Super Mira grocery store is devoted to Japanese and organic foods. Their assortment of local organics and gluten-free items was very impressive. I was totally amazed that they have the S&B gluten-free Curry Prince roux mixes, which I previously talked about here*. I’m so glad they carry so many local products instead of importing everything from overseas; I was pleasantly pleased to see so many packages of organic foods that I have seen at Whole Foods, Oliver’s and Community Market up here in Sonoma County. This means the foods are fresher, which hopefully also makes the prices much more reasonable (actually rather decent) for the store and their customers. They had bakery counter and fresh made-to-order sushi, too. The service people were very friendly, and the store is really neat and clean. The store has a blog, where they post current sales, recommendations and other information, which is written half in Japanese, but they do have a good number of helpful pictures.

Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop is a bakery located inside the market and has been in business for 38 years! That’s a really long time, considering the relatively quick lifespans of so many businesses in Japantown, especially so close to the malls. Unfortunately, we visited Japantown on a Sunday, so the bakery counter (along with several other shops in the area) was closed and bakery cases empty. Although I definitely cannot eat any of their creamy glutinous baked delights, there are several enticing pictures and reviews from Yasukochi’s happy customers over at Yelp, absolutely raving about how great they are.

In Super Mira’s sauce and curry section, I found the S & B “Curry no Ohji-Sama” sweet curry roux mixes that I previously posted about in this entry, to which I recently made a correction regarding the gluten content. When I looked at the list of ingredients on the red and blue boxes, I found that both of them are gluten-free. I bought one of each to try them out (I will try to post the cooking and taste test results later). The directions on the back of both boxes say to add lean beef or chicken, onions, carrot and potato, but I’m sure you can add other meats and/or vegetables if you prefer. The red box holds a vegetable curry, which is vegan as far as I can tell (There are pictures of vegetables on the front, and the English language sticker says “no meat contained”). The roux bar provides six servings, each 70 calories, without any significant nutritional value other than 590mg (24% of your daily needed) sodium. The blue box doesn’t not have a picture on the front that suggests a particular flavor, so your guess is as good as mine unless you can read Japanese. The ingredients the blue box does list non-calcinated shell calcium (perhaps to boost the otherwise rather insignificant amount of vitamins and minerals), which therefore makes the sauce non-vegan. This boxed mix also serves six, each serving has 60 calories and 560mg sodium (23% of your daily value). Although multiple locations carry the red boxed mix, I’m under the impression that the blue one is pretty popular, too; I bought the last one in the store. Remember, you can always create more serving, add nutrients and dilute the sodium by adding more vegetables, liquid, meat, nuts, seeds, grains, noddles or what-have-you than the directions call for. Let me know what you come up with.

Nijiya Market never ceases to amaze me. It has a huge selection, which now features lots of local and organic products (not just imports). I was pleasantly pleased to find taiyaki (grilled sea bream fish-shaped waffles or “cakes” filled with nut butter, fruit, sweet bean paste, pudding or ice cream) in the freezer section. I kind of want a taiyaki maker for myself to make my own ice cream sandwich fish; they are very popular treat in Japan and taste scrumptious. Imagine eating ice cream on a regular waffle cone, except the light crispy waffle completely surrounds the semi-soft ice cream center instead of the cone just serving as the ice cream holder that your hands from cold and stickiness. It’s so good! Some types of taiyaki have various fillings (sometimes one or two fillings per fish-shaped cake) or batters, like brown sugar, green tea, chocolate, strawberry or vanilla. I found some gluten-free recipes! One recipe includes red bean filling, and the other uses blueberry filling. Here’s a video that shows how to make the non-ice cream ones. You can use it as a guideline and substitute one of the bean-based fillings for ice cream if you want to; just refreeze the taiyaki once they are done cooking.

Anyway, there was a whole section of furikake (rice seasonings); the three I bought now brings my collection up to five varieties (shrimp, bonito fish, seaweed, mixed vegetable and beefsteak plant; the salmon one is also very good) in my cupboard . I’m not sure if it’s because they are the most profitable sections in the store, but there are multiple aisles devoted just to confections and snacks, more than I anticipated. After the company’s focus on and attention to organic foods, I found the shear quantity kind of shocking. Is it due to all the visiting tourist customers wanting a quick snack that there’s so much junk food? I don’t think the people living and working in the Japantown neighborhood actually buy that much unhealthy food to warrant the huge amount in the store, but maybe I’m just being presumptuous.


One of the newest food features is the market’s huge refrigerated section of freshly-made, ready-to-go bento-style boxed lunches and noodle soups that they make onsite. I was very impressed with the variety of dishes available, all garnished in rainbow of color. I don’t know why I didn’t noticed them before, but Nijiya Market is actually a chain of stores that specializes in organic produce and products and publishes their own free Japanese foods magazine, called Gochiso, that started back in 2005. The seasonal and annual issues are printed in Japanese, Chinese and English language versions with lots of full-color Nijiya Market Ricephotographs, articles on health, certain ingredients and certain types of dishes, like onigiri or maki. Nijiya also has an online store, where they sell their own lines of organic rice and flours. Who knew there are that many organic varieties commercially available? I couldn’t help staring at them in awe and wonder when my brother and I were in the store. I wonder what the customary uses are and what the flavors and textures are like for all of the rice types…, but I know I can eat them all! Nijiya Markets also has its own food blog with recipe entries in English and Japanese, which is really cool, as they post a new one about every two weeks.


