Kaldi - The Ultimate Japanese Pantry
With a tagline like "fresh roasted coffee and worldwide foods," you might be fooled into thinking that it is a waste of time to stop by this store on a trip to Japan. However, with a vast array of products both of international and Japanese origin, it is well worth a look if not only for the enticing sample of hot Kaldi coffee handed to you at the entrance and the promise of a cosy store to wander.
With pockets of products from all regions in Japan, it is one of my favourite shops to browse, and dare I say, dig through. The products on the lower shelves are sometimes hidden by stacked boxes on the floor. Testament to their good stock and plentiful supply. Such overstock is drained quickly in the festive season when local holiday shoppers are stocking up on everything from Christmas reindeer look-alike socks and cake-toppers, to traditional Japanese New Years' ingredients. This year as I head home for the holidays I am not looking at the overstock of Walkers shortbread or their jars of mincemeat, but I am instead fixated on the shelves of Japanese food and snacks that might make for good souvenirs.
The narrow isles in Kaldi are often difficult to walk through, lest you decide to navigate it with a stroller. Not unimaginable but not without skillful coordination. The sections in store are grouped so that the Japanese products are generally easy to locate. Just beyond the sweets, come the teas and the jams and the biscuits, and so on. Alongside the chocolates, I found a section dedicated to Japanese snacks. Even if unfamiliar with Japanese writing, the products from Japan are easy to spot with the familiar geometric Japanese Kanji or Katakana. This being said, in the past years, I have taken home goods from Korea and Taiwan thinking that they were local Japanese produce – you live and you learn to ask the shopkeeper. I love that Kaldi labels where each product comes from. However such information is often in Japanese with the original English version covered by the Japanese translation sticker. If in doubt ask the Kaldi staff, who are always buzzing about the store and are incredibly helpful. In fact, I often see the English version of the Japanese name which proves incredibly helpful.
Some of my top Japanese snacks from Kaldi, that I send as souvenirs to family abroad are, the soft okoge senbei, the goubo and renkon chips. The first is a soft seasoned cracker which pairs well with drinks, while the second are vegetable chips made from burdock root and lotus root, respectively. The ika kawarayaki have been a hit-and-miss with adventurous friends who were intrigued by the idea of seasoned dried squid, but not necessarily the taste. Something that I usually do not send overseas but reminds me of Christmas back home are the Japanese chestnuts. These kuri require no cracking and are often sweetened or preserved in jars. Other favourite snacks have been the Uni arare, or the deep fried sea-urchin flavoured crackers, and the Wasabi sesame snacks.
For those with a sweet tooth, I love the kaki sweets, which are persimmon jellied sweets and the familiar Japanese snack of Karintou is a always winner. Usually popular with the ladies and kids, it is a deep-fried sugary cracker that comes in a variety of flavours and it is pretty hard to stop the munching after the first few. This year I have included some bean-inspired snacks. Now admittedly, I have had mixed reactions to azuki - red bean, but I live with the hope that the kinako this year will win everybody over. How can you not like the popular peanut powder sprinkled on everything from toast to ice cream in Japan. The eternal optimist, I have included Hello Kitty azuki bean sweets and kinako-daizu chocolate this year. All are light and easy to post or to carry in my luggage which is a bonus.
Along with the Winter chill comes the resurgence of homely favourites of grilled mochi, nabe and hot lattes, so take a look in the Japanese soup section for mochi, miso powder, nabe stock and Japanese curry packs. Other condiments to try are the hachimitsu umeboshi, honeyed pickled plums, and a variety of Japanese cooking sauces and stocks available to try and replicate the dishes from your holiday in Japan. The tea section in Kaldi is well-stocked with latte powders and Japanese tea brands like Janat Tea and other local drink varieties. New to me was the imokuri kabocha latte, which is a sweet potato, chestnut and pumpkin latte. Of course, I have my firm favourites for the season which include the Matcha latte and the Yuzu and Ginger jams. For a season ridden with colds there is nothing better than hot ginger and citrus, so Kaldi usually hits the spot on those.
While on holiday in Japan, it is not unusual to crave a taste of home or to want to try out something from other Asian cuisines. Kaldi has been one of my go-to stores in Japan for a variety of reasons and it is my love for their seasonal produce and for trying out international cuisines that brings me back time and again. Early on in my Japanese life the Honey Jujube tea and sesame seaweed from Korea had me hooked and similarly the Pad Thai and Tom Yum Kung soup reminded me of holidays spent backpacking in Thailand. My Japanese life consists of discovering new ways to cook, tried and tested Japanese recipes and learning how to spice those same recipes up with exotic seasonings. With limited storage at home, I will continue to rely upon my Japanese pantry at Kaldi for kitchen, party and souvenir inspiration.