There are times, even in Los Angeles, where the Japanese-food aficionado feels deprived of the object of his most ardent longing; where the rare iwashi, the obscure noodle, and the latest seasonal Pepsi flavor escapes the tendrils of her desire. You can find a lot of Japanese food in Southern California, including things unimagined just a decade ago, but certainly not all of it, and probably not that one thing you fell in love with on that side trip to the Beppu hot springs you took when you snuck off junior year.
But when spring rolls around, Mitsuwa's Japanese Gourmet Fair can give you at least a bit of what you've been nostalgic for – each year the supermarket chain imports chefs and unique products from Japan to its stores in Torrance and Costa Mesa. If you want to experience takoyaki made by people who cook nothing but the gooey octopus balls, or to taste regional styles of ramen from areas you probably couldn't place on a map, you are probably going to be spending a lot of time at Mitsuwa in the next couple of weeks, eating from the makeshift restaurants installed in and around the food courts.
This weekend's highlights at the Torrance store's festival, running June 13-16, include the Ramen Ushio Aji, noodle soup scented with chicken and the oil from the Japanese sea pike called sanma, a specialty from Kesennuma, the city largely destroyed in the 2011 tsunami; fried tofu puffs, inari, stuffed with lotus root and red queen crab; and crab and salmon roe bento from the Otaru Station Shop in Hokkaido. The Costa Mesa store will feature the Hokkaido crab specialties, plus the famously tender takoyaki from Osaka's Takoya Kukuru.
Will you miss the delicious beef tongue, Hokkaido miso ramen and croquettes from previous festivals? Probably! But you are unlikely to taste another Kesennuma-style ramen any time soon.
Mitsuwa Torrance, 21515 S. Western Ave., Torrance; Mitsuwa Costa Mesa, 665 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa.