Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Ohayou Gozaimasu!
I am lucky to live close enough to such a diverse city as San Francisco.  Although I am 30 minutes outside of the city, due to its multicultural makeup that has spilled over to its neighboring cities and beyond throughout the Bay Area, we have greatly benefited as well.  From restaurants of almost every cuisine you can imagine to expose us to different countries we have yet to visit or to remind us of those we have, to having access to ingredients sourced from different countries around the world enables us to experiment and put our own twist on traditional classics within our own homes - 

Although I have never been to Japan, I do try to spend a day in Japantown at least once a year, if I am lucky, during their annual Cherry Blossom Festival -    

Regardless of when we go, there are two places that are a must stop for us.
Nijiya Market

Just like the country of Japan, they really make great use of their space here at Nijiya.  Even though the store itself is small and therefore easily crowded, you can find almost anything Japanese your heart desires.  Upon entering along the right side you can find their pre-cooked items like croquettes, sushi rolls, takoyaki (when you cannot get them made to order at the festival), chicken karaage, onigiris, bento boxes, etc..  I have been spoiled with the made to order onigiris from Oori in Berkeley so was not impressed with the lack of filling in these.  However, my go-to in this section is the croquettes that I just pop in my toaster oven at 350F for 5 minutes to refresh.  In that same aisle are your cold drinks like Calpico, Ito-En Japanese iced green tea (which I recently found they now carry at Costco), ramune, or melon cream sodas to go right along with the food.  Fresh sashimi and frozen eels are along the back if you want to make your own bowls or rolls at home and produce on the left side.  While I normally would only shop the perimeter in markets, Nijiya is the exception as the middle aisles house those Japanese snacks that I would splurge once a year on and make great gift baskets for Mother’s Day if you are here for the Cherry Blossom Festival. 


Next stop is Benkyodo, a family owned shop that makes hand made mochi.  Tip:  Call in your order before going as they run out.  Around since 1906 (110 years this year) I always make an effort to stop by whenever I plan on being close to the area and have at times made a trip out specifically for it and a recent extreme, an out of the way detour here to pick up a box for our food loving friends -  But no regrets as that detour netted me my only chance for sakura mochi this year. 

Why such an urgency?  Regardless of their longevity up this point, all family own shops are subject to close if the newer generations have no interest in taking over since it is a big sacrifice getting up so early to make these heavenly confections for us.  Although you can never go wrong with habutai (white mochi with smooth red beans), yomogi (green mochi with whole red beans), and pink habutai (pink mochi with smooth white beans), my favorites are the seasonal flavors, sakura, mango, blueberry, and currently in season, the fresh strawberry!!  Although the seasonal choices generally require same day consumption, do yourself a big favor and get at least 2 per person to avoid fighting for the last one.  


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