Uwajimaya is an Asian grocery store in the International District of Seattle, and it is a magical toyland for me. When my family lived in Nanjing, China, we would occasionally go to the markets and purchase our food. I really enjoyed seeing the amazing variety of ingredients, some of which I didn’t know that I would ever see again. Well, Uwajimaya probably carries those ingredients and others. It’s primarily a Japanese grocer, but they carry a variety of foods from other Asian ethnic cuisines, like Indian garam masala and Filipino lumpia wrappers.
Our 1st Quarter Chef Instructor, Gregg Shiosaki, encouraged us to explore the different ethnic grocers. As though I needed another excuse to go to the International District, I made sure to note that Chef Gregg told us to go there.. So, like the good, dutiful student I was, I headed to Uwajimaya as soon as I could.
Uwajimaya is pretty easy to find. We live on 5th Ave in downtown Seattle, so for us, it’s a straight shot down 5th until it essentially dumps you in the International District. Uwajimaya is a large building with a parking garage. There are residential apartments above the store. Other little stores, including a makeup store and a bank, share the space as well. It’s a shorter walk in the rain if you follow the parking lot around the corner and under the store. Be sure to bring your parking ticket with you, because if you spend $7 or $15, the store will validate your parking for 1 or 2 hours, respectively.
The produce section of Uwajimaya is large, comparable to a grocer that boasts a larger-than-most produce section. In addition to the expected fruit, vegetables, herbs, and large bags of produce, unusual vegetables, like fresh lotus root, a wide variety of bok choy, roots, and fruits I can’t recall.
The meat department is even more remarkable. Cuts of meat that aren’t typically sold in American meat departments can be found in the freezer and in shrink wrap. I found shabu shabu beef, which are thinly cut slices of beef designed for quick cooking. It marinates quickly and cooks in such a short time. It can be served raw to be cooked at the table, as in Hot Pot or shabu shabu.
I’ve also found different “variety meats” or offal meats, the organs, glands, and parts of an animal that are less commonly eaten. I don’t really know how to cook them, so I haven’t purchased them, but they’re available for when I learn. Our textbook shows that there are a variety of ways to prepare the different cuts of meat. Pork liver is usually made into pates and sausages.
The seafood variety is amazing. Most of the fish sold is whole, and that helps show you how fresh the fish is. You can also ask the fishmonger to prepare the fish for you, if you don’t want to prepare it yourself. I have seen such a variety of fish, it’s incredible. They had the expected fish, like tilapia, but they also had sole, snapper, rock fish, and lobsters and crabs in tanks. They even had fresh sea urchins, which are brown and spiney.
When you go to Uwajimaya, be sure to give yourself enough time. The store is very large, and there are so many new foods that you’ll ant to take the time to go through each aisle and explore. When you enter, go through the produce department first, because there are really great recipes available. You could find the ingredients to one of those items. Be willing to ask for help finding some of the ingredients, because the items in the store are not always placed the way I would have placed them. Some of the condiments are marinades are in different aisles. Some of the bottles are labeled just in the foreign language, so be sure to read the shelf tag to see what the item is.
If you have a healthy curiosity for new ethnic grocery stores and are willing to explore some new foods, then definitely go check out Uwajimaya. While you’re there you can also try their food court, or just venture out the doors and try some of the other great restaurants out there.
600 5th Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98104
Monday through Friday 8-10 and Saturday 9-9