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Japanese cuisine ingredients - where to buy in Toronto?

blinknoodle Jun 7, 2009 07:03 PM

Hi there,

I just returned from a trip from Japan and want to explore Japanese cuisine in my kitchen. I was wondering where to go for the ingredients.. mirin, kombu, bonito flakes, tempura bits, etc.

As well, any tips on where to buy good soba and miso?


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  1. j
    jeannieh20 RE: blinknoodle Jun 7, 2009 07:10 PM

    If you're in the Queen St. W area - Sanko's at Queen and Claremont (just west of Bathurst). Small Japanese owned general store - you'll find most things you're looking for. If they don't have it they'll be more than happy to redirect you.


    If you're from the burbs than try J-Town in Markham, Steels/Vic. Park:


    Larger variety of items.

    1. jayt90 RE: blinknoodle Jun 7, 2009 07:37 PM

      P.A.T. has Japanese goods at lower prices than the specialty stores

      P A T Central Market
      675 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6G, CA

      1. t
        tjr RE: blinknoodle Jun 7, 2009 07:38 PM

        Sanko and J-Town, as already mentioned and are accessible. Taro's Fish is also a great Japanese fishmonger. Many big Asian supermarkets will have a variety of Japanese food items for much cheaper than the smaller shops (like T&T). Korean groceries (like P.A.T.) will often have Japanese things, or at least a similar Korean version.

        You won't find some things, and will have to substitute. Some items are fairly expensive and not really worth buying unless you need to. For instance, though I love Kewpie, it's pretty expensive to buy here and ridiculously unhealthy compared to Hellman's or whatever. The flavour is entirely different though.

        As for quality of products, check the labels, and try a few different varieties of the items if possible. Also note that sometimes, as soon as you find a product you like, it will go missing of store shelves forever with no hope for a future return.

        Another note: most of the better Japanese chefs in the city still fly in many or most things from Japan. We certainly have a lot of things available to us in Toronto, but sometimes the quality isn't stellar, the prices are absurd, or they disappear at random. If you're trying to make food at home, try making seasonal recipes with substitutions for seasonal ingredients available to you here. Eating here will never be quite the same as eating in Japan, just as with any country, but you can certainly make the best of it!

        1. jayt90 RE: blinknoodle Jun 7, 2009 08:29 PM

          Some Japanese vegetables can be grown here, or purchased fresh. I planted a wasabi root a month ago, and it is doing well. Some suppliers would include, Stokes, Dominion, Cookstown, and Richters.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jayt90
            skylineR33 RE: jayt90 Jun 7, 2009 08:41 PM

            I think you can try to grow any vegetable here but the question is where can one find the best premium condition, water, soil, etc for growing certain vegetable. Here can never grow a wasabi in Toronto that is the same grade as what is shown in the picture below.

          2. l
            lsk RE: blinknoodle Jun 8, 2009 08:06 AM

            T&T and J-Town often have some Japanese vegetables like gobou (burdock root), yamaimo/nagaimo (mountain yam), Japanese cucumbers, and kabocha (which now shows up in many Chinese grocery stores), but the biggest problem (I find) is searching out herbs and leafy vegetables like shiso (the Japanese kind, not the Korean kind which is quite prevalent), mitsuba, and mizuna.

            6 Replies
            1. re: lsk
              tjr RE: lsk Jun 8, 2009 01:37 PM

              The good part about shiso is that you can grow it at home!

              1. re: tjr
                Notorious P.I.G. RE: tjr Jun 8, 2009 01:44 PM

                The bad part about Shiso is that it will take over your garden. ;)

                1. re: Notorious P.I.G.
                  tjr RE: Notorious P.I.G. Jun 8, 2009 04:24 PM

                  Why would you want to grow anything else? :-)

                  1. re: Notorious P.I.G.
                    jeannieh20 RE: Notorious P.I.G. Jun 8, 2009 06:38 PM

                    unless you grow it in a container!

                    1. re: jeannieh20
                      Apple RE: jeannieh20 Jun 8, 2009 07:19 PM

                      slightly off topic - where can I buy shiso seeds (or seedlings) and is it too late to plant?

                      1. re: Apple
                        jayt90 RE: Apple Jun 8, 2009 07:44 PM

                        Here is a Canadian source, and at $1.50 a packet, less than half the price of foreign sources.

              2. l
                lilaki RE: blinknoodle Jun 8, 2009 08:55 AM

                not sure where you're located but there's a little japanese store in etobicoke:

                Sandown Market
                826 Browns Line, Etobicoke, ON M8W 3W2
                Phone: (416) 259-8260

                there are also multiple locations of PAT ... north york/mississauga, as well.

                T&T has a good selection as well.


                1. Kagemusha RE: blinknoodle Jun 8, 2009 08:57 AM

                  I'd try the Korean grocers like PAT and others for selection and price--not a big fan of Sanko. Even basic Japanese sauces and condiments are available now in Loblaws. For tableware, try Mika's Japanese Gifts in Mississauga--good selection and prices.

