Of all the journeys that begin at Port Authority Bus Terminal, those that depart from Gate 51 might be the most fulfilling, at least for those who hanker for highbrow ramen and artisanal miso. That’s where you can grab a $3 ride ($2, kids and seniors) to Mitsuwa, the mega Japanese supermarket on the banks of the Hudson in New Jersey.
The comfy little bus—OK, it’s technically a shuttle—departs hourly from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., headed directly for the massive Edgewater shop that shares a strip mall with a handful of other Japanese stores selling cookbooks, knickknacks, manga and Hello Kitty gear.
But we always head straight for the edibles. That means a stop at Mitsuwa’s multifaceted food court, worth a trip on its own for a handful of sleek stalls hawking udon, sushi, tempura, taiyaki (little freshly made fish-shaped waffles stuffed with red bean paste) and, our pick, the great-if-not-best-in-the-region bowls of ramen at Santouka, the market’s outpost of the Japanese noodle chain. Slurp them down with a view of the river and the island we call home.
True, there is excellent ramen to be had in Manhattan, and even a handful of Japanese grocers—like Katagiri at 224 East 59th Street and Sunrise Mart at 494 Broome Street in SoHo—but the mighty Mitsuwa trumps them all in scope and size: This is not a stop for those with choice anxiety. There’s a full produce section stocked with various choys, shishito peppers, shisho leaves and ginkgo nuts; mini-shops selling bubble tea, mochi and the Japanese desserts known as wagashi. (Made from something akin to marzipan, they’re intricate, often taking their aesthetic cues from nature.) There are full aisles of ramen at various price points, a wall of misos, bags of rices and seaweeds, plus soy sauces, flavoring packs from green onion, kelp and dried shrimp to plain old MSG. And, yes, plenty of sake. (There’s also an odd center aisle with a mix of everything Asian from kitchen gear to pantyhose.)
If you’re going on a weekend, get to the station a little early for a better chance at a seat on the first bus. Barring heavy traffic, the ride takes well under an hour. As suburban Jersey rolls past, visions of warm ramen—both in-store and at-home, once those purchases are pantry-side—dance in our heads.
Photo credit: Michael Harlan Turkell