Recently, I had a chance to eat at the Mitsuwa Marketplace in Costa Mesa at the behest of a friend of mine, a Japanese-American transplant from Sacramento. As a college student in Irvine, he bemoans the fact that going home isn’t a simple stone’s throw away, only going up to see his parents three times a year for short periods at a time. His homesickness is especially rooted in his appetite, but due to an inability to replicate his culture’s cooking, he’s oftentimes unable to satisfy these constant cravings for food from his home.
That is, until he found Mitsuwa Marketplace, a chain of Japanese supermarkets with several locations in California. The company asserts itself as the largest Japanese supermarket in the U.S. and any doubt of that statement is easily cast aside when you walk in. From my friend’s description, I was expecting a small supermarket with a small takeout section. But as soon as I entered, I was struck by the imposing size of the place, rendered awestruck by the sheer number of things to do within the store. If the store’s end goal is to satisfy the wants and needs of a Japanese-American audience, it's certainly done it. My eyes raced from one end of the store to the other, scanning aisles stocked to the brim with fresh and authentic foods, the many retail shops catering to a number of niche hobbyists and a full-blown food court serving a variety of cuisine. Despite my steadily increasing hunger, I had to see more of the store.
As I browsed, I began to get nostalgic about my extremely nerdy teenage years. Coming from a hometown (Yorba Linda) that didn’t have an actively present Asian-American community, I tacked myself onto any hobby or endeavor that was vaguely Asian. I peered inside of the Kinokuniya Book Store, which stocks its shelves with a number of various Japanese texts, dwelling in the manga sections (the Japanese equivalent of American comics) and recalling hours spent at the bookstore ingesting these familiar-looking titles. I passed HQ Video, which sells DVDs of Japanese films and television and recalled the days I spent downloading subtitled anime onto my computer. I passed by J-Style, a store specializing in selling a number of Japanese toys and models, staring at the rows and rows of Gundam models and remembering the weekend nights I spent at home alone building them. Succumbing to hunger, I bought an air freshener for my car and went to the food court, unable to explore further the other various pockets of the store. Following my friend’s lead, I got a piping-hot bowl of the ramen at Santouka. As we noisily slurped away the rich broth, meat and noodles, I asked my friend how it was.
He looked up at me happily. “Not quite as good as my mom’s, but it still reminds me of home,” he said.