The Aisle of Mysteries

Sounds like a Harry Potter title, doesn’t it? Yet there are no basilisks or dementors here – though I have a feeling some of the contents may be just as terrifying to certain crowds.


Did you know there were so many types of tofu?

This, my friends, is what I like to call “The Aisle of Mysteries,” the refrigerated aisle found in every Japanese supermarket, usually across from the produce. I have spent many a moment parked in front of it, quietly lifting and examining its contents in awe. I’ll be honest with you – I still don’t know what everything is or what it’s used for, but I’ve come a long way since last August, when a bold obaachan took a cell phone picture of the confused look on my face as I examined a pack of konnyaku (which is “devil’s tongue jelly” in English, though that really doesn’t help).

Most foreigners, I suspect, walk right on by the Aisle, either because they don’t know what the hell anything is, or because they do know what it is and find it repulsive. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind about stinky, fermented beans – but if you haven’t before, you should give this area a few minutes of your time, as it’s filled with cheap, fresh, healthy, and often ready-to-eat foods.

Each week, I’ll devote at least one entry to an ingredient that can be found in the A of M.

  • Tofu and its many permutations like aburaage, yakidoufu, okara, atsuage, and gomadoufu though it’s not actually tofu.
  • Ganmodoki
  • Satsuma age, chikuwa, and kamabako
  • Natto
  • Kimchi
  • Tsukemono (pickles) and its many permutations like nukazuke and umeboshi
  • Natto
  • Konnyaku and shirataki
  • Namamiso
  • Cooked, ready-to-serve beans
  • Soft noodles like udon, champon, ramen
  • Fresh gyoza and dumplings

Looking forward to it!