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

lyon-kazuki.jpg

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:

lyon-kazukisushibento.jpg

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

lyon-kimchi.jpg

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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Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

This is interesting, thank you for the detailed breakdown.

Could you offer an opinion on a store based on description? There is a large family-owned store near me that I believe is run by a family that is Vietnamese. They carry a great deal of produce (the one time I was there I saw taro, melons, mango, and some various leafy greens), have a whole subsection devoted to rice of every kind, and have a "housewares" section with steamers, utensils, and some basic things like sponges and soap. As for food there is a "bottles" section (sauces etc), a frozen food aisle which seems to be mostly meats (of what kind I have no idea), and a dried beans/lentils/mushrooms section. Almost none of the labels are in English so I am guessing at most of this as I don't read any other languages:(

Is this any typical kind of market that you're familiar with? I'm just curious how it fits in your categories. If it helps I am in the Northeast US.

eva | 14 May, 2009 - 22:13

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

If it's any help for identifying stuff, you should be aware that Vietnamese is written in Roman letters, but with tone marks and other accents over nearly every vowel, sơ ìt's quỉte eậsy tó spõt. Korean is written in its own script ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangul ), which is also very distinctive. Japanese uses two native syllabaries ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kana ), but also uses Chinese characters, which can sometimes make it hard to tell from Chinese. Chinese, of course, uses Chinese characters and nothing else.

Indonesian and Tagalog (Filipino) are written in Roman letters, but without a lot of accents. Tagalog often has recognizable Spanish loan-words in it (sometimes respelled). Thai, Khmer, Lao, Burmese, and most Indian languages have their own scripts -- all are quite distinctive in appearance once you learn what they look like.

I hope this is helpful!

Marnen Laibow-Koser | 10 June, 2009 - 21:16

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

It could be a southeast Asian/Vietnamese store, or a general Asian one, but I'd have to look at the product labels and so on to be sure.

maki | 15 May, 2009 - 00:10

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

It sounds like quite a few general Asian or mainly Chinese shops here in Ontario. I am getting a little better at reading some of the labels now, as long as they're in hiragana, but it can still be a daunting experience trying to find Japanese products.

I have not been able to find real mirin here at all, even in liquor stores, which is pretty much the only place one can buy booze in this province. Nor have I been able to find many Japanese herbs and vegetables, like shiso or mitsuba. And I still don't know if the stuff I call konbu really is konbu, though it's pretty good to make dashi with, so I'm not complaining.

Any Japanese people out there wish to come to Ontario and set up a good Japanese grocer's shop and cast a magic spell on me so I can learn kanji...?

sushidushi | 16 May, 2009 - 03:57

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

hi sushidushi,

i've come across some of your comments and you've mention you're now in ontario, canada. which part of ontario do you live in? i'm in london, ontario but i'm originally from toronto. if you're in the southwestern ontario region, i think there's a couple of stores that i could recommend ...

Lili | 13 June, 2009 - 17:10

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

Lili,

Thanks. I've only just this moment seen your message. I am in Brampton. The best shop I've seen so far is T&T in Mississauga, though it is very much Chinese and general Asian with a small Japanese section.

sushidushi | 21 August, 2009 - 02:50

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

You can also try Pat Oriental Foods in Mississauga (on Dundas near Cawthra), or Sanko in downtown Toronto on Queen West.

Jeremy_ | 15 September, 2009 - 03:32

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

I would just like to add a store... I used to live in Lyon for three years and was just back there for two days this weekend, when I visited this store:

Univers du Japon, 81 rue Tronchet, Lyon 6eme (one block from metro Massena)

This small store is run by a Japanophile Frenchman. He has a small section with various Japanese food items and sake, and various nice earthenware, clothing and books. He also sells lovely Hakoya bento boxes. I was heartbroken to discover that he only had a tiny kiddy size one left in stock, too small for me, but he's getting a new shipment in shortly. The guy who runs the place is very nice, and me and my friend ended up chatting with him for a good 30 mins.

