For us, no visit to Chicago longer than a few days is complete without a trip to Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights,,  the enormous Japanese grocery store that on weekends seems to draw every Japanese person in the area (and from the surrounding states) to eat, buy Japanese books and magazines, and stock up on Japanese supplies of every kind.

As good as the selection of groceries, produce, meat and seafood (sushi-grade included) is, the food court, which is very crowded during most lunch hours and packed on the weekends, is what draws us.  You can get ramen, Gabutto burgers, tempura, tonkatsu (breaded pork), gyudon (a tasty beef/onion/rice bowl) and all sorts of other deliciousnesses as well.  While the choices are mostly Japanese,  you can also find Korean and Chinese food.

For tea lovers…oh, ecstasy!  The tea of choice here, whether plain or in a Starbucks-style tea drink, is matcha, although you’ll also find sencha and a few other teas on the menu.  Matcha and its grassy flavor may be an acquired taste for some, but we love it.

Tea shop and ice cream parlor

Matcha with mango ice cream

Lunch choices are the most difficult part of visiting Mitsuwa.  This time, Megan chose a Gabutto “burger” of BBQ pork between two rice patties.  I didn’t get my little camera to focus properly, but I can assure you the taste didn’t suffer from it.  This is definitely not your mother’s burger, unless (perhaps) your mother was Japanese.

Deliciousness between to rice patties (not paddies!)

My choice was, as it often is, kariage-don: tempura veggies and shrimp on rice in a bowl (the “don” part.)  Miso soup and some Japanese pickles are included.   The onions are particularly good.  I wish they’d double the amount.

After sating our hunger and browsing a bit, we picked up a few more items, repeat items from every visit ever made there:  bread from their bakery and daifuku.  The bread, in three different thicknesses, isn’t found anywhere else that I know of, including other Asian bakeries.  It’s a bit like Texas toast and we always import a few loaves to Ohio for Megan’s Japanese teacher (and occasionally, some of her friends.)  It does make amazing toast!

A Japanese or other oriental bakery has all sorts of items, both sweet and savory, but what I love about the sweet choices is that they’re not overly sweet.  There are all sorts of combinations, some rather unusual, and you really have to find a bakery so that you can have the fun of experimenting.

Just a few of the selections

We chose a non-bun item, an azuki choux, like a French cream puff except with a light custard on the bottom, azuki (red bean paste) and whipped cream (NOT very sweet) on top.  Divine, dahling!

Azuki choux

Finally, our second every-visit-must-have, a selection of daifuku.  Daifuku are round mochi (glutinous rice cakes) filled most often with red bean paste.  “Red bean paste”  probably sounds like nothing good, but it’s wonderful.  I don’t know where the Japanese got the initial idea for making filling from red beans but I applaud them every time I eat something with red bean paste in it.  I took a couple daifuku to the farmer’s market recently to share with my partner in chevre-selling crime and the guy who sells the Ohio City pasta.  Both of them were amazed at how good daifuku were.  See if you can find somewhere that sells them (and a number of Asian stores that aren’t exclusively Japanese sell at least a few kinds), and find out what the cool kids on the block already know–red bean paste rocks your mouth!

Our daifuku selection

P.S.  If you live in southern California or in New Jersey, near New York City, look for a Mitsuwa Marketplace near you and get eating!

  1. Shannon says:

    Save some for m! Yum!

  2. […] time ago I wrote about having lunch and shopping at Mitsuwa Marketplace,   Last week I went there with my friend who was in town for a few days and we had another […]

  3. anninfaith says:

    Just read your newest entry and asked about a website for this wonderful place; i then noted you had given a link to a previous entry [this one] and see that it DOES indeed have a website! GOODY !!!!!!! THANKS so much !!!