2 Kids and a $20: A Trip to Japan, at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Irvine
Written by Cindy Morgan
A Trip to Japan, in Irvine
Why Bother with a 10-Hour Flight? At Mitsuwa Marketplace, the Twins Browse Aisles of Octopus Tentacles, Bean Paste Candy and …Oreos?
By Cindy Morgan
Thinking we might someday take our kids abroad, we went as a family to get our kids their first passports. As it turns out our travel budget extended to expedited passport delivery but did not actually stretch far enough to get us much past Yorba Linda. This hasn’t stopped me from dreaming though, most recently of Japan. My $20 solution was to leave our passports at home and head to Mitsuwa Marketplace in Irvine.
Within minutes of entering Mitsuwa, my kids noticed that they were the only blond-haired blue-eyed shoppers, and that we were some of the few people speaking English. I remember feeling the same way the first time I went to Mexico when I was 11. Who needs the 10-hour flight to Tokyo when you can feel like a foreign traveler just off I-5 at Culver?
Mitsuwa is a blend of the foreign (octopus tentacles and a cornucopia of dried fish) and the typical (apples and bananas). In most aisles there were items we couldn’t identify—thousands of items are only labeled in Japanese. It didn’t take a pocket translator for my daughter to recognize the big cube-shaped loaf of squishy white bread that looked like sponge cake.
“Can we I please get this?” My daughter begged. “I bet it is really good.” She also lobbied for a tube of Japanese mayonnaise, a delicacy she had discovered recently at a Japanese restaurant. “We have to get this. If we do, I promise I will eat my broccoli without complaining.” How could I say no to that?
My kids found the candy aisle and were like. . .well, like kids in a candy store. The packaging is bright and happy and features Japanese anime characters that look like over-inflated balloons with pointy ears. They had no idea what flavor most of candy was but they were eager to try it all. That is until I read the label (in English) on a bag of “red bean paste” candy. That was about as appealing as the bags of “prepared squid.”
Looking for lunch we cruised the handful of cash only Japanese food stalls. With plastic versions of Japanese meals in their display cases, they look just like they do in Japan. It all looked good to me, but they were less adventurous…who knew when an octopus tentacle or some “prepared squid” just might pop up in your bowl of udon?
We each selected meals from the prepackaged refrigerated section: sushi for me and my son; curry chicken cutlet and rice, curry sauce on the side, for my daughter. Though the treats in the small bakery looked good (when doesn’t a donut look good?) they opted for Oreos in Japanese packaging, just to see if they were the same as American ones. Japanese sodas of unidentifiable flavor in cool bottles rounded out the meal. Perhaps not the healthiest lunch, but certainly one that felt Japanese. We ate outside at one of the patio tables in the parking lot, thankful for the shade on a hot summer day.
As they were eating they noticed a big store called Daiso a few doors down from Mitsuwa and asked what it was.“It’s a Japanese $1.50 store.”
“Can we go?” They asked in unison.
I dreaded taking them into a store full of cheap Asian stuff, but I wasn’t quite ready to end our trip to this corner of Japan in Orange County so we cleaned up our lunch debris and went to check it out. All I can say is, thank goodness we had already spent our $20.
What I spent: $23, a bargain considering the quantity and quality of the sushi
What They Learned: Oreos are Oreos no matter what language is on the packaging, and you can find them in a place where you don’t need a passport but feels just like a foreign country if you are ten years old
What I Learned: Mitsuwa is the perfect place to take the kids for authentic Japanese food and grocery shopping. Daiso is the perfect place to go without your kids unless you are prepared to hear, “Can we please get these?” repeated in stereo and ad naseum until you either give in and buy handfuls of sushi-shaped erasers and Japanese candies or leave.
Mitsuwa Marketplace 14320 Culver Drive, Irvine. 949-559-6633. There is also a Mitsuwa in Costa Mesa. Monday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Restaurant area open 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Daiso, 14280 Culver Drive, Irvine. Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.