Anne | 18 May, 2009 - 20:47

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

I'm glad to have been of help, even as little as it was ^^

I completely agree to what you said about Kazuki : I remember the first time I stepped in, prepared to see another crowded, tiny general asian store ; and then taking in the sight of neat arrows of items displayed like gems and the waterfall fountain at the back.

One thing I like about the Kimchi : organic tofu, hmm.
(and kimchi, obviously!)

Ah, I see what you mean regarding the fake japanese bits : I always wondered why the ingredient list was in chinese when there was some japanese on the front of the cute packages of sweets... so, another marketing ploy, is it ? ^^p

And a word about Univers du Japon : while it's true it carries a few non-perishable food items, it's really not a grocery store... but I would heartily reccomend it for people looking for japanese cooking ustensils, bento boxes, crockery, or good company.

Céline | 19 May, 2009 - 20:30

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

Interesting point about Taiwanese-owned stores. I wonder if you could tell a Taiwanese-owned store from a mainlander-owned store by looking for simplified Chinese characters (which are used on the mainland and in Singapore in Taiwan). Of course, this only works if you can read some Chinese characters to begin with (a basic knowledge of kanji as used in Japanese should be sufficient -- the simplified characters look *very* different)...

I'd expect that this would only be useful as regards the signs posted by the store itself, given that packaged products might come from anywhere. It might not even work. But it's potentially easier than listening for dialect.

Marnen Laibow-Koser | 10 June, 2009 - 21:07

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

Are kanji pretty much like the traditional Chinese characters, rather than the modern ones, then? I know that the Japanese also simplified some of their kanji in the 1940s, but I don't know if the Chinese adopted similar simplifications, or whether they are simply moving away from one another slightly.

(Sorry - a little off-topic, perhaps!)

sushidushi | 11 June, 2009 - 16:32

Natto

Do any of the stores carry Natto and/or sukiyaki beef and other stuff for sukiyaki?

max | 19 August, 2009 - 23:24

Re: Natto

Supermarché Asie and Kimchi had natto. Kimchi had shirataki. Not sure if Kazuki had sukiyaki beef in their freezer..it's worth asking there though. I think they had natto (frozen) also. I would definitely ask the lady at Kazuki if you go there about where to get stuff if she doesn't have it.

maki | 20 August, 2009 - 00:21

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

Hi,

What luck to find this post! I live in Lyon (the 6éme) and am looking for shirataki noodles. I'll check out the shops above for them. Thanks for this info!

Epicure on a Budget | 10 February, 2012 - 13:34

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

Merci !

I live in Grenoble and I am thinking of taking the train to Lyon tomorrow to buy some stuff!

By the way, Grenoble does have quite a few Asian grocery stores (not Japanese though). It's quite an under-rated city but I have been able to successfully make Vietnamese and Chinese dishes (and Korean.. but I had gotten ingredients at the K Store in Paris!). There are soba noodles, tofu, seaweeds etc. as well.

Thanks for the help! I am starting to cook Japanese food now (other than soba noodles and sushi, which I cook/eat all the time). Your website is gorgeous and wonderfully informative!

It's true.. I'm 'just hungry' !
Dana

Dana B. | 16 April, 2012 - 13:56

Re: Japanese food shopping in Lyon, plus different Asian ...

Hi Maki,

I live in Annecy which is 40 minutes from Geneva and 1,5 hours from Lyon. What do you recommend me for buying food. As I love both, Japanese and Korean kitchen, "Kimchi" in Lyon sounds interesting. Are the prices higher in Geneva than in Lyon? Do I find everything at Uchitomi in Geneva, also Korean food?
I used to live in Frankfurt until December where you can find a lot of Japanese and Korean shops and restaurants. I just found one Japanese and two Sushi restaurants in Annecy. That's all.
By the way, I discovered www.saveursdujapon.fr some days ago. Maybe this is interesting for you, too. I will try their home-cooking course soon.

Thank you!
Julie

julie | 20 March, 2013 - 12:23

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