Monday, February 23, 2009

Japantown Supermarket Sweep

Vegetarian inari pockets–one of the many treasures to be found in Japantown

VN Editorial Assistant Melissa Feineman
What: Scoping out the (veg) selection at Japantown's supermarkets
When: Monday, February 16, 2009
Where: Nijiya and Super Mira
So I can whip up some super-scrumptious katei ryori (Japanese home-style cookin') any time I please

For those of you raised on a steady diet of US-style veggie sushi, you may have been, like I was, lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that Japan is a veg-friendly travel destination, and that every corner sushi shop serves up fish-free fare. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth, and even in dishes that appear to contain only vegetables, fish stock is–more often than not–lurking in there somewhere.

However, if you're willing to expand your culinary horizons (without expanding your waistline, I must add–you gotta love the lightness of Japanese cuisine), there is all kinds of veg-friendly fare available in Japanese supermarkets. FYI, I went to Nijiya and Super Mira in San Francisco's Japantown, but you should be able to find the ingredients mentioned here in any Japanese market worth their soy sauce.

Here is my proposed plan of action to make the most out of your shopping experience.

Step 1: Acquire a snack. It's no good shopping on an empty stomach. I can highly recommend the vegetarian inari pockets at Super Mira (pictured above). Sweet tofu on the outside, scrumptious rice with lotus root, carrot, and green beans on the inside, served with some pickled ginger on the side. You can't help but say oishii!! (Delicious!!)

Step 2: Stock up on staples. As I mentioned earlier, fish stock is one of the main components of Japanese cuisine, but it doesn't have to be. Kelp, or kombu, stock is also readily available, and you can throw it in almost anything–from miso soup to soymilk stew–to add subtle flavor.

Choose kelp stocks (I recommend the green package second from the right, since it's MSG-free) as the base of any soup or simmered dish

Step 3: Spend some time in the tofu aisle, admiring the myriad manifestations of this versatile victual (and on that note, keep your eyes peeled for tantalizing tofu trivia and serving suggestions here soon).

Step 4: Head to the produce section, where you'll find all sorts of possibly unfamiliar, but definitely tasty items such as lotus root, burdock root, and daikon radish. Lotus root adds a crisp crunch to stir-fries, and the earthy flavor of burdock root is a great addition to miso soup. Daikon is one of the most adaptable ingredients around, and is just as yummy munched-on raw with dip as it is slowly simmered into a soup.

Now that your grocery-basket is full, it's time to head home and cook yourself up something special. Let us know how it goes, and if you have any questions about what to do with any unfamiliar ingredients!

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