JeJu

Mitsuwa My Motherland

In food on 11/16/2009 at 10:55 am

The land of the rising sun is scattered around lower Manhattan, but the singular outpost across the river is near the Asian enclave of Fort Lee, in Edgewater, which is really just a tiny long strip along the water’s edge. I’d heard of Mitsuwa Marketplace but never had a burning desire to go because things tend to be a smidge overpriced compared to the same item at Chinese marts. The Giant Blue Fin Cutting Performance changed my mind.

You’d think that with a comprehensive NJ and NY 5 Borough map (each 2″ thick) in the car, we’d never get lost. Not only do we routinely get lost, there are unmapped NJ streets or streets that are mapped but don’t exist in real life. Oh, and there’s always construction and one-ways. Don’t get me started on the duplicate street names and lack of parking.

Annoyed, late, and frustrated we arrived, but already our spirits were lifted when we were pleasantly surprised how big the complex is. Mitsuwa is a series of buildings right on the water, a book store, home good store, feng shui store in addition to the giant supermarket with food court inside. In the back right on the water, there is a Japanese steakhouse I would like to try, Matsushima, which seems to be under Mitsuwa ownership.

UWS i.e. Columbiaville

This is the view from the food court. It’s an unobstructed view of the entire western side of Manhattan. This is primo real estate, as expansive as the market was packed with wall-to-wall onlookers. There was a booth set up for the bluefin demo where hundreds of people gathered, craning and straining to get a bit of the good stuff.

the main event

foodies unite!

this thing's got spine

food as sport

GIMME

Japanese efficiency

roly poly

This displayed head is about 8X the size of my head, maybe bigger. I wonder who the lucky one is to eat the cheeks. I hope they don’t throw it away like this:

one man's trash...

bluefin gold

There were groups of men and women preparing the slabs chopped off the mini whale. Some were weighing, pricing and wrapping strips in saran, separating the filet, sirloin and chuck sections. Others were making sushi. It was a frantic, yet silent, pace. The audience was in awe, the workers were stoic, typically Japanese. The other half marveled at the cleanliness despite the chaos. When the crowd finally cleared, we tried to find one piece of sushi to buy, but there were only empty cases staring back at us. We didn’t have the budget to buy the sashimi, which were priced differently, but a minimum of $15 for a strip the size of a cable TV remote.

laying bricks

We were starving by this time but the food court was bursting at the seams. The line for the ramen shop snaked out the door, at least 30 people ordering for who knows how many. We headed into the main market area for onigiri, aka Japanese pupusas, which were fresh and warm. There was a woman darting in and out of the back, bringing a small box of newly made ones, keeping a close eye on which variety was running low. They have onigiri stuffed with tuna fish salad, salmon roe, spicy cod roe, sauteed beef, pickled plums and seaweed.

oni-yum-yum

Usually I’m hesitant to buy this stuff because they tend to be dry and hard, but these had a special packaging. The seaweed part is separated from the triangle of rice by plastic, and the small numbers in the corners tell you how to extract the goodie. Crisp seaweed is thus preserved by the ingenious Japanese.

food court vantage point

We scored some free tea at one corner of the food court. There’s scores of booths, tables and counters to eat at, but we only managed to stand and chow down by the beverage station. The other half commented how we were basically standing in a replica of one floor of a Japanese department store.

spigots of joy

There were stations of neatly dressed women in uniform selling biscuits in beautifully wrapped boxes, giant fabric-enrobed peach jellies and glistening red bean paste pastries. All exorbitantly priced, of course. We were happy to see a stand for Ito En, and eventually bought a case of Sencha Shots. We sampled a new item, Oolong Shots. The other half got jittery from half a can. The cans are 6.4oz each. They also had soft serve ice creams. We tried the black sesame, a creamy nutty concoction, too rich for me.

pretty pretty

Before buying groceries, we decided to scope out the other shops outside. I remembered there were some manga authors I had wanted to find. At the bookstore, I managed to find a series about Japanese food, Oishinbo, which I’m poring through. The home goods store had lots of Sanrio and other too cute knick knacks. The other half found travel chopsticks for work. They unscrew and store in a flip box. Hours drifted by…

We were hungry again. Time for a real meal. We headed back inside and checked out the stalls. One was a Chinese-Japanese fusion, centered around rice.

wall o faux

I love faux food displays! Every stand had one. There was one with European breakfast items and snacks. Another shop focused on tempura and breakfast sets. A third called Italian Tomato was the non-Asian alternative, serving only a set of spaghetti and salad. One sold sponge cake filled with various delights.

cake stand, Asian-style

We sampled the ramen, given it had the longest line before. Popular opinion doesn’t lie. Can you tell which is the real bowl?

the famous tonkatsu salt ramen

special 'melty pork' spicy ramen

These aren’t just any old food stalls. They are overseas outposts of actual ones in Japan. And of Asians, the Japanese are high up there for percentage of discriminating foodies. The ramen was outrageously good, even more so given that it’s in a supermarket food court. This stuff is better than any I’ve had in the ramen shops in midtown and LES. The key is the broth and the ramen noodle. The former is not too thick, full of mysterious meaty oomph. The latter is springy and eggy, even though it’s not freshly made, the squared off shape adds to the satisfying QQ. I could’ve had another serving of noodle. And the ‘melty pork’ special of the day was lean, tender, chewy, full of umami pow. Simply awesome.

I guess this means we’re going back.

Some parting shots:

steak of the sea

THE REAL THING

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