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Nov 10, 2008 01:01 PM

best places to get traditional japanese ingredients?

i am from torrance and i shop regularly at mitsuwa, nijiya and marukai in the area, but i was wondering if there was anyplace else i was missing.
i am specifically looking for places to get fresh yuzu, shiso, shishito, etc.
if these are the only places, who has the best selection/prices?
i know most fine japanese ingredients are somewhat expensive.
also, out of curiosity, is there some kind of yuzu concentrate/syrup/etc?
i've been dreaming about making yuzu shaved ice or something similar for a while (ever since that yuzu sake sherbet at kagura).

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  1. You can usually find shishito and shiso at those places that you already visit. The only problem is the weather might be a little cool now for shishito - I grabbed a couple of pounds from Mitsuwa a few weeks ago and the color was a little anemic. They still tasted fine, but also had some really really hot suckers mixed in there as well. I'm not sure about shiso.

    As for yuzu, I don't recall seeing fresh ones in those markets. Up until recently, yuzu was almost impossible to source here. My father's friend started grafting yuzu to citrus stock about 20 or so years ago and introduced it to SoCal, basically out of the unanswered demand by Japanese chefs and consumers alike. My dad's friend had a stranglehold on this market for a number of years (selling only the fruit to select restauranteurs and some small suppliers) until he finally relented and sold some stock to (I believe) growers up in Ventura county. Because yuzu is still somewhat of a specialized citrus, I don't know if it's available beyond the wholesale level to the industry. However, I recently visited my parents, and they told me that yuzu is about 3 bucks per according to the Japanese ladies at the local Union Bank. Where, I don't know - I didn't ask.

    The concentrate that one finds is usually seasoned and lacks the brightness of the real thing anyway - I am guessing you want straight concentrate. And I have seen frozen whole yuzu in some of the above mentioned stores in the past. Japan Airlines offers passengers a nonalcoholic yuzu cocktail called, "Sky Time," and is now sold in at least MItsuwa. I believe it comes in approx. 12-ounce and 1-litre containers in the refrigerated juice section. Sky Time is a very pleasant and refreshing drink if you like yuzu, but if you're looking for something with a lot of depth in flavor, this ain't it. A possibility might be to doctor this drink with some fresh yuzu if you end up sourcing both.

    There is a decent glimmer of hope as well. I know that this citrus has always been popular in Japan's traditional dishes, but has become popular in a lot more things now, like yokan, manju, mochi, candies, soft drinks, etc., etc. - you know how crazy the concoctions can get in Japanese fun food. I would expect to see at least a trickle of these items here in the US in the near future. It might also help to beg (with tears rolling down your cheeks) the managers at the local Japanese stores to seek out and stock these types of products.

    Another option is to start growing your own or get friendly with those that do. Most Nikkei have always grown their own produce, and all three of these can be grown in SoCal's climate. Shishito and shiso plants can be sourced at Japanese nurseries as well as the better-stocked garden centers. Also look for them at the Japanese markets - usually in spring thru early summer. Yuzu - I don't know. I have seen the occasional poster mention that they or their parents have a tree - my parents do only because they were gifted one by my dad's above-mentioned friend. They produce only one crop a year, and of course, if the tree is established and is treated with some basic TLC, the crop will be abundant enough to require distribution to friends, as well as freezing some for the rest of the year. The trees are slow growers and are one of the most prickly of the citrus trees that I've come across - no fun picking yuzu.

    2 Replies
    1. re: bulavinaka

      yuzu is very scarce, but i was able to buy it last spring at mitsuwa.

      1. re: bulavinaka

        Those shishito are sneaky; they turn hot before they turn red. Some folks don't know they have a hot stage.

      2. I just bought a package which contained three fresh yuzu at the Mitsuwa market on Centinela and Venice in Mar Vista. The package was $2.99. The yuzu looked small to me - smaller than most limes - but I've never seen fresh yuzu before, so that could be their regular size.

        I haven't tried any of the fresh yuzu yet - I'm trying to decide exactly how to use them. But you may want to contact the Mar Vista Mitsuwa - or your local Mitsuwa - to see if they will continue to carry them.


        1. the mitsuwa in costa mesa has yuzu - teeny tiny ones, two for three bucks. little bigger than a ping pong ball each.

          shishito is generally a spring/summer veggie so good luck with that.

          shiso will get a little more pricier... why not grow your own? they grow like WEED, pretty insane. you can even eat young seeds as tempura and that's pretty yum. ready-to-plant seeds can be purchased at mitsuwa too (at least the costa mesa one).

          1. thanks for all the tips.
            i think i'm going to hit up the rest of my family in the area to see if they have connections.
            i remember fresh shiso from childhood as well as really amazing matsutake mushrooms, so we will see if any family friends pan out.
            as for the sky high drink, i'm going to find out who the local distributor is because i can already tell i'm going to love it enough to try to buy it in large amounts.

            1 Reply
            1. re: alkylyou

              You may enjoy taking a look at the website for Mutual Trading Co. (they have a local office here in Los Angeles) and their Japanese food and cooking products. Click on the link on the lower left hand side of the page on the icon labeled "Jizake" for a great sake / sochju selection.