Similar to our abundance of great restaurants, we are so spoiled by our access to countless ethnic grocery chains here in the bay area of California. Last week at the airport, I ran into an old friend from my hometown, Modesto, and he asked if I would ever move back. Honestly, I could never imagine giving up the VIP access we have here to so much great food. That, and the fact that the idea of high tech in Modesto is Zapco amplifiers. They do boast some killer music bands though with the likes of Granddaddy and Nuclear Rabbit. Cause for second thoughts? Ummmm….no.
While there is a special place in my heart for the hometown I share with Scott Peterson, I am a little partial to my city by the bay. Where else other than the bay area can you find so many different grocery stores specializing in goods from Japan, China, Persia, Brittan, Poland, Greece, Russia, Mexico, and even Ethiopia? I hear they actually have all the leftovers of the food you didn’t eat as a kid in the Ethiopian store. True story.
All kidding aside, I realize other big cities have great selections as well. I have had the pleasure of going to Harrods in London, where I was, literally, a kid in a candy store. Chicago, Paris, Boston and New York all have a diverse population so the choices are abundant there as well. However, I have to say we may be the most spoiled here in Cali, especially when it comes to Japanese food.
There are 3 stores in the south bay that I really like – one in downtown San Jose and the other two in Cupertino. In downtown, there is a small, little shop in the Japan town area called, Nijiya Market. They have a pretty good selection of sashimi grade fish and a reasonable selection of imported goods ranging from vegetables to sauces and miso. If I am in the area or don’t feel like driving to Cupertino, this is the place I go when I am making anything Japanese.
When I want to really go all out though, I head over to Cupertino. The first Japanese store I ever went to was Mitsuwa, a very large grocery store that makes your jaw drop in awe at their selection. You think you know soy sauce? Go here and get an education. Miso? Let me count the ways. Their sashimi grade fish selection is also very good and they have a decent meat department that has some of the harder to find Asian cuts for making things like Galbi.
Hands down though, the best Japanese grocery store is Murukai. It is a little further down the road in Cupertino, but certainly worth the drive. I am basing this mostly on their sashimi grade fish selection, which they are second to none. They have an abundance of all the regular stuff – ahi tuna, salmon, yellow tail, and even eel. But they also have the harder to find treats like mackerel, octopus and toro. Mmmmm, toro. Expensive, but oh so worth it.
All 3 have a decent selection of “the fixins” as well. Again though, Murukai takes the prize as they have the best selection of seaweed salad, ginger, and tobiko. Can you say, wasabi tobiko? And the best fixins of all, the sake and Kirin Ichiban.
As for making sushi and sashimi – I like to dabble in it here and there, but it is one of those things that takes so much time to get it perfect that you are almost better off leaving it to the Koreans. I kid, I kid. Really though, many of the sushi shops around here are run by Koreans – at least my two favorites, Tomo and Blue Fin.
I digress. If you have the time and want to have some fun, give it a try. No recipes here, just some tips on how to get started.
- Fresh fish. Can’t say it enough, you must buy fresh fish. Get the sashimi grade fish the same day you intend to make it, then take it home and put it in the freezer. You don’t want to completely freeze it, just enough so it cuts easier. Also, I have read that freezing to a certain temp kills any possible parasites. Since I am not a scientist I can neither confirm nor deny, but it makes sense to me.
- Cutting is easier with a sharp knife. Note sarcasm and invest in a very, very sharp knife.
- I am a sashimi purist, but if you want to make rolls, there are 2 very important factors: the rice preparation and do not make burritos. Read up on sushi rice preps and note that it should be sweet. And use less rice than you think- the first time I made a roll I ended up with a super burrito.
- Have fun. The best roll I ever made included mango, cilantro, and Serrano chili.
- All sushi tastes better with sake.