Recently, a friend of mine was commenting on how much he loved Tensuke Japanese Market for their carryout sushi and sashimi, but sometimes stood there, staring at the aisles of foreign packages, unsure of what to buy, or what to do with said purchases.
I should write something about that! I exclaimed. Japanese food can be very approachable; you might not want to start with the ready-to-stir natto bowls, but there are many things one can discover at Tensuke to round out one's diet. Especially if one is thinking about how one might incorporate some healthy items into one's diet. Japanese food seems effortlessly healthy; it's the antithesis of the typical American diet. To learn more about Japanese food, I highly recommend The Japanese Kitchen, which is a relatively easy-to-follow and approachable introduction to homemade Japanese cuisine, and Washoku, a more in-depth and advanced journey into the intricacies of the Japanese diet. The principles of Washoku (the "way of food") center on balance and, according to the author, are instinctive to the typical Japanese person. Basically, there are five colors: red, white, black, green and yellow. Each meal should contain each of these colors. You can see this illustrated pretty effectively in this bento I purchased at Tensuke, during our first spring a few weeks ago:
There's the white rice, the red salmon, the yellow omelet, the green veggies, and the black salad. There was also a sheet of nori covering the salmon, which would qualify as something black. A Japanese meal also contains various methods of cooking - there will always be rice, soup and something pickled, and then there might be something fried, grilled, and steamed. When we had our omakase at Kihachi, for example, Chef Kimura gave me his menu (after reading it to me); he had it broken down into cooking preparations: "steamed items," "fried items," "grilled items," etc. Am I getting too far off track? Okay, let's get on with a few starter, non-threatening, not scary ingredients from your local Japanese grocery store.
Kewpie Mayo. Everyone loves mayo, right? Kewpie mayo - the stuff which helps makes your spicy tuna rolls so delicious - is different from American mayo in that it tastes more savory and rich than light and tangy. This is probably due to a dose of MSG - don't fear it. Of course, there's also the fun packaging to take into consideration, and the weird material from which the bottle is made - it seems to shrink as you use the mayo.
Togorashi Shichimi. You can see from the picture this is a much loved product here at Chez Widow. Togorashi is a Japanese spice blend which you might recognize if you have spent any time slurping udon noodles in a restaurant. The blend, which contains the slightly hot dried togorashi pepper, orange peel, nori, and black sesame seeds, among other things, has a tangy, very slightly spicy flavor which is delicious when added to above-mentioned udon noodles. It also makes a nice seasoning for fish and chicken.
Carryout sushi, bentos, and rice balls. I love to pick up sushi and bentos at Tensuke, and I also like to grab a few onigiri ("big rice ball"). These rice balls are filled with things like shrimp tempura, tuna, salmon, or bits of pickled plum. Wrapped with nori, thrown in the microwave for a few seconds and doused with a little sriracha, they make a great snack at work.
Rice. There are many varieties of rice available at Tensuke. I'm not going to pretend I know a lot about rice, but if you have ever been frustrated trying to make the perfect rice you find in better Japanese and sushi restaurants, you might find yourself more satisfied if you try some of the rice available here. Most of the rice comes from California, and brown and white varieties are available. The pearly, short-grained rice preferred in Japanese cuisine is more expensive than most Indian and Thai rices, which are available around the corner at Patel Brothers. A 20 pound bag of Jasmine rice was $11.99 the last time I purchased one at Patel Bros, and 20 pounds of Harome rice from Tensuke was $23.99.
Sushi Grade Seafood. Tensuke is probably one of the only places in Columbus where one can purchase uni (sea urchin roe) and bluefin otoro (fatty tuna belly) to prepare at home. Of course, with most of the tuna and salmon they sell, you don't really have to prepare beyond slicing. Everything is fresh - they have rapid turnover - and expertly filleted for you, just slice and serve. One could also purchase tobiko - flying fish roe - which add a crunchy texture to rice which I love.
Pocky. Husband and I consume lots of pocky. For the uninitiated, pocky is a Japanese snack whose base is a crunchy, pretzel-like cookie in a stick shape. It's typically covered with chocolate - sometimes chocolate and almonds, chocolate and cookies, or white chocolate flavored with strawberry or green tea - there's even black sesame pocky - there's even pocky for men, covered in extra bitter chocolate. The thing I love about pocky, aside from the taste, is that it is usually packaged about 4 sticks to a pack, each pack averaging around 75 calories. This means you can eat the pack and not feel as though you've consumed a 300 calorie candy bar. They're perfect for packing in your lunch box.
Knives. If you can't afford to buy great knives, you might as well buy decent cheap knives. These thin steel knives hold their edge for a long time and are a reasonably priced alternative to bad cheap knives (such as the Henkels sold at Target).
Miso. Miso is fermented soybean paste; it can be found in the refrigerated section. It has a rich, savory flavor which makes it perfect for soup-making, of course, but it is also great when added to sauces, marinades, salad dressings, etc. It adds a great depth of flavor. There is even a traditional Japanese sauce, tama miso, which I think of as Japanese hollandaise - it's egg yolk and miso with a little sake. We had this at Kihachi on our geoduc (giant clam).
Panko bread crumbs. There's little that can't be improved by panko. These traditional Japanese bread crumbs are unbelievably crispy - they make the best breading. Although they are great for deep-frying, they can also be used for pan-frying in just a small amount of oil. They make a great coating for chicken, fish, and crab cakes. Friends of ours even used them to fry poached eggs for a salad last summer - that was a great idea, too.
These are just a few things to get one started in a Japanese grocery store. In a few months, maybe we can explore some more things - maybe we can even move on to the noodle and curry section.
Info: 1167 Old Henderson Road, Columbus (in the Kenny Shopping Center) 614.451.6002