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Takoyaki and shina soba ramen at Mitsuwa "gourmet fair"

Cicely | May 24, 200809:18 PM

The periodic food festivals at the L.A.-area Mitsuwa supermarkets, with specialty vendors brought in from Japan, always spark a flurry of excitement on the local board, but I never actually made it to one while I lived there. So when I read about the latest festival on the LA board, I checked and found that I'd be able to catch it in San Jose, near my new home. Sadly, we don't get the shark's fin ramen or the beef tongue -- offerings vary.

I should point out that this only lasts one more day -- it ends Sunday.

On Friday I went and tried the shina soba. (Wikipedia sez shina soba is just an alternative name for ramen). It was very savory, with thin yellow noodles that were cooked just right. I found the broth comparable to the shoyu ramen at LA's Gardena Ramen, but it was way too salty. I drained my tiny styrofoam cup of water right away and had to go back for two more, a problem since seating was at a premium during lunchtime and each time I returned, I had to wrest my chair back from some stroller mom. The chashu topping, though, kicked ass: Although it wasn't decadently fatty pork belly, it was incredibly tender and fell apart at a nudge from my chopsticks. Pretty impressive.

As for takoyaki (a sort of octopus dumpling), I came back Saturday with friends and we waited in line a loooong time (like 20 minutes). The wait got much more fun when I reached the part of the line in front of the takoyaki maker, who kept up a constant patter in Japanese (I assume it was something along the lines of "Have some takoyaki; it's awesome"), with the occasional "Thank you for waiting" in English as he deftly turned the takoyaki in their molds so they'd be round all over. According to the sign, they aim to entertain as well as please the palate.

When each batch was done, they were spritzed with white wine (apparently this vendor's signature touch), loaded into boxes and drizzled with a tangy brown sauce and a loose mayonnaise, and sprinkled with bonito flakes.

It all turned out to be a hot, gooey, tasty mess, and I could taste the subtle effects of the wine and the bits of ginger. Having experienced takoyaki with really small, sparse bits of octopus, I appreciated that they didn't skimp (some of the molds had two-inch-long pieces of tentacle curled in the batter). To my taste, I would have preferred them to be crisper outside and more firmly cooked inside, but apparently gooey is the goal.

I picked up some sweets, too, but haven't tried them yet.

Mitsuwa San Jose:

LA area posts:

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