MUJI is that affordable Japanese housewares chain full of pens, beige-colored things, and T-shirts vacuum-sucked into tiny cubes. It's often found in airports, but there's one in SoMa and another in San Jose, each bursting with modular cleanliness from the near-future. And now this cross between Uniqlo and the Container Store is selling Japanese foods, chiefly teas and other dry goods.
It's not a particularly big section -- two rotating racks, really, with no brand's but MUJI's own -- but there are some interesting finds, like pickled kelp, okuge rice crackers, white chocolate strawberries, and raisin cookies. Muji being one of those curious stores that strikes some people as full of bargains and others as woefully overpriced, the prices are sort of all over the map. And speaking of maps, you can also nab a set of three placemats printed with maps of Tokyo ($12.95), to feel extra cosmopolitan while snacking on that kelp.
I picked out three things, one salty (dried squid), one sweet (dried mango) and one totally unfamiliar (egg yolk bolo cookies) whose flavor profile would be a mystery, and shared them amongst co-workers. The universal consensus was that the mango, which is sweetened and lacks any hint of sulfur, is better than Trader Joe's -- which happens to be across the street from MUJI -- and still worth $3.75 for 2.3 oz. Dried squid fell flat. It's too dry, almost requiring reconstitution to be palatable, and lingers unpleasantly on the breath. (I thought it might not even be a snack food, but I am assured it is. I'll put the remainder in a soup.)
The bolo cookies were a hit. Although the first ingredient is potato, they're like a sweet, slightly chalky version of Kix that sent a colleague of Chinese descent into rapturous nostalgia. And at only $1.50, they're truest to MUJI's spirit. I still think I prefer those hot garlic-flavored shrimp chips that taste like low tide yet can be strangely compelling, but as a MUJI fan, it's always fun to have more to browse through.
Muji, 540 Ninth St., 694-5981