While attending to some family business last week, I had the opportunity to visit my favorite Japanese marketplace, Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights a couple of times. The bee was first planted in my bonnet by my usual culinary oracle of late, Serious Eats Chicago, whose glowing assessment of the special toroniku shio ramen from the Santouka noodle stand in the market's food court made me want hot noodles and tender pork cheek for dinner on a cool fall evening (see photo below).
Although I got a little confused and ordered the "shoyu" version (meaning "soy") instead of "shio" (meaning "salt"), the steaming bowl of brown broth and its accoutrements (fish cake, chopped scallions, wavy noodles, single nori sheet, and, um, mushrooms) were mighty tasty. The thin slices of pork cheek that came with the soup were so tender and fatty that I'm pretty sure I blushed out of embarrassment at one point. Flush with porcine bliss, I staggered towards the front entrance and noticed workers setting up temporary stands for a promotional fall street food festival to take place starting the following morning. As luck would have it, I was already going to be back in the neighborhood the next day, so I conveniently added a return trip to Mitsuwa ahead of my other obligations.
Lots of new street snacks had appeared upon my second arrival: savory, sizzling pancakes, many different varieties of croquettes, including sea urchin, snow crab, smoked salmon, and corn (sticking with the themes of the season, I chose a pumpkin croquette, which was a bit on the greasy side, but pleasantly crunchy and slightly sweet), plus two glass cases of assorted mochi (gelatin-like rice cakes often stuffed with a dessert filling). My head was spinning with options as I chose 4 different ones more or less randomly (see photo below), two of them filled with sweet red bean paste and the others with purple sweet potato. The missus and I were able to enjoy these later that night after the progeny had gone to bed.