Matcha green tea, Botan rice, Curry packets, Tonkatsu sauce, and Inarizushi-no-moto, are just some of the ingredients we use regularly that are hard to find. We stock up every few months at the closest Asian store when in the South Bend area or visiting family in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While we can usually find the essentials, the products in stock are both specialized and imported in limited varieties. Therefore, it seemed fitting with only living an hour away from Chicago that we take a day trip to an Asian grocery more well-known for its grand supply. The Mitsuwa Marketplace in the Chicagoan suburbs of Arlington Heights, is a massive establishment for those who seek a cultural destination such as this.
Upon arrival we were struck by the scale of the building and the packed parking lot. We could have just as well been pulling into a Target or Best Buy on Black Friday by the looks of the number of customers lining up six feet apart for the door monitor to tally and allow in. The Asian stores we usually visit typically have only a handful of customers perusing its aisles. Inside the front doors, we were overwhelmed by the depth of our surroundings with a bustling grocery section, bakery, food court, bookstore, and specialty vendors. The market had only been open an hour prior but we could tell this was the type of place that was always busy.
Derek picked through seed packets for popular Japanese vegetables before we made our way through the produce. It was amazing to see such quantities of Japanese ingredients that can’t be purchased at Meijer or even a Whole Foods store. We had never seen so many fresh Japanese sweet potatoes and pears, Shiitake mushrooms, Daikon, or even Kabocha for sale in a grocery store before.
The meat and seafood section was even more impressive with high quality cuts of fish and thinly sliced red meat best for making dishes like Sukiyaki or Bulgogi. Even the marbled Wagyu beef famous for its tender texture was available at top dollar.
It seemed like anything that we could ever want to find was in the Mitsuwa aisles including authentic snacks, sweets, beverages, pantry goods, health/beauty products, and household essentials for kitchen and dining. I selected a set of Japanese ramen and rice bowls marked with the artist’s signature on the bottom. A huge lover of Mochi, I also picked up a new flavor to try that I thought was lemon-flavored but later discovered from Derek’s parents that I had indeed bought sour citrus Mochi. We could have easily spent the afternoon wandering the store but were feeling a little claustrophobic weaving around people so we made our way to the check-out.
Before leaving the grocery, we walked past the bakery and through the food court where restaurant-quality dishes were being prepared on site. We had to exit out the main doors to line up for the bookstore where the door monitor was keeping the numbers at capacity for Covid-safety precautions. Kinokuniya is a well-known bookstore with an extensive collection of books, magazines, dvd’s, stationary, and Manga written in Japanese text. While waiting in line, I overheard a man say that he had driven over three hours to visit. As we browsed the shop, Derek found a watering can for me to tend to my Bonsai tree that I simply could not resist. The experience at Mitsuwa Marketplace felt like we had traveled through a portal to a superstore in Japan.
To complete our excursion, we had one more location to venture off to. Just seven miles away was a dollar store called Hello Tokyo where everything is $2.00 unless otherwise marked. This was a fun place to see lots of knick-knacks and gifts that were each unique in their own way. We picked up Japanese paper lanterns and Takaokaya Genmai-cha tea as well as kitten socks to protect the chair legs from scraping our dining room floor. Derek posed by the Hello Tokyo mascot after we checked-out where a posted sign read, “Don’t touch Rilakkuma. He is very ticklish!” That evening we had a FaceTime call with the Jager family to show them our goodies and tell stories from the day’s adventures. We would surely need to return to the Midwestern mecca of Japanese grocery again in the future.