Kissako Tea is a cute little booth or kiosk that sells a nice variety of dumpling-style wagashi (bite-size Japanese desserts); here’s a fantastic blog that is almost entirely devoted to Japanese dessert recipes. I love mochi! Traditionally, the dough was made out of rice that was steamed and then beaten smooth, but now finely ground rice flour is mixed with water to make dough and then steamed. Either way, since mochi manju (“beaten rice dumpling”) dough is naturally gluten-free, I can eat it! Fresh mochi is soft and kind of stretchy if it is made with steamed rice. The dough is really sticky, so it’s dusted with starch made from corn, arrowroot or potatoes. Steamed mochi dough is usually dyed with naturally tinted ingredients, like cacao, fruit juice, green tea powder or ground mugwort to create muted or pastel colors and sweetened with sugar or honey. Manju is either solid rolled dough with mixed-in flavor (reminds me of squishy marshmallows) or filled with something sweet, like ice cream, bean paste, chocolate, gelatin, nut butter, etc. To me, filled mochi are seem like a cross between jelly-filled gummy candy and fruit-filled marzipan. Make sure you keep your soft mochi tightly wrapped and refrigerated if you aren’t going to eat them right away, otherwise they will harden as the dough dries.


Kissako makes two different kinds of kushi dango (skewered dumpling clutster), which consist of three or four round steamed mochi manju threaded onto a bamboo skewer, like a kebab. There are lots of different kinds of dango in Japanese cuisine. Mitarashi kushi dango is made with four small solid white mochi manju covered with mitarashi sauce, which is a simple gluten-free soy sauce drizzle with mirin. Botchan (or bocchan) kushi dango is made with three medium dark red bean paste balls that are covered in sugar-sweetened pink, white or yellow, and green  glutenous rice doughs that are mixed respectively with sweet red bean paste, nothing (for white) or egg yolk, and green tea or mugwort powder (these powdered yield different shades of green) for color (if you make your own at home, you can adjust the amounts of add-ins to adjust the color intensities) and usually dusted with starch or flour. The kushi dango that I ordered were absolutely perfect. I was extremely impressed. Although Kissako makes all of their mochi in San Jose (from what I remember), the dumplings were soft and moist with stretchy dough and very smooth bean paste filling. I liked the dango so much, I couldn’t help buying a second one to enjoy later in the night.


For those of you who are gluten-free, watch out! Not all manju are gluten-free; only mochi manju is made with rice. There are several recipes that look like mochi that actually contain wheat. These are also steamed or baked dessert dumplings filled with sweet pastes or creams.The only way I can tell the difference is by looking at them. Mochi is generally dusted and has a semi-transparent texture if the dough is steamed, whereas baked mochi is very shiny on top. Wheat-based manju has a flatter or more matte texture when you look at it. (I’m not sure if this hold true all of the time, but from what I have seen, wheat dough manipulated into decoratively shaped manju seem hold their intended structure better. The sames might instead denote the artisan’s skill level or the use of certain kitchen tools…, but I’m not sure. Does anyone know?) If the manju is coated in sauce or drizzled with something sugary, there’s really no way to tell what you’re looking at. In this case, do not be afraid to just ask the sales clerk directly. There are lots and lots of mochi, manju, and other wagashi confections out there. Personally I am unacquainted with most of them, except for a scant few that I only recognize by sight, not by name.


Kaissako Tea makes their teriyaki chicken, salmon, picked plum, seaweed, and beef onigiri (rice balls with fillings) in fresh at their booth all day long, which is a relief, since all of their flavors are so popular. If they run out of a certain kind, just ask them to make more for you. My brother got a teriyaki chicken rice ball to snack on, and I got a seaweed one. Both flavors tasted really good (he let me try a bite) and satisfying. They were all pretty big, which was a surprise, as they were really cheaply priced at only $1.75. They way the Kissako Tea folks made them was different to me, since they used a mold to sandwich a layer of seasoned vegetables or meat between two layers of steamed rice (and to save time). I’m used to making them by shaping a bowl-shaped pocket out of rice with my hands, filling the pocket with stuff and packing more rice on top and shaping the onigiri into pyramids or spheres. I have also seen onigiri with the seasoned fillings just mixed in with the rice that is then shaped. Either way, after shaping them, the slightly sticky rice balls are wrapped in small nori seaweed sheets, like a taco, so that they are easier to eat without getting your hands all sticky. Kissako’s onigiri, as well as all of their other treats, would pair very well with many of their green tea selections. I wish we had had time to sit, chat and munch on our treats while sipping hot tea, but it was getting rather late. Instead, we chatted and snacked on our way back to the car, so that we could arrive at my house at a reasonable hour.

*The previous article I read about the Prince Curry mixes was incorrect. The red and blue boxes are both gluten-free, containing sorghum instead, only varying in flavor.

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