Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Los Angeles: Marukai Pacific Market

Polly and Mom choose baked goodies.

Despite what I might say in person, I like living in Maryland. It's where I grew up and for all its' faults, there are a lot worse places I could live - never mind that Baltimore is one of the most crime riddled cities in America.

The problem with Baltimore is its' lack of a proper Japanese market. Sure, we've got a lot of "Asian" markets, but they're mainly Korean centric markets featuring Korean product. Maybe it's because I lived in Honolulu for so long but nothing beats a proper Japanese market.

Portuguese Sausage, Saimin and More.

There are lots of similarities between Japanese and Korean markets but the Korean ones never seem to be on par with the Japanese in terms of presentation. Stuff just looks better in the Japanese markets and the City of Gardena has these in spades.

How I dream about the Japanese style of white bread with its' fluffy white interior and square shape that toasts to a golden crisp perfection. Slather on some butter on that hot toast and it's just amazing. The Japanese are utterly obsessed with French style pastry, done with their own twist. There's a brioche stuffed with cod roe. Amazing. And the honey butter toast. Again, amazing.

The Holy Grail of Hawaii: Zippy's Chili.

Today we've made our usual stop at the Marukai Pacific Market. While Marukai is known for it's Japanese product, this part of Southern California is also home to large population of local people from Hawaii and this is reflected in their offerings.

Alongside the Ito-En teas are Hawaii classics like Redondo's Portuguese Sausage, S&S Saimin, and the Holy Grail of Hawaii foods: Zippy's Chili. And it's only $7.99 per box (a tremendous savings over the $70 I spent a few years ago to have the same chili airlifted to me from Honolulu).

Homewares for your kitchen.

There's even gallons of Aloha Shoyu and Diamond Bakery Soda Crackers nestled into the aisles. These people don't know how good they have it here in California.

In another aisle we find an amazing assortment of white rice in every shape, color, size and variety. In Maryland, we have Thailand Jasmine and Kokuho Rose. Here we find esoteric brands of rice like Matsuri, Tsuru Mai and Tamaki. In the frozen case we find Mochi Ice Cream, Melona bars and all the Japanese brands in the Kana that I can't even read.

A wide selection of rice.

Venture over to the fresh section and the assortment of seafood is dizzying. Beautiful cuts of O-Toro, Hamachi and Uni await your selection. As I spy the dried cuttlefish and rice crackers, I laugh giddily like a kid in a candy store.

The hard part about being in Marukai is restraint. I want to sample all of these foods that I can't get at home. In Maryland, there are no Japanese markets like this, we're extremely limited. The nearest proper Japanese market is in Edgewater, New Jersey across from New York City. Too far for a weekly shopping excursion.

Dried Cuttlefish for your snacking pleasure.

Fatty O-Toro in the fresh seafood section.

In spite of the fact that I can't try it all, our cart is getting filled. Filled with The Good Stuff. Later, as we cook the short grain California Koshihikari Tamaki Gold rice, my mom remarks that she hasn't had rice like this in a long time. The short grain is rich, flavorful, starchy and incredibly superior to the Kokuho Rose we get at home.

I will be back again to stock up before my trip home.

The new hotness in rice cookers: digital controlled induction.

Marukai Pacific Market
1620 Redondo Beach Boulevard
Gardena, CA 90247