Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mitsuwa Japanese Marketplace

This past week, Hackknife Jr. has been attending a gifted math class offered by Northwestern University for precocious youngsters such as himself (obviously, he gets his brains from his mom). Unfortunately, this has required me to drag both children out of the house by 8 am and haul them to the class site in Glen Ellyn up a construction-choked 355, no easy feat I can assure you, even without Hackknifette barfing up grape chunks all over her clothes and car seat on Tuesday morning. My reward for this tap dancing act was Wednesday morning off during classtime while the baby stayed home with Grandma. After stopping at a bakery for a fruit tart and a quick trip to Toys R Us for a swim vest (see the aforementioned NC trip in my last posting), my ultimate destination was a Japanese marketplace in Arlington Heights, Mitsuwa. This complex includes a grocery store, food court, liquor store, bakery, travel agency, arts/crafts shop, and a video store, all targeted to satisfy the myriad Japanese expats working at electronics companies in the area, as well as intrepid gaijin like myself. If you are a fan of Japanese cuisine and culture (as Mrs. Hackknife and I are, having spent 2 weeks touring Japan in 2005 before the progeny arrived), there is no better place to visit probably in all of Middle America. It happens to be located just a bit more than a mile from my childhood home in Mt. Prospect, and, amazingly, I never visited it in the 10 or more years that it was open while I was living there (of course, we're not Japanese, knew no Japanese people, and had someone asked me in 1991 what "unagi" was, I probably would have had visions of something you might find in an adult bookstore).

This was my second visit to Mitsuwa and certainly the first since I caught the extreme foodie bug a year or two ago. The smells and sights are well worth the trip. I wandered slowly up and down the aisle of the small grocery store (catching the attention of the security guard, who probably was wondering what kind of nefarious activity I'd soon be up to), marveling at the bizarre produce, the multiple freezers full of fresh cut fish for sushi and meats for shabu shabu, packages of dried noodles, rice cookers, fish sauces, and shrimp-flavored chips. I picked up a bottle of ponzu sauce (citrus-spiked soy sauce), some green tea cookies, exotic-looking fruit chews for the kids and milk caramel Pocky for Mrs. Hackknife (her favorite).

The food court opened at 11 and I loitered around until it did, looking at the various menus and plastic food (just like we saw at restaurants everywhere in Japan) in front of the sushi take-out, noodle bar, Chinese dim sum shop, Korean bbq, and teriyaki burger stand. After much deliberation, I settled on a bowl of shrimp tempura udon from the noodle bar, savoring it down to the last drop of broth. As I hadn't really made much in the way of planning for dinner that night, my last purchase was a couple of tonkatsu bento boxes, one w/pork cutlet and one w/fried chicken, both with pickled veggies, rice, fish, and cold scrambled egg. On my way out (and I easily could have spent another hour or two there), I noticed what appeared to be a Japanese street food stand set up right by the front doors (it didn't open until 3 pm). Mrs. Hackknife and I both greatly enjoyed the diversity and quality of the street food we found all over Japan and this I decided would be the impetus for my next visit, hopefully not too far off.

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