Thanks to globalization and enterprising groups of people, it’s easier then ever to get all the Japanese music and anime you want! Japanese food; not so much. You can find authentic Japanese food if you know where to look, like at Maido! Maido! (the exclamation point is part of the name) is the only Japanese-owned grocery store in the Greater Philadelphia area (well actually, it’s run by a husband and wife team, with only the wife being Japanese. Therefore, you could say that it’s only half Japanese-owned. That’s being very technical though). It exists so that Philadelphia’s Japanese population as well as curious Americans can get a taste of Japan. As an otaku and a foodie, I had to check it out.
Maido! is located in Narbeth, Pennsylvania, right next to the train station. If you can’t take the train and can’t drive there yourself, you can always call and they’ll come pick you up (Note: There may be a minimum requirement of five people. May not be available outside of the counties of Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Delaware)! Maido! has their own shuttle bus used solely for ferrying customers to and from their store. Like the Stand Alone Complex, it’s ridiculous at first glance but makes perfect sense once you think about it. Giving your customers a ride fits perfectly into the Japanese idea of providing excellent service. More practically, it provides a way to get customers to the store. While there should be enough of a customer base within the Greater Philadelphia area to support a store like Maido!, getting to the store to support it may be a problem for some of them. Give them a ride and Bingo! Profit!
Another way to draw customers is by having events. As a part of the 2012 Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival of Greater Philadelphia, Maido! recently held a “Japanese Food Tasting” function as their store. Basically, they were giving out free samples. Of course there was mochi; but it was called daifuku instead, which confused me. A quick Wikipedia search reveals that mochi refers to rice cakes in general while daifuku is a specific type of confection made with mochi. For savory tastes, there was various dumplings and curry. Ice cream lovers could enjoy green tea and red bean varieties. Thirsty people could partake in aloe drink, which I didn’t know you could drink, and UKON POWER Turmeric Extract Drink, which is a powerful health/energy drink if the flyer is to be believed. Perhaps the best food offering was the gourmet bacon, get this, dipped in honey. Frankly, this a revolution in baconology and you simply must try it! The strangest sampling food there was “Japanese style” white bread. While it did look different from American white bread, any white bread is still white bread if you ask me.
The free samples aren’t an everyday thing though. If you’re hungry on a normal day, you can go over to Maido!’s lunch counter. There you can have a nice Japanese meal made for you right in front of your eyes! Interestingly enough, while they do serve sushi, it’s not really their main focus. What they really do is Japanese “comfort” food; food Japanese people eat on a regular basis like curry and Okonomiyaki (it’s sort of like pizza). I ordered a plate of Yakisoba which is basically fried noodles with vegetables and meat in it. It was pretty good but not my favorite thing there. What really excited me was the onigiri(Oh my God, Onigiri!). It was quite popular that day because they started with three baskets of it and were down to a single basket two hours later. Now that I have some, I can finally reenact the onigiri selling scene from Fruits Basket! All I need to do now is convince Eternal Scholar to dress up like a girl!
Even though there’s a lot stuff to buy, Maido! is first and foremost a Japanese grocery store. There’s all the Japanese staples like tofu, soy sauce, noddles, and even tofu noddles! Honestly, I didn’t thoroughly inspect their produce and cooking ingredients due to the fact that I can’t really cook. They do get their produce from Suzuki Farms of Maryland though. They supply Iron Chef Morimoto’s restaurants in New York City and if it’s good enough for an Iron Chef, it should be good enough for anyone. I mostly paid attention to the prepared foods and the candy. The staples of ramen, curry and miso soup were purchasable in their base ingredients as well as in easier to prepare forms. There’s also enough Japanese candy to fill up a cart and then some. Everything that was available for sampling was also available to take home.
Being a “journalist,” I had to purchase some things in order to gain the perspective of a shopper at Maido! Generally, if I mentioned it during this article, I brought it myself. I spent about seventy dollars by the time I was done. If spending seventy dollars at a place isn’t a sign of liking it, I don’t know what is. While I wasn’t happy with everything I got, (but I’ll chalk that up to trying new things and discovering that I didn’t like them) I did find a lot of fun things. If you live in the greater Philadelphia area and like Japanese food and stuff or you’re shopping for someone who does, you owe it to yourself to go there at least once. The website is http://www.maidookini.com/e/index.htm and their physical address is 36 N. Narberth Avenue, Narberth, PA 19072. Happy shopping!