By Martha Knauf
I moved to Japan from Vietnam three years ago, and at first I was amazed at the options I had at standard Japanese super markets like Life, Aeon, and Kohyo compared with what I’d had in Southeast Asia. There were tons of cool snacks, there were interesting Japanese vegetables I’d never seen…there was cheese!
But soon I realized I wanted even more. I missed certain brands from the U.S. and I missed having lots of cheese and dairy products to choose from. I missed specific foods like tortillas, hot sauce, baked beans, Campbell’s soup…despite my love for Japan, I still craved a taste of home.
That’s when I started asking more seasoned expats where they found those special products that make you feel like you’re in your mom’s kitchen. Lots of people recommended Costco, but I was reluctant to make the long journey or pay the membership fee. Others said Amazon was the best choice, but I’d rather pay in cash and online shopping isn’t really my thing.
I started hunting for those speciality grocery stores you find tucked away unsuspectingly in crowded malls and on busy streets. Now, grocery shopping is easier. I might have to go to several shops to get everything I need, but at least I can make my mom’s mac n cheese and replicate my friend’s vegetarian burritos.
Here are a few of my favorites:
I was surprised when I first walked into Gyomu Super. It looks like any other Japanese supermarket from the outside–bright lights, long aisles–but in fact, it’s got much more than meets the eye, and is surprisingly foreign-friendly. Gyomu means wholesale in Japanese; this market caters to restaurants and other commercial businesses. Since their goods are intended for resale, you’re able to buy things at greatly reduced costs.
Kitchen staples from olive oil to milk are all cheaper than normal, and you can still find quality brands here. What’s more, you’ll find random import products like tortillas from Spain, chocolate from Belgium, and frozen apple pie from the Netherlands, all priced affordably.
Gyomu also has a huge freezer section chock full of things that are hard to find in Japan, like big bags of frozen vegetables and fruits, including mangos and berries. They also have a wide range of canned goods–I’ve found chick peas at less than ¥100.
Since it caters to restaurants, you can find products in bulk here, like huge cans of cooking oil and large bags of chopsticks.
The only drawback is that the import goods change quickly and often, so just because you found frozen tortellini there in March doesn’t mean it’ll still be there in April. But hey, that adds to the fun, right?
Locations: There are Gyomu Supers all over Osaka, 20 in all. Here’s a map of all the locations:
I think that of all the foreign-friendly supermarkets, Seijo Ishii may be the friendliest to the stomach and the least friendly to the wallet. It’s hard not to drop a pretty penny here, as they have all sorts of gourmet specialities, from craft beer (and cider for the Brits) to various kinds of fancy oils, grains, jams, and wine. Looking for Manuka honey? Craving Nutella? Look no further.
The best part of Seijo Ishii is the dairy aisle–here you’ll find the best selection of imported cheese in all of Osaka. Cheddar from England, brie from France, ricotta from Italy, and everything in between. You’ll also find rare dairy products like sour cream, cottage cheese, and mascarpone. This store can be hard to miss if their sign is only in kanji, which it sometimes is, so be on the look out for these characters: 成城石井.
Website: Seijo Ishii
There are several locations throughout Osaka, often in the malls connected to major train stations like Umeda, Namba, and Tennoji. Here’s a map.
Yamaya is known for its great selection of alcohol. The range of choices differs among stores, but in general you’ll find a broad selection of international wines, as well as an aisle of liquor and a good amount of international and domestic beer. Prices are reasonable and there are often great deals on offer, like three bottles of wine for ¥2000. There’s also the best selection of soda and juice I’ve come across in Japan.
Yamaya’s offerings go beyond beverages. They have a fair selection of imported meats and cheeses, as well as scrumptious snacks from Europe and the U.S. If you’re craving cookies or chips of any kind, they’ll likely have something for you. They also have dried beans and legumes and gluten free options like pasta made from corn.
Locations: Yamaya has locations throughout Osaka. Their stores are rather large so they are usually stand-alone shops on street corners rather than in malls. Here’s a map of all of them.
Kaldi Coffee Farm
Coffee enthusiasts are surely familiar with Kaldi. I can’t walk by without stopping to taste the free coffee sample offered to all customers at the entrance.
But don’t be fooled by the name–there’s a lot more than just whole bean coffee here. They also have a great selection of imported teas, lots of savory items from around the world, and specialty sweets of all sorts. They have seasonal confections you might not find anywhere else, like Advent calendars in December and Valentine chocolates in February.
I’ve found certain products here that I can’t find anywhere else, like Kraft mac n cheese and dried ravioli. They have fancy products like quinoa, olives, and cheese, but expect to pay a premium price. They also have a good selection of foods from other Asian countries, like rice paper from Vietnam and tteok-bokki from Korea.
Kaldi stores are usually found in malls attached to major stations, like Tennoji and Namba. There are at least eight in Osaka. Here’s a map.
Jupiter is a one-stop shop for all your foreign cravings. I’ve found hard-to-find products here like Mexican hot sauce and Campbell’s soup. They have a large selection of cold beverages, including banana milk from Taiwan, coconut juice from Thailand, and Hawaiian Sun juices from Hawaii. Like Kaldi, they sell their own whole-bean coffee, as well as a good selection of tea.
They also have a large amount of spices on offer, and a generous array of sweets. Rare finds like various Haribo products, Jelly Belly beans, and Werther’s caramels can be found here. They also have a small selection of wine and various kinds of baking products (whole wheat flour, cornmeal) for all your baking needs.
Website: Jupiter Coffee
Locations: Jupiter has two locations in Osaka: one in the Crysta Nagahori underground shopping mall that connects to Shinsaibashi and Nagahoribashi stations, and one in the basement of the Nakanoshima Festival Tower in Nakanoshima.
On Google Maps
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