Silicon Valley is home to many fantastic Japanese Markets in San Jose’s Japantown, but also surrounding areas.

Santo Market
245 E. Taylor St., San Jose; 408.295.5406
Like many South Bay Japanese-Americans forced to spend time in internment camps during WWII, George Y. Santo was eager to get back to work once he was released. He opened Santo Market in San Jose’s Japantown in 1946. He soon outgrew the original location on Sixth and Jackson streets and built a new market at Sixth and Taylor streets where the store still stands.

Originally, the store served the neighborhood’s Japanese-American community, but over the years as the neighborhood changed so did the store.
While you can still find sake, soy sauce, noodles and house-made mochi, Santo Market now sells deli sandwiches that range from ham and cheese to char shu (Chinese barbecued pork) and Portuguese sausage. The market even makes its own char sui bao (pork buns). “We’ve got to do something different than the Safeways and Costcos,” says Earl Santo, who began working in his uncle’s market in 1955 and now runs the store.

What hasn’t changed is the fact the market is still a family operation. Earl Santo’s children, Mark and Leslie, help him run the market; his grandchildren now work in the store, too.

Best Buys: Hawaiian shave ice, house-made mochi (fresh every Friday) and char shu sandwiches.

Mitsuwa Marketplace

675 Saratoga Ave., San Jose; 408.255.6699
Mitsuwa is the heavyweight of Japanese grocery stores. In fact, it’s more than a grocery store. It’s a Japanese cultural center that sells food. In addition to great produce, noodles upon noodles, fresh sushi and seafood, one can find Japanese-made candy, a housewares shop and even clothes.

Oh, and Santouka ramen, one of Silicon Valley’s best ramen shops, is located inside the store. You could spend hours in here.
Best Buys: Tsukemono (pickles). The pickle shop at the back of the store sells a veritable rainbow of all things pickled—radishes, garlic, carrots, turnips and beets. Yebisu beer—it’s expensive but very good. Great sake/soju selection, too.

Nak’s Oriental Market

1151 Chestnut St., Menlo Park; 650.325.2046
Nak’s began as a Japanese specialty market 42 years ago, but 20 years ago a Dutch customer asked co-owner Sam Kurose if he would carry Conimex ketjap manis, a sweet catsup from Indonesia. He did, and slowly more Dutch expats came out of the woodwork and asked him to carry more Indonesian and Dutch products. (The Dutch once occupied Indonesia and developed a taste for all things Indonesian.) Now sales at the tiny market are evenly split between Japanese products and Dutch/Indonesian products.

Best Buys: From the Japanese side, look for fresh San Jose Tofu, Japanese cucumbers and oodles of noodles. From the Dutch/Indonesian side, there are Speculaasje cookies, De Ruijter chocolate flakes and of course Conimex Indonesian catsup.

Marukai Market
19750 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino; 408.200.4850
Marukai is a large-size Japanese supermarket featuring a huge fish and sushi counter, produce and imported groceries. Entire aisles are devoted to varieties of nori wrappers, soy sauce and vinegars, green teas and soba noodles.

Bento boxes and fresh sashimi are available from the fish counter, where smiling sushi chefs trim whole loins of tuna sashimi. Perfectly marbled and trimmed kalbi beef short ribs are available for Japanese-style barbeque, yakiniku.

Best Buys: Wide selection of sake and soju, gyoza (Japanese potstickers) and high-quality grated wasabi. {pagebreak}

Nijiya Market
240 Jackson St., San Jose; 408.275.6916
Located in downtown San Jose’s Japantown, Nijiya market is a friendly neighborhood store that’s a one-stop shop for Japanese cooking. Like a traditional grocery store, Nijiya carries fresh produce, dry goods and meats. The small produce section carries the basics as well as seasonal items like shisto peppers, Asian pears and matsutake mushrooms.

Beautifully marbled pieces of Wagu-style beef are available for $19.99 a pound as well as thin slices of beef chuck for shabu-shabu, Japanese-style hot pot. For lovers of sushi, Nijiya has a extensive menu of prepared bento boxes and sashimi plates, featuring yellowtail, salmon and tuna to name a few.

Best Buys: Sake, seasonal produce and Japanese snacks.

McKee Oriental Market
2331 McKee Road, San Jose; 408.251.3039
McKee Oriental carries aisle after aisle of products for Japanese, Chinese and Filipino cooking. A large fish counter in the back of the store has at least a dozen varieties of fresh fish that the fishmongers will clean and fry for you to order. In addition to Asian groceries, the market also has an American and Mexican section with cans of tomatoes, pasta and chips. Most Asian ingredients, such as chile sauce, are available in a multitude of sizes, from small jars to large bulk cans.

Best Buys: Fish sauce in a jar, banana brittle, frozen eel, tamarind candy and chiu chow chili oil.