Kawaii Japanese Outlet

Chicago has well-developed neighborhoods for Chinese, Southeast Asian and Korean goods, but if you are yearning for Japanese items, your best bet is to scour the dusty back shelves of general Asian shops or take a trip to Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights. Thus, I was tickled to stumble upon a new kid on the block, Kawaii Japanese Outlet, which just opened about six weeks ago. Located in the middle of University Village on Halsted, Kawaii's warm, brightly lit storefront will transport you to the land of the rising sun, with the beats of J-pop playing on the speakers.

The offerings here include assorted sundries that you never knew you needed, like Hello Kitty tote bags, laundry baskets, a vast array of fake eyelashes and other efficiency gadgets that are the cornerstone of Japanese products. There are wall hangings, office supplies, and beauty supplies, all with a Japanese bent. Needless to say, everything in sight is kawaii, or cute to the max. 

What does this have to do with you, foodies? Well, in addition to the other neat items, they have a decent selection of cooking utensils and dry goods. You can pick up all the basics here, like sushi mats, rice paddles, knives and ladles. With the Japanese love for compact storage and packaging, you will not be surprised to find a large assortment of heavy-duty tupperware and other specialized food containers. There is also a well-thought-out section of snack and dry goods, where you can get dashi powder, instant miso soup base, soba noodles, and Hello Panda shortbread biscuits. Mochi ice cream is available in a handful of flavors. 
Matching the rest of the shop, the staffers behind the counter are bubbly personalities who greet you upon arrival with a cheery "Hello" (rather than the obligatory "Irasshaimase!" in Tokyo). Upon entering, I was plied with samples of lemon candies, packed with my daily value of vitamin C, and Calpico, a non-carbonated dairy-based fruit drink. I tried the lychee, which was pleasantly fruity with a yogurt tang.
Sure, it's no Mitsuwa, but if you need furikake in a pinch or need to satiate a craving for Ichiban ramen pronto, Kawaii is there for you. Besides, a car is required to get to Arlington Heights, while Kawaii is actually in the city. Did I mention that prices are slightly lower than Mitsuwa too?

A beautiful selection of chopsticks, there was also a nice assortment of Japanese bowls and flatware, so that you can better display your round sushi on square plates, and vice versa.
Bento boxes and the accompanying encased chopsticks and tote bags. I was amused to see that the exact same bento box I bought from a 100-yen shop in Tokyo last fall was now available practically in my own backyard. Ah, the power of globalization.
Other accessories to add pizazz to your bento box, such as egg molds, onigiri molds, and hot dog-to-octopus cutters. If straining to decipher the labels leaves you feeling lost in translation, feel free to ask Kawaii staffers for help.
More yumminess!

Kawaii Japanese Outlet
1338 S. Halsted (and Maxwell)
(312) 970-0094
Open: Mon-Thurs 10-9 pm, Fri-Sat 10-10 pm and Sun 12-9 pm

Excerpt from: Chicago Foodies