March 26, 2012

Mitsuwa: Manhattan to Tokyo in 30 Mins

We went to Mitsuwa, the largest Japanese supermarket/mall in the US and easily accessible from the Port Authority Gate 51 via 30 minute shuttle bus to Edgewater, NJ. The supermarket is stocked with every fresh and packaged japanese product imaginable, from brightly colored pickled vegetables to face creams. What makes it a destination in and of itself is the food court, which boasts the best ramen noodle soup EVER, amazing green tea ice cream, waffle-like desserts stuffed with red bean paste and dumplings that are at least 40% more flavorful than any dumpling you've ever had at any other Japanese restaurant. A+ food. Oh, and the PORK. Mmmmmm porkkkkkk.

This Japanese staycation idea came from my friend Melissa (of Philadelphia blog Whiz and Firkin) who planned a second visit with her boyfriend and invited us to join. She described her first visit as being the only place she's been to where she truly felt transported to a foreign country--it was like being in Tokyo. Oh, that got me excited! We decided to be uber tourists and spend the evening there on Saturday.

When we first walked in at the produce department, I felt a little silly. It's a supermarket after all; a place for the large Japanese population in NJ to shop for their weekly groceries or stop for a quick meal in the food court for a taste of home, not necessarily a place for white people to gawk at products we've never seen before, take pictures, let our toddler run free and stuff our faces. But I quickly got over any initial discomfort and fully dove into a really fun 3.5 hour shopping and eating spree because the place really is incredible! And it was of course extra fun to have Savannah there, running around the store, grabbing snacks off the shelves, filling her basket, slurping noodles for an hour.

In fact, Rob and I probably had a very similar experience to Savvy's. It was sensory overload heaven--loud, colorful, crowded! And none of us could decipher the packaging! We bought a bunch of sweet and savory snacks and let Savvy choose some of the items because her guess was as good as ours, and everything was reasonably priced.

Before you take your own staycation across the Hudson to Mitsuwa, here are some tips to maximize your visit:

1. Time your food consumption wisely, especially on a busy Saturday. We arrived at 5:15pm and left on an 8:45pm shuttle bus back to the city. We ate a small dinner and some desserts around 6pm, assuming we'd have room in our tummies for more savory food later on when Melissa and her boyfriend ate their meal (Rob and I are on Savvy's early dinnertime schedule). The only problem was by the end of the evening all the prepared foods sold in the supermarket (sushi and sashimi, etc - the stuff we wanted) were nearly sold out. Saturdays are CROWDED. Sadly I can't comment on the sushi here.

2. The food court restaurants are Cash Only. I arrived with $2 in my wallet. Whoops. The ATM was out of service but after asking a few employees where another was located, one suggested I purchase Mitsuwa gift cards from customer service with my credit card, and just use those at the restaurants. Crisis averted.

3. Turn it into a day trip in order to eat at least 2 meals at the food court. On our way out, we noticed that right next door is a driving range and mini golf center. Fun! I'd suggest arriving for lunch, followed by a stroll along the river to check out the Manhattan skyline view, followed by mini-golf, then back to Mitsuwa for shopping/gawking at all the supermarket delicacies, partaking in some free samples, an early dinner and dessert. If you have extra time, there's a Japanese bookstore (I enjoyed looking at the fashion mags and children's books), a home goods store that also sells toys, and a salon in the shopping center.

4. Advice and notes on traveling with a young child: 

  • If your child can walk, leave the stroller home. It would be cumbersome on the shuttlebus and in the food court. Most toddlers were walking hand-in-hand with their families so you won't get weird looks, and if you need a break from tot-wrangling, you can always sit them in a shopping cart.
  • I am very anxious about hot liquids near my child. I asked the staff at Santoka (the ramen noodle place) to add ice cubes to our soup, but they don't keep cubes on hand. The food court, however, is stocked with ice water and green tea free of charge. Even after adding a few shots of ice water to our soup to cool it down, the miso broth still packed an umami flavor explosion.
  • Let it feel like a vacation! While I won't let Savvy walk the aisles of Fairway or touch everything in Duane Reade, I allowed her to do her own shopping here. When she wanted to touch every juice container, I turned it into a lesson on colors, and when she wanted to slide all the price tags around, I explained to her what the signage meant. When she wanted to pick up a shopping basket, I let her. She even put her groceries on the conveyor belt all by herself!
5. Load up on as many snacks as you can carry. Holy cow! Do you like Snap Pea Crisps? The ones they sell here are light years better than the brand sold in American stores. We discovered an amazing chocolately, crispy, ganache-y snack (memorize the photo below so you can locate it on the shelves!) and lots of other crispy goodies.

And now for some photos (not in chronological order)--

Ramen. So much flavor. Shockingly good.

Eating "NooNoo", Sav's fav

Lemongrass green tea. AWESOME.

Touching the "white juice" - probably rice milk?

1st package Savvy chose was bright pink w/ flowers on it. In a college sociology course, I learned that children begin to favor gender-specific toys at 18 months. True for this chickie!

Buying her items. Girly colored soup cakes & strawberry bear cookies.

A pickle rainbow

Enjoyed the skyline view, daddy hugs, and quacking at the ducks.

What a cool way to choose your entree!

For Savvy, it would take a million licks to get to the center of this ice cream cone.

I can lift it!!
OK. It's getting a lil' heavy...

Mo mo rah (more more rocks) - some playing outside before it got dark

The next day we binged on yummy treats. These particular chocolate crispy discs were top notch. Rob ate one of the light-as-air cookies first. "What does it taste like?" "Good. Weird. They're WET."  He was right--when the wafer mixes with your saliva the texture turns from rice crispy to chocolate ganache. So amazing. "You need to try them two in one row." "What? You mean two at a time?" We crack each other up. We kept saying "Two in one row" in our best culturally insensitive, Japanese game show host voice until we finished the bag.


Lacey Bean said...

I love that Savvy eats, or at least tries, so many things! That's our goal with our little one to be. :)

Your Mom said...

Oh wow. I am definitely, definitely going here soon.

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