Market Tours: Midoriya, a Japanese Grocery Outpost in Williamsburg
Wedged between a sparse, Scandinavian home goods store and a moody upscale vintage shop on North 9th Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, there's a narrow grocery store. You'd miss it were it not for the green neon sign in one window—Midoriya —and a small silver poster advertising the Japanese beer Asahi in the other. It's not been there long, as far as neighborhood spots go, just since December of 2010.
Inside, General Manager Mitsuru Kosaka is blasting '90s rock from his bedazzled iPhone, and the bright overhead lights and yellow and green paint feel atypical for the neighborhood. "I used to work at Family Market, a Japanese market in Astoria," Kosaka told me. "I worked there like, six years. And we wanted to extend more. There is no Japanese store in Brooklyn, so we looked for a good location and found one here."
Despite its small size and appropriate name—Mini Market—the impeccable Midoriya stocks an astonishing number of products. From Hello Kitty chocolates to garlic shrimp chips to frozen smelt roe, both native (and adventurous) palates and newcomers to Japanese cuisine will be satisfied by its offerings.
"We get mostly American people. You know, Japanese food is popular right now" Kosaka explained as he paused to ring up a customer (in Japanese.) "We have ramen noodles and tofu." Indeed, for a quick Japanese fix (supposedly for these American customers?), Midoriya stocks all the popular treats: easy-to-make ramen and other just-add-hot-water noodle dishes, tea, mochi ice cream, tofu, and most imaginable kinds of ready-made curry.
More fun than noodles, though, for Japanese-and-non customers alike, is the wall of snacks and candy that will keep you entertained for hours. Classic Japanese rice crackers come baked, fried, with sesame, with salt, with soybean paste, with black beans, and with sugar and milk. Shrimp chips come in original, wasabi and hot garlic variations. Hello Kitty chocolates share shelf space with colorful packages of gum, and Thomas the Tank Engine candy bars. And no Japanese market would be complete without the complete line of Pocky biscuits.
But what's best about Kosaka's well-appointed spot is the extensive selection of ingredients for making one's own Japanese dishes.
Pantry basics are more than covered. There's dozens of conventional and organic soy sauces, including Knobu no oshoyu (soy sauce with kelp) and Ponzu (citrus-seasoned soy sauce), as well as spicy sesame oil, Kotteri Mirin (Mirin-style sweet seasoning), Ryori Shu (rice wine for cooking) and brown rice, grape, plum and apple vinegars.
Several shelves are given over to seaweed, from dried flakes for soup to roasted nori for wrapping sushi, and several more to panko, rice and noodles, from ubiquitous udon to buckwheat soba to skinny somen (with fresh udon in the fridge, too).
For homemade soup, Midoriya carries pre-made dashi (soup base), as well as Miso Nabe-Tei Goma (sesame miso paste), Miso Nabe-Tei Chige (spicy Korean miso paste), and bags of dried mushrooms and bonito flakes for making your own broths.
And if you're looking to make something more adventurous, Kosaka stocks fresh daikon radishes and burdock, Konnyaku shiro (yam cake), Chikuwa (fish cake), Kotsubo Takenoko (boiled bamboo shoots), Komochi konobu (seasoned seaweed smelt roe), Tsukudani (seasoned sardines), Kinpira Renkon (boiled lotus root), Nama wakame (salted seaweed), pickled plums, cabbage and radish, dumpling wrappers and sliced porkbelly.
(Luckily, for the intrepid home cook who doesn't happen to speak Japanese, everything's meticulously labeled in English.)
And for its Japanese customers, Midoriya carries some special products that smack of home: bottles of Calpis (the vaguely milky, uncarbonated soft drink which claims to be "Japan's Favorite Drink Since 1919"), steamed sweet potato cakes, and even a selection of Japanese cosmetics and other pharmacy items, including a line of Japanese medications that Kosaka—otherwise quick with helpful explanations—didn't bother translating, laughing that I'd have no need for it anyways.
If Midoriya doesn't have what you're looking for, it's likely not because of Kosaka. "We cannot import meat, you know, and now no milk. A lot of customers ask us for milk tea, and we used to bring milk tea, but no more." Still, if what you're looking for really isn't amongst the many and colorful offerings, ask. "We try to bring what people want. If the customer wants something, we try to get it."
167 N 9th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211