To be blunt, there is absolutely nowhere I have been to that transports you to another country, another culture, really another world all together, better than Mitsuwa Market (100 E. Algonquin Rd., Arlington Heights). If you haven’t experienced Mitsuwa – and it is without a doubt an experience – you have no idea what you’re in for – honestly.
Mitsuwa is a Japanese grocery store. They have a fresh produce section, seafood, meat and dry goods. All the packaging is in Japanese so you have to be a bit adventurous and having a more than basic understanding of Japanese cuisine certainly goes a long way – but it’s definitely not necessary. The sushi grade seafood that’s available is remarkable – it’s extremely difficult to find such high quality fish already fabricated for sushi use.
The beef, pork and chicken they sell is also of the highest quality. They sell Wagyu style beef for shabu shabu – sliced super thin for quick cooking over an open flame. Their snack aisle featuring all sorts of salty crunchy goodies as well as their candy aisle are both really fun to try random items from. Again, you can’t ready what’s on most of the packaging but in this case, shopping by the bright pictures on all the candy and snacks is an okay way to go.
This post is a little different though. While Mitsuwa does house a nice food court with ramen, other Japanese dishes, a soft serve ice cream shop and a burger joint, on this particular day a specialty foods and street food “festival” was in town for a weekend set up in the middle of the store!
We were completely overwhelmed with choices for a “quick snack” before going to a family BBQ – yes, we often have a snack right before a big meal – so what?!
We decided on a cream cheese crab croquette, a squid Burdock and an octopus and scallion skewer. We grabbed a super fresh sushi roll for under five bucks and a hard to find box of fresh uni or sea urchin in the fresh sea food area. Finally, we finished our meal off with a mochi (green tea) soft serve.
The croquette was basically a crab rangoon with really crabby filling – a good thing – and a nice coarse Panko breading. It was really tasty and as I love crab rangoon, I’m glad we tried it.
The octopus and scallion skewer had great texture. Super tender pieces of octopus are oddly joined together by scallion and grilled into a stick form. Sounds scary, but this type of preparation represents some of the best street food cooking methods found anywhere in the world. There was nice flavor and overall the skewer was enjoyable as it picked up the flavor of the sweet and tangy sauce that came alongside.
The squid Burdock had some spices mixed into the meat. It was similar to the octopus but the pieces of squid, tentacles and all, were more coarsely mixed into the whole of the skewer. Served with the same dipping sauce, this again, picked up the flavor of said sauce more than anything.
The pre-made sushi available at Mitsuwa is the best grocery sushi you’ll find. It’s super fresh as they continuously make it throughout the day. It’s really cheap. Our fresh salmon roll was under $5. Plus, the selection is massive with sashimi, maki, sushi and other unique options you won’t find elsewhere – not even in a sushi restaurant believe it or not.
Our last savory choice was uni. Sea urchin roe is one of mine and Jill’s favorite splurges. It’s a delicacy and not for everyone.
It takes on the flavor of the sea. It tastes like an aquarium smells. It’s salty, briney, fishy, fresh, and pure. The texture is unique; a bit runny, but not slimey, uni is a must try for all food lovers out there. Jill and I will often frequent a certain sushi joint based on whether or not they carry uni.
We bought a small soft waffle cone-like taco filled with a light green tea custard. It was fine.
Our little bite finished up with a green tea soft serve cone. Compared to others, this one was a bite less sweet and more herbal toned. To Jill it wasn’t her favorite. I too didn’t think it was the best version of the dish, but I appreciated the more bitter qualities you don’t usually find in even green tea ice cream.
Mitsuwa is a destination worth the trip for anyone who enjoys to cook and eat. There’s a location in New Jersey, San Jose and Chicago. Japanese American citizens venture hundreds of miles to come to Mitsuwa for their food – they know where it’s at. The food court’s ramen is extremely high on the scale of quality regardless of its food court dwelling. Go to Arlington Heights and visit this somewhat hidden gem. Even if you only buy a few snacks, it’s worth the experience. We’re not in Kansas anymore…that’s for sure.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.