki and other japanese 'cakes' and got in line. I'd had the Korean version of taiyaki at H-mart and was curious if there was any functional difference between that and the real thing.
I had been planning to get one of each type, but was told they were out of #1. This seemed to be a blatant lie given what I could see in front of me, but I figured it wasn't worth arguing about.
Oh, I also took a picture for which I got scolded by the Japanese woman in front. Apparently pictures aren't allowed for some reason. Maybe they're afraid photo documentation will help me set up my own competing taiyaki stand next door or something. Still, you can see the plethora of #1's cooking right there in front despite what I was told.
So here's what we ended up with at the end. I have to admit the Japanese version was much better than what they have at h-mart. It's much thicker and had a better texture overall. The other one tasted exactly like a waffle that someone had squirted a large dollop of Bavarian cream into. All in all, pretty spiffy.
In our once around the foodcourt a Mango cream cake had caught Karen's eye at the bakery so she went to pick up a slice while I was waiting for the taiyaki. On a sidenote, the bakery's name was 'Italian Tomato', which made absolutely no freaking sense to me. I'm going to assume it was a case of engrish gone bad because I can't see what Italy or tomatoes would have to do with a bakery.
For all that it was a virulent yellow color, the cake was actually surprisingly good. It had a very strong mango flavor in the cream, which is sort of unusual. Karen objected to my use of the term 'virulent', but clearly that is a color seldom found in nature and probably signaled 'poisonous, don't touch' when it was.
So the whole point of the trip from Karen's perspective was to find Plum wine. So after lunch, we ventured off to the liquor aisle where she debated to herself among the various varieties to be fond. I proceeded to entertain myself but scoping out the various brands and types of sake.
I found this one to be particularly amusing. If you have ever watched a lot of old-school kung-fu movies, you probably know why. This is the sort of thing that tends to show up in those films when someone is getting drunk off their ass. The pour spout is on the side and some drunken-master to be is usually holding it above their heads and pouring the contents into their mouth.
In the end, Karen bought herself 3 or 4 bottles of plum wine, and I even bought this. Not really because I wanted to drink it, but I thought it looked sorta cute. I mean, it's like the little airplane bottles of booze. Even better, each little jar had an actual plum sitting in it which I thought was just cool.
There were a few stores in the same area selling other Japanese items and I wanted to take a peek around. I went into a Japanese book store first and discovered, surprise surprise, just about everything was in Japanese. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting but it was kinda spiffy to just wander around look at all the rows of manga. One thing I was surprised about is just how small in dimension manga volumes are there. They're even smaller than our paperbacks while manga sold in the US is usually well larger than a paperback and up to the size of a trade paperback. Maybe it's just a function of everything being bigger in the US. Space is at a premium in Japan after all and you can probably save a lot of space if you have hundreds of volumes.
After the bookstore, we went into a place selling various Japanese pop culture goods. You know the kind I'm talking about. Figures, plushies, cell phone straps, etc.
Look! I found a dragonball. Only six more and I'll get to make a wish.
I'm amazed at how many collectible things are made in Japan, and just how much of it is random draw. Take these dragonball toys for instance. In each one, is a random figure from the set and if you want to amass a complete collection, you have to buy case after case and either trade with your friends or just hope you get lucky eventually. The sheer number of these collectible sets being sold there was amazing.
I found one that had either been a manufacturing error, missing the back half of the ball or that someone had opened somehow and yoinked it. Anyway, as you can see there is Captain Ginyu, lying flat on his back. I tried to shake the ball repeatedly to get him into an upright position but it was just flat out impossible, probably because of how the figure was weighted. I also have a confession to make. I actually had to google and then search on the wiki to get Captain Ginyu's name. I knew he was a member of the Ginyu force but I'm not that much of an otaku to be able to pull the names of characters out of thin air like that.
I did give a little internal squee when I ran across this Madoka collectable figure set. These stores in the US tend to be very mainstream so you usually only find things like hello kitty and dragonball/one piece/naruto goods as far as anime goes. This was the most fringe otaku item in there barring a K-On plushie of Yui.
No, I didn't buy it. I have told many people that that is my red line. If I ever start collecting anime figurines, especially of magical girls and the like, that is a sign I need an intervention. I expect everyone who considers themselves my friend to participate and save me from myself because it was clearly mean I have lost perspective and possibly my damn mind.
There were a hodgepodge of other, almost random items in the store. I like to think of this as an Engrish fail though for all I know they really did mean to name it that. I mean, who wouldn't a sweetheart rat for their laptop? If you decide you just have to have one, they were heavily discounted as I recall.
Awww. Look, plushie sushi. I actually thought about buying one of these but none of them really clicked with me.
I figured this was another Engrish fail, though I actually took it at its word I first. I kept turning it around in my hand trying to figure out how it could grant you revenge. I even tried to squeeze it figuring maybe it was made of rubber and you could squirt water out of it at people. Like, 'hey, how would you like to play with this totally innocent rubix cube?' 'Really? Wow! I would love to!' And then as they reach for it you squeeze the rubber cube squirting a stream of water into their face. Revenge!
In the end, as far as I could figure out, it was just a normal knock-off rubix cube.
Segregated from the cutesy part of the store, there was a section selling just weird items. There were a couple of guys moving through it at the time I got there and I commented to them that this must be the creepy section of the store. There were all sorts of what I imagine must be more traditionalist Japanese crap. Samurai figures and weird dioramas which you can't imagine anyone actually buying.
This was sort of like the gateway into the area. I imagine this is a wall hanging of Hello Kitty's traditionalist parents who are very, very disappointed in her.
This is the sort of figures they had a plethora of. I mean...who would want something like this? It sort of freaks me out just to look at it. Maybe I've seen too many horror movies but I can just imagine her coming to life in the middle of the night and cutting your nuts off with her sword.
So after all of that, I did end up buying something. Maddie seems to like Hello Kitty, having really wanted a Hello Kitty plushie a couple weeks ago when we were down at Point Pleasant. I ran across this and thought it would be perfect. I still remember playing the flutophone in elementary school, and it's apparently something that Japanese schoolkids still do. The fact that it was Hello Kitty branded just made it better. Karen thought it was cruel given that at least part of my motivation for buying this is that Maddie will no doubt make a racket with it and I won't be around to have to listen to it. One of these days I'll have to get Will a set of drums for the same reason.
So when I finally got home I broke out the plum wine. It was relatively tasty as far as alcohol goes and my mom and grandmother seem to have enjoyed it. I'm definitely going to have to venture back to Mitsuwa and pick up a larger bottle or two.
And as you can see here, there is an ume/plum at the bottom of each little jar. Something about that just amuses me to death.
It was definitely a fun trip overall and I'll have to schlep back there at some point. I think my mom and grandmother would enjoy the place and I really do want to sample more food from the food court.