Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian stores as sources for Japanese food

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This is a continuation of my series on Japanese food shopping, and frugal eating, in Europe. Previously I visited Paris and Düsseldorf's Japantown.

Lyon, the third largest city in France and arguably the second most important one after Paris, does not have a large Japanese expat or immigrant population. However, there are some Japanese corporations that have factories or offices in the area, not to mention a large university population. So in terms of the availability of Japanese groceries in France, it ranks second to Paris, although it trails behind by a large margin.

The main reason I've been interested in Lyon as a source for Japanese food is that we are seriously considering getting a house in the Provence. Lyon is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from the Haut-Provence (northern Provence), the area we're looking at, so it would be my closest source. (Marseille, which has a Paristore but no Japanese groceries, is about the same distance away, and Avignon, about a 45 minute drive, has two tiny Chinese groceries.) I could order non-perishables from the stores in Paris such as Workshop Issé, or from Japan Centre and so on, not to mention have stuff sent over or bring them back from Japan, but that doesn't work for things like tofu, konnyaku, produce and frozen foods.

It also gives me a chance to talk a bit about where exactly you can find the Japanese ingredients that are mentioned here, regardless of the town you're in, because the shopping options in Lyon are limited yet straightforward.

Option 1 - Kazuki: The Japanese-owned Japanese grocery store

Kazuki (storefront pictured above) is a tiny, jewel-like boutique. In terms of presentation, it has a lot in common with Workshop Issé, but where Workshop Issé is selling high-end food and alcohol, Kazuki is at its heart just a regular Japanese grocery store. Things like cans of wasabi peas, ochazuke packets and run-of-the-mill furikake which only cost a few euros at most are displayed as if they were Hermés scarfs on sleek shelves. This is the Japanese aesthetic and penchant for neatness gone to the extreme.

Everything about Kazuki is beautiful and well presented, even their takeout bentos, which are neatly wrapped up in ribbon:

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With a few exceptions, Japanese grocery stores tend to be rather neat and tidy places (though I've never seen one as pretty as Kazuki). They also tend not to carry any other Asian ingredients, though they may have a few Korean items.

Obviously a Japanese grocery store should be the first place to look for Japanese ingredients. If you want things like Japanese soy sauce from Japan, real mirin (hon mirin) rather than mirin-flavored cooking liquid (mirin fuumi choumiryou), go to a Japanese store, However, they can be a bit more expensive than other options, and because many Japanese grocery stores are small, the selection can be limited, especially when it comes to fresh produce.

Option 2 - Kimchi: The Korean-owned Korean grocery store

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Kimchi, which is just a few blocks away from Kazuki, is a tiny yet fairly typical Korean grocery store. Korean stores always carry a large amount of Japanese items; usually the selection runs around 50/50 Korean/Japanese. Older Korean people often speak some Japanese.

I really liked Kimchi, because it also carries some 'biologique' items such as nigari (used to make tofu) and kuzu or kudzu powder (used to make kuzumochi, goma dofu and other things).

If you are lucky enough to have a large Korean market near you, it may be your first stop in a quest for Japanese foodstuffs, since they are likely to have most of the fresh produce used in Japanese cooking too. (Kimchi is too small to have any fresh produce unfortunately.)

Option 3 - Supermarché Asie: A Chinese owned Chinese grocery store

In terms of larger Asian grocery stores, there are ones that try to cover all of eastern and southern Asia, and ones that just concentrate on a particular region. Supermarché Asie, which is in the same general neighborhood as Kazuki and Kimchi, clearly concentrates on east Asia: China, Korea and Japan. And, although I don't speak a word of Chinese I can sort of tell apart Cantonese vs. Mandarin and different dialects/pronounciations (well, just aa bit), and I did get the impression that the store is owned by people from Taiwan. Taiwan has much stronger ties to Japan than mainland China, so a Taiwanese-owned store is much more likely to stock Japanese things.Of course, it's difficult to tell apart a Taiwanese store from any other kind of Chinese store just by reading labels, so you'll just have to look around.

The good thing from the standpoint of someone interested in East Asian cooking in general, is that a store like this can be a one-stop shopping destination.

Option 4 - Paristore: A general Asian/Exotic Food grocery store

Paristore is a chain of Asian supermarkets that has stores throughout France. I've only been to the one in Lyon so far, so my impressions are of this store.

Paristore is ostensibly a Chinese supermarket, but it also carries many other 'exotic' foodstuffs, from African to Middle Easten to Indian, Thai and so on. This does mean that the selection of Japanese products is quite small. While I did see Japanese-style rice (from Spain, Italy and California) and a few Japanese condiments, there were little else. However, many Chinese ingredients can be used in Japanese cooking, so it's not a total waste of time to go to a store like this.

What you have to look out for (and this holds true of Supermarché Asie too) are products that may look Japanese, with Japanese writing on them, which really aren't Japanese at all. For example, canned green tea is never sold with sugar in it in Japan, but it seems that green tea meant for the southeast Asian market often is. I also spotted some Chinese snacks (manufactured in Taiwan) with fake Japanese writing on them, in the way that many Japanese products have fake English, or Engrish, on them!

From the standpoint of Japanese ingredient availability, I think you can categorize most Asian markets in European and North American areas into these four categories. Three other categories are: Chinese stores catering to people who came from mainland China or Hong Kong (they carry very little if any Japanese food items); Thai/Malaysian Southeast Asian stores (these also carry very little if any specifically Japanese things); and south Asian/Indian stores (again not many Japanese ingredients if any at all, but may have vegetables that are used in Japanese cooking such as okra, taro root/satoimo, bitter gourd and sweet potatoes.) There are stores fitting all of these categories in Zürich, incidentally.

Special thanks to Céline, who has been great about keeping the Lyon and Provence sections of the Japanese Grocery Stores in France listing so up-to-date! That page is where you will find all the addresses and other pertinent information for the stores described below.

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