Maybe you're already swinging by Little Japan (2848 F St., Eureka) for the sushi-grade fish in the freezer (where else are you going to get a single curled octopus tentacle?), mochi sweets or pillow-sized bags of short-grain fancy rice. But the little Henderson Center shop is packed with Japanese goodies and cult faves. Here's a quick list to fill your tiny double-decker cart.
Miso. For those of us for whom miso soup is a staple, the relief of not having to haul a trunk full of this stuff back from San Francisco is very real. For those wondering why their miso soup at home isn't turning out like their auntie's or the bowls at restaurants: It's your miso. For $5.99, you can pick up a little tub of organic soybean paste or the kind with the dashi already added — no judgement. For the latter, simply boil your vegetables, tofu and whatnot, turn down the heat and dissolve the paste completely. Done.
Soy sauce. Calling it now: Fancy soy sauce is the new fancy olive oil. At least it should be. The Shoda Marudaizu Shoyu is rich and intense ($9.99). Use it to finish dishes, to dip, to pour at the table and for host gifts. Keep it in the fridge because it kind of tastes better and if you don't, my mother will know and you don't want that.
Candy. Small as the store is, the snack aisle still overwhelms. You can't lose with creamy, hard-then-taffy-like White Rabbit candy wrapped in an inner layer of edible rice paper, a Chinese classic since the 1940s. Grab some gummies, too — softer, springier and mind-blowingly flavored. Team muscat grape and peach, here. And are those bags of Kit Kats in strawberry cheesecake and miso flavor? Yes. Because in Japan, Kit Kat bars change seasonally and bank on novelty. Expect to see a constantly changing roster of at least half dozen flavors here.
Soft drinks. Let's have more sugar in the form of these drinks for around $2 each. Sure, there's strong green tea and ginseng elixir, but dig the neon green of this melon soda (make a vanilla float — 127 million people can't be wrong). The classic ramune (pronounced ra-mu-nay) soda requires forcing a glass ball into the bottle neck to open — safer than it sounds! — so ask the staff for help if you're new or rusty. Creamy milk tea, yogurty fruit-flavored Calpico and a maneki neko (lucky cat) soda that tastes like honey or brown sugar, or ... you know, whatever. Look at that adorable cat!
Kitchen gadgets. For the serious chef, there's a glass case of very good knives. For the rest of us, there's a whole wall of squee-worthy things to mold rice into pandas, sweet bento boxes, egg slicers, itty-bitty sieves and, best of all, crab scissors and pickers. These skinny tools that crack, snip and empty out a shell are the only way to get every last morsel out of a crab without looking like an otter in a messy shirt.
Sake. The hardcore enthusiast will surely find something special on the shelves and the novice need only ask for a recommendation. A smooth, lightly sweet and fragrant option to enjoy cold is the junmai ginjo sake from Yoshi No Gawa on special for $19.99. During summer picnic season, consider a pop top ($4-$7). Yup. Single servings to put in the cooler and pop open, no tiny cups or decanter required. Is that a samurai fox and a little cartoon dog with an upended bowl of ramen on his head? Yes. Kampai.
Noodles. We've covered some of the legion instant ramen offerings here ("Ramen Rumble," Aug. 25, 2016) and we still stand by our favorite Myojo Chukazanmai ($2.19). But there's more to explore, like dry green tea soba ($6.49) and the fresh udon and ramen in the freezer. The spicy sesame tan tan ramen with fresh noodles is the best way to up your home ramen game without spending 24 hours roasting and boiling pork bones.
Kewpie mayonnaise. If you have already tasted the contents of the iconic red-capped squeeze bottle with the little baby on the front, you already know it's good on everything ($5.99). If not, don't resist. Fries, sandwiches, potato salad, leftover spaghetti, pizza. (Spins in chair, cackling.) Soon you'll see. Then you'll be ready for its cousin, the Kewpie Deep Roasted Sesame Dressing ($3.59), which will make you flip a table the next time you're served the orange stuff in a Japanese restaurant.
Dishes. Browse the blue and white traditional bowls, ceramic soup spoons, dipping dishes, rice bowls and tea cups — something will speak to you. This trio, with their respective crab ($4.50), origami ($3.49) and cherry blossom ($8) motifs are exactly the sort of things you buy as a gift and then keep. Don't sleep on the sets of chopsticks near the counter, either.
Chips. Take a break from the Extreme Doritos and Hot Cheetos that blew out your taste receptors for a minute and try the relatively mild Calbee baked wasabi shrimp chips ($2.19) and nori potato chips ($4.69). They're wonderful and as addictive as their hardcore western counterparts, which will absolutely still be there when you've finished these.
Socks. In this hard and cynical world, allow yourself to be charmed by whimsical split-toed tabi socks adorned with pandas, cats and majestic Hokusai waves ($5). There are socks with individual toes, too, for those with more patience.
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.