Things that make you go, “Huh?” are definitely worth trying when you find them.
There are hidden gems to be found all around Japan, so whenever you’re visiting a new town or city, it’s always worth asking the locals for their in-the-know recommendations.
That’s what our reporter Ikuna Kamezawa did recently, asking a friend from Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture if they knew of any little-known hotspots ahead of her visit to the city.
This led her to a destination she wasn’t expecting — a cafe that can be found inside some branches of the local Ujie supermarket chain. According to her friend, these cafes sell fruit at much cheaper prices than big cities like Tokyo, and while they’re popular with locals, visitors from outside the prefecture are yet to find out about them. The majority of Ujie branches are located away from the city centre, giving them a reputation for being countryside supermarkets, and well off the beaten path from top tourist sites.
When Ikuna arrived in Sendai, she found that her closest Ujie branch was at Nagamachi, so she immediately headed out there, and when she stepped through the sliding doors, she could see the “U Cafe” in the corner, with seating for around 20 people.
It was more like a food court than a cafe, but judging by what it had to offer, this was way better than regular mall food. Some of the delights, advertised on a sign outside the store, included fruit smoothies, made with different types of fruit like bananas, kiwi fruits, apples, and pineapples, but what made them unique were the amazing fruit displays towering above the lids.
As an ardent lover of mikan, Ikuna couldn’t resist ordering the Oton Okan Mikan for 480 yen (US$3.24), especially when she found out it was specially discounted to half price when she visited. That meant she only paid 240 yen for the drink, and when she received it, she couldn’t believe what great value it was.
▼ You’d easily pay upwards of 1,000-yen for something like this if it was sold in Tokyo.
With three whole mikan skewered on a super long straw protruding from the mikan smoothie, this was an amazing sight, and one she’d never seen before. Though she was initially concerned about how she might eat the fruit without getting her fingers sticky, the cafe had everything on hand to assist with her fruity purchases, including plates, spoons, and wet towels.
▼ The mandarins weren’t just for show — they were high quality and delicious, as was the smoothie, which tasted incredibly fresh.
As she finished her drink, another item on the U Cafe menu caught her eye — the rice balls.
▼ Left to right, top to bottom: Grilled Mackerel x Mentaiko Pollock Roe (378 yen), Big x 2 Shrimp Tempura (378 yen), U! Nagi! (540 yen), Sutekina Steak (540 yen).
Purchasing one of each to try at home, Ikuna was keen to taste them all, starting with the humorously named U! Nagi! (“unagi” means “eel”) and Sutekina Steak (“sutekina” means “lovely” or “great”).
These were very luxurious rice ball ingredients, and so humongous they were placed on top of the seaweed wrapping rather than inside the rice ball. This made them rather difficult to eat, but they tasted so good she didn’t mind the mess.
▼ More like a meal of steak and rice than a rice ball.
Both the eel and the steak were very high quality and perfectly grilled, and the shrimp tempura rice ball, containing not one but two shrimp, was equally delicious.
Her favourite of all was the Grilled Mackerel x Mentaiko, as the huge chunks of seafood were in perfect proportion to the large chunk of rice. Ingredients this strong in flavour need a lot of rice, and the combination was so good Ikuna says it may just be her favourite rice ball out of all the onigiri she’s ever come across.
Rice balls this big are incredibly filling, though, so Ikuna found herself eating just one at a time after trying them, savouring them over a space of two days.
Ujie’s U Cafe turned out to be a wonderland of surprises that Ikuna would definitely visit regularly if she had one in her neighbourhood.
So next time you’re up in Sendai seeing the tourist sites, don’t forget to add a supermarket stop to your visit. It just goes to show that when you ask a local for their personal recommendations it can take you to surprising places!
Ujie Super Nagamachi / ウジエスーパー長町店
Address: Miyagi-ken, Sendai-shi, Taihaku-ku, Nagamachiminami 2-3-1
Open 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
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