This Little Piggy Went to Mitsuwa

by James Boo on April 27, 2010 · 8 comments

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Clash of the Foodies - April 10, 2010 - Japan Society's Jcation
A few weeks ago I competed alongside three other food bloggers in Japan Society’s Clash of the Foodies. You can now watch the entire program online, beginning with my shitty cartwheel and ending with the Taste Buds taking second place. Our prize, bottles of Zen Green Tea Liqueur, couldn’t have been a better match – while first place (a bunch of swag, $100 at a nice Japanese restaurant and bragging rights) would have been nice, I have little use for pride and at least two uses for emerald green booze.

Still ripe with Japanese affection weeks after J-Cation, I joined Bobby Digital’s art school cohort on a day trip to Mitsuwa Marketplace, a miniature theme park disguised as a shopping center in Edgewater, New Jersey. Mitsuwa, a chain development based in Torrance, is a known force in Southern California, mostly for the fact that almost all of the storefronts it houses revolve around food. While the Jersey branch isn’t accessible by public transport, Mitsuwa wisely offers New Yorkers round-trip shuttle service from Port Authority for $6.00.

Our plan was simple: Start eating at lunch time. Keep eating through supper time.

Santoka Ramen - Mitsuwa Marketplace - Edgewater, NJ
Santouka, the beloved Asahikawa-style darling of pretty much everyone who’s ever tried it, is always my first stop at Mitsuwa. When visiting the Marketplace in Costa Mesa, I would walk into the food court to find almost every counter idle, while a long line of noodle fiends stretched from this uncanny source of wonderful ramen.

Hot Miso Toroniku Ramen - Santoka Ramen - Mitsuwa Marketplace - Edgewater, NJ
Tororo Rice - Santoka Ramen - Mitsuwa Marketplace - Edgewater, NJ Toroniku - Santoka Ramen - Mitsuwa Marketplace - Edgewater, NJ
The offerings of Santouka in Jersey lived up to that memory: I loved their hot miso ramen as a Californian, and I love it just as much as a New York transplant. While nowhere near as punchy as the spicy shio at Minca and Kambi, Santouka’s tonkotsu-based, miso-tempered, bowl is a nuanced blend of sweet, savory and rich, smooth currents of milky and spicy swirling around and soaked into a ridiculously generous serving of thick ramen noodles.

Toro-niku, defined simply by Santouka as “special,” presents a bit of mash-up vernacular used to describe extremely tender meat (apparently comparable to toro, which describes the cut of tuna often used for sushi). I’ve had toro-niku in the form of stewed pork before; Santouka’s special pork consists of moist slices of pork cheek, flanked on one side by a browned edge and on the other by a sliver of creamy, delicious fat.

Tororo rice, a small bowl of white rice blanketed by a fluffy yet slimy layer of grated Japanese mountain yam, is not beginner’s food. The very slightly savory aspect of the mostly sweet yam, especially when matched with the natural sweetness of Santouka’s excellent rice, makes for a great flavor; however, the cool serving temperature and slippery, slimy texture of the topping might make for an uncomfortable first bowl.

Omelet With Mayonnaise Shrimp - China Table Tokyo Hanten - Mitsuwa Marketplace - Edgewater, NJ
Speaking of comfort: Bobby’s platter from China Table Tokyo Hanten, a cafeteria-style smörgåsbord of dumplings, patties and fried things, consisted of… well, why don’t you just guess what was involved?

Minamoto Kitchoan Japanese Confectionary - Mitsuwa Marketplace - Edgewater, NJ
After lunch, we wandered through the Marketplace for midday snacking. Minamoto Kitchoan, which could easily be mistaken for a jewelery and perfume department, stands in the main thoroughfare, selling immaculately conceived and elegantly formed confections of sugar, rice, flour and chocolate to the upscale dessert fiend.

Black Boss Coffee - Mitsuwa Marketplace - Edgewater, NJ
I wasn’t in a position to buy gift-wrapped, chocolate-covered wafers shaped like wedges of hard cheese, so I spent ten minutes reveling in the the grocery aisle’s Japanese soft drink display. Do I want a coffee boss, or do I want a BLACK BOSS? This is Engrish existentialism at its finest.

