The Umaimono fair is a big, expense event for Mitsuwa, which every year imports a small army of Japanese chefs and producers to its eight stores around the country. Many don't speak a word of English. But most can understand a few basic phrases, like, "How much?" or "What is this?" It's a great opportunity to brush up your high school-level Japanese language skills ("thank you" = a-ri-ga-to; "you're welcome" = duo i-ta-shi mash-ite; "excuse me" = su-mi-ma-sen; etc.) or simply resort to using hand signs ― just point at the item and indicate how many you want. In recent years, the market has enlisted some assistants fluent in English to help non-Japanese customers. (We have to admit that we envy the Torrance and Costa Mesa locations of Mitsuwa in Southern California, since they're much larger stores that allow for more vendors to showcase their products.)
A few of the specialty items you'll find this weekend in San Jose are Inari sushi with crabmeat, Chaimon's sweet potato, and Takoyaki Kukuru from Osaka ― these are little grilled balls of chopped octopus and batter, unlike the fake versions found in S.F.'s Japantown that use beef. Every food station will feature unique seasonal delicacies, the best or most popular items from that particular region. You don't have to be a Japanophile to appreciate these gourmet food products: The quality speaks for itself.
Next on the Gourmet Fair schedule are the Kyusyu and Okinawa Fair in July, September's Hokkaido Fair (one of our favorites ― we love the marinated seafood section), and the Autumn Food Fair in October. The parking lot gets crazy on weekends, so if possible, we recommend visiting today or tomorrow.
Mitsuwa Marketplace 675 Saratoga (at Blackford), San Jose, (408) 255-6699; store open 9 a.m.-8 p.m.