One of the best things about living in Japan is the easy access to delicious Japanese food – back home it can be hard to get the ingredients for cooking Japanese, so actually living in the country makes it much easier to buy the things you need. If you’re interested in cooking up delicacies from other countries while living in Japan, you’ll be pleased to know that Kumamoto has a new Asian Food Shop where you can buy a wide variety of ingredients from many different countries. So if you fancy cooking up a Thai curry or some authentic Chinese fried rice, this store will be your number one stop for picking up those vital ingredients.
I met Helen not long after the Asian Food Shop had opened – a Chinese national who has lived and worked in Japan for many years, the Asian Food Shop is a collaborative project owned by Mr. Sun, Mr. Deng and Helen. What with Helen’s near-fluent English and my love of Chinese food, it was no surprise that we A. became good friends and B. that I have become a frequent visitor to the Asian food shop.
Open since October 2015, Helen explains that the idea for the shop grew out of her own experiences (and those of her Chinese friends) on first arriving in Japan as a University student. In those days, there were fewer international students around and also fewer shops that stocked the sort of ingredients and food products that Helen was used to. Moving to a new country is daunting enough, but when you are unable to cook the foods that you have grown up with and are used to, it can make the experience a lot less comfortable.
With this in mind, Helen and her friends decided to open the Asian Food Shop and stock ingredients from many different places, so that International students and foreigners living in Japan would have easy access to the foods they love. Aside from customers looking for familiar products, the shop also attracts people like me who love international dining and cooking international cuisine.
Glancing at the shelves in the Asian Food Shop, you will be met by a flurry of unfamiliar words in languages you can’t understand – unless you so happen to be a polyglot with several Asian languages under your belt. Products are stocked from India, Korea, the Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam and of course China – as the shop owners are Chinese, most of the products in the shop come from there. However, new products are arriving all the time and they are always considering the possibility of stocking foods from other countries, particularly if there are requests from customers.
In the freezer, it’s a treasure trove of carby-delights, with baozi (steamed buns), jiaozi (dumplings), mantou (steamed bread) and tangyuan (glutinous rice balls). Among my favorites are the sweet sesame seed filled rice balls, and the yang rou (mutton) dumplings which are an authentic taste of China, and far easier than fiddling around with pastry and trying to make them yourself!
In the fridge, you can choose from a variety of chilled drinks to quench your thirst in the hot and humid summer. Tamek brand juices (from Turkey) are simply delicious, with flavors including fruity mango, the tart cherry, and sharp apricot. Other great choices are coconut milk (from China), pear juice (from Korea) and jars of Korean yuzu jam which you can make to use hot or chilled sweet yuzu tea – another favorite of mine.
Aside from drinks, recently being stocked in the fridge are delicious cuts of vacuum packed meat – chicken feet, chashu pork, and even whole chickens are available.
Fridge and freezer items make up a small number of the Asian Food Shop stock – by far the best choices are found in the packaged foods where endless options are available. Seasoning, herbs, spices, sauces, alcohol, tea leaves, snacks, candy, curry, noodles… dig around and you’re sure to find something you like. Several local restaurants buy supplies from this shop so if you want to buy in bulk, that can be arranged too.
Dumplings and seasonings are the most popular items in store, and while the majority of customers shopping in the Asian Food Shop are Chinese, you can also find patrons from Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Western countries and of course Japan, perusing the products on offer.
Closed on Thursdays, the shop is open from 11:00 – 19:00 with bilingual staff working on different days of the week. The shop owners are considering setting up a website, but in the meantime, customers can get in touch by email or by phone – details below. However, the best thing would be to actually visit the shop in person and spend some time browsing the shelves and cooking up grand ideas about all the delicious food you’ll soon be cooking at home.