After indulging in desserts, candies and soft drinks, we walked through the book store and house wares shop, where I eventually become the owner of brand new Japanese tea set.

Udon With Soft-Boiled Egg - Sanuki Sandou Udon - Mitsuwa Marketplace - Edgewater, NJ
Dinner at Mitsuwa brought me to the counter of Sanuki Sandou Udon, where I placed a simple order for udon with soft-boiled egg. Sanuki’s broth wasn’t particularly memorable, but its clean composition (I rarely find greasy udon fun) made for a fine bowl of soup, and breaking the egg yolk halfway through produced a nice transition from warming to hearty. At $5, this dish only strengthens the argument that soft-boiled eggs should be added to everything ever made – at least to every bowl of noodles, in any case.

Rice With Salmon Roe - Santoka Ramen - Mitsuwa Marketplace - Edgewater, NJ
I closed off our four hours of eating with a few bites of Santouka’s ikura (salmon eggs) over rice. The pairing was excellent: Each twinkling pearl of roe collapsed into a minute burst of oceanic bliss, just a bit salty, just a bit fishy and just a bit juicy. It’s nice to know that something this delicate can be so accessible to the everyday eater.

In the end, that’s the fundamental source of Mitsuwa’s greatness. None of the food here is on the level of a $100 meal won by defeating a band of half-naked luchadores – is anything, really?

Yet, as a reflection of the strong food ethic that helps define Japanese culture, Mitsuwa’s approach to flooding the senses with umami – at a price, aesthetic and convenience level that matches most of the shoppers who make it to the land of the rising food court – is unparalleled.

I decided to go with Black Boss, by the way.

Mitsuwa Marketplace Shuttle Bus - Edgewater, NJ

Mitsuwa Marketplace
595 River Road,
Edgewater, NJ 07020
Shuttle at Port Authority Bus Terminal


veronica April 27, 2010 at 9:09 pm

whoa, what a coincidence — i just went to mitsuwa today! i had an unadon for lunch, but i usually go with the ramen at santouka. they also sell black sesame soft serve at that booth with the ito-en tea :)

James Boo April 27, 2010 at 9:19 pm

I really wanted to try that soft serve! Ultimately, though, I went with pastries and Hi-Chew… I’ll definitely try it on my next visit.

esther April 28, 2010 at 10:37 am

I love mitsuwa! yes, the black sesame black serve is a MUST! IT IS DELICIOUSSSSS! I’d go all the way there just to get it! =)

I once saw a guy at the end of a ramen line. The establishment had him holding a sign that said “last person.” It made me laugh so hard!

Nicholas April 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Your cartwheel wasn’t that… bad.

The salmon eggs over rice confused me for a second. It vaguely resembles tapioca pearls littered over rice, so I thought it was a dessert.

Danny April 29, 2010 at 8:37 am

ooooh mitsuwa. this is like disneyland almost. i gotta find time to visit this place and figure out how to stay there for like four hours and eat lunch + supper. Seriously, how did you do that and not explode?

James Boo April 29, 2010 at 9:46 am

Seltzer and coffee helps settle things between meals… but really, just show up hungry, don’t overdo it during the first meal, and take some time to walk around (if the weather is good, a walk along the Hudson outside would be beautiful) between plates. Since noodles figure so prominently, you won’t be as stuffed as you think :]

wasabi prime May 3, 2010 at 2:15 pm

J-Cation — damn, how I love this blog so much. The taco/Southwest food photos of recent posts are absolutely mouthwatering, but egads, the pics from this post — what a true celebration of a foodie culture! Woo hoo – shout out to my hometown, Torrance! I love that the chain has moved to the J-town of Jersey. I’ve seen that Black Boss coffee drink; never tried, but the packaging on snacks and drinks from Japan are collection-worthy. The noodle pics are lovely and the salmon eggs look so elegant. We used to fish a lot, so when I see large fish eggs, I can’t help but think “bait.” I must shake that preconception!

Hungry May 4, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I just went there for the first time. I loved it! Lots of groceries that I couldn’t find any where else. Note that next time, near the meat section they offer free samples. I got me some wagyu style beef. Yum!

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