Turning Japanese (or Chinese, Or Korean, Or...)Living in the moist Pacific Northwest, we're surrounded by some awesome international--Asia, specifically--grocery stores. Even though I am not entire sure how to cook with some of the ingredients found in these stores, it's still fun to take a trip to a more exotic place without ever leaving the state.
If you're ever in the greater Seattle area and are wanting to see something more unique than the Space Needle or Pike Place Market, check out these Asian grocery stores: UWAJIMAYAThis is the granddaddy of Asian grocery stores in the Seattle area. It's located in the International District in downtown Seattle and is a fun place to spend an afternoon. The produce section is filled with fresh, interesting, and inexpensive products like Japanese eggplants, gobo, nappa cabbage, lemongrass, and durian fruit--most of it grown locally. The seafood department is eye-opening. They have sea urchins, geoducks, and super-fresh fish (and fish parts). If you're a ramen noodle fan, Uwajimaya is your place! There's a full aisle devoted to the noodles. Every time we go, we try to find some intriguing new snack or sauce to try out back at home.
As a bonus, the Seattle store also has a great variety of plates and bowls. The housewares section has been scaled back a bit over the years, but there are a lot of rice cookers, sake sets, tea sets, Asian personal care items, etc. to browse through.
Also attached to the Seattle store are an Asian bookstore and a good-sized food court. You really could spend a lot of time at Uwajimaya!
If you venture north of the city (closer to where we live!) you can visit the brand-spanking-new Hmart in Lynnwood, WA (right across from the Alderwood Mall). Hmart also boasts a food court, a large produce section, an extensive frozen food area, decent meat department, and fresh seafood.
Unlike Uwajimaya, Hmart offers a kimchi bar, a section of store-made entrees you can take home and eat, and a natural foods section. If you go on the weekends, there are several tables where women give out samples of noodles, soup, pork belly with various sauces, etc. The number of sample stations rivals Costco at times! There's even a guy inside who sells these yummy puffed rice cakes made fresh as you watch (and if you watch for a second, he'll give you a free cake--yum!). I've seen many "strange" ingredients for sale at Hmart. They even had balut eggs one day (not my taste, but whatever!).
There are plenty of other Asian markets around our area, but these are the two best that I know of. I love being able to take an international food journey without the need for a passport!