                  1. d
                    dubchild RE: blinknoodle Jun 8, 2009 11:21 AM

                    I don't think anyone mentioned the place in Kensington market. I think its called Little Tokyo, on Augusta south of Baldwin.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: dubchild
                      Teep RE: dubchild Jun 8, 2009 12:01 PM

                      They closed last year :-(

                      1. re: dubchild
                        always_eating RE: dubchild Jun 8, 2009 12:06 PM

                        Unfortunately it closed last Spring. :(

                        1. re: dubchild
                          aser RE: dubchild Jun 8, 2009 12:15 PM

                          It's deceiving, the main sign is still up, but another store has replaced it.

                          My suggestion to the OP, you'll find all the basic ingredients you need. The base flavours of bonito flakes, kombu, niboshi, mirin, shoyu, sake, miso are the most important. It's not terribly important you can't find the more exotic stuff. Do you really need to use matsutake mushroom instead of king or oyster or shitake or enoki or shimeji. Well you get my point....

                          and by tempura bits I'm assuming you're referring to panko, which is easily found.

                          1. re: aser
                            mogo RE: aser Jun 9, 2009 08:16 PM

                            I think blinknoodle meant tenkasu, which is actually fried batter bits. It looks something like Rice Krispies. Panko is just bread crumbs.

                            1. re: mogo
                              tjr RE: mogo Jun 9, 2009 08:31 PM

                              I don't think I've seen tenkasu, though admittedly I haven't looked for it. It's easy to make at home (though a lot of effort to make for no reason). Just make some tempura, then fry up the remainder of the batter by dropping it out of something.

                        2. b
                          blinknoodle RE: blinknoodle Jun 21, 2009 06:49 AM

                          Thanks guys. This was especially helpful. I wandered to T&T and J-Town this weekend and found it especially fruitfut. I even found tenkasu at J-Town for a buck! :)

                          A few further questions - where would be a good place to get sashimi-grade fish?

                          As well, I picked up a tiny bottle of cooking sake from T&T (Gold Plum cooking sake, 9.5% alcohol, 1.5% salt)... but now I noticed it is from China. Is it still ok to use for sake in Japanese recipes?

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: blinknoodle
                            jlunar RE: blinknoodle Jun 21, 2009 09:06 AM

                            go back to J-Town or Taro's for sashimi grade - staples are usually in the fridges and more specialty fish is at the counter.

                            1. re: blinknoodle
                              Kagemusha RE: blinknoodle Jun 21, 2009 01:30 PM

                              "Cooking" sake?! Got a taste for "cooking" sherry? Don't buy that salty swill--get a small bottle of sake from the LCBO. No, it's not OK.

                              1. re: Kagemusha
                                tjr RE: Kagemusha Jun 21, 2009 03:38 PM

                                It might not actually be sake, but mislabeled Chinese cooking wine. It's probably just an incorrectly labeled import.

                              2. re: blinknoodle
                                Notorious P.I.G. RE: blinknoodle Jun 21, 2009 01:47 PM

                                I would choose carefully at Taro's sometimes their fish in the fridge is a little less fresh than the fish at the counter. Not swill by any means but the stuff at the counter is usually a safer bet. They're still the best in the city for fish along with Diana's in my opinion. The fish counter at J-Town was vastly improved since the last time I went there as well. Really good assortment and all of it was very fresh.

                                1. re: Notorious P.I.G.
                                  tjr RE: Notorious P.I.G. Jun 21, 2009 03:38 PM

                                  I've been pleasantly surprised with the fish at J-Town recently; much better than when they opened. Definitely agree re: Taro.

                                  1. re: tjr
                                    lsk RE: tjr Jun 21, 2009 07:28 PM

                                    I was surprised to see tarako and nama sujiko (fresh, non-marinated ikura a.k.a. salmon roe) at the J-Town fish store, since those items are rarer.

                                    However, I still have some misgivings about them setting out donburi with raw fish out on the table without refrigeration or only with a pan of ice beneath them.

                                    1. re: lsk
                                      jayt90 RE: lsk Jun 21, 2009 07:45 PM

                                      Fish on shaved ice is acceptable, and very common.

                                2. re: blinknoodle
                                  jayt90 RE: blinknoodle Jun 21, 2009 02:54 PM

                                  T&T has a limited selection of sashimi grade fish at their sushi counter. Salmon is about $16/lb.
                                  Until you develop your sources, you can pick up sashimi trays from some reputable chefs.
                                  I get a fresh tray, quite large, for $25 at aoyama by phoning ahead.

                                  2766 Victoria Park Ave, Toronto, ON M2J4A8, CA

                                  1. re: blinknoodle
                                    aser RE: blinknoodle Jun 22, 2009 08:29 AM

                                    It could also just be cooking sake, salt is added so that it can be sold in grocery stores. The market at J-Town sells it too so you know.

                                    Obviously it's better to cook w/ an unsalted sake, but it's not going to kill your dish.

                                    If you're looking for a bargain, the fish is marked way down late Sunday afternoon at Sakane-ya (J-town). Selection might be limited since they're just trying to push the last batch of inventory for the week. My friend raves about the deals he picks up each Sunday night.

                                  2. l
                                    lamaranthe RE: blinknoodle Jun 21, 2009 09:57 AM

                                    T&T The Promenade. A full aisle dedicated to Japanese food items. Soba, seasonings, etc. etc. I suppose their downtown store offers the same choice.

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