Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food and sake in the heart of Paris

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From the outside, Workshop Issé looks like just another unassuming little Japanese grocery and gift store. There are quite a few stores of this nature scattered about Europe these days. But inside this little boutique in the heart of the Japanese quarter in Paris, you can experience something quite special: A crash course on top quality artisanal Japanese food and drink.

Inside the tiny store, sleek modern shelves are filled with what, to the untrained eye, might seem like the normal Japanese cooking ingredients - soy sauce, vinegar, spices, sake and other alcoholic beverages. Look closer though, and you soon see that these are no ordinary products. There’s a soy sauce that’s been aged for 2 years in ancient barrels; a pitch-black sweet miso that’s been aged for 3 full years; finely sliced and dried battera konbu seaweed for making marinated mackerel. There are salted cherry blossoms that have been matured for six months, so no trace of bitterness remains. There are gardenia seeds (kuchinashi no mi), used as a natural yellow colorant - I’ve never seen these for sale outside of Japan, anywhere. There are what seem like dozens of fine sakes and shouchuus, and vinegars of all flavors and colors. This is a store with some seriously high end foodstuffs for sale.

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The variety and quality of the selection is a little overwhelming, even for someone like me who at least knows what the products are. This store would be quite intimidating to someone not familiar with Japanese cuisine. But the Workshop part of Workshop Issé’s name is a clue to their selling approach. Here, you can do a sampling of products, a degustation in fact (the method normally used to by a wine maker or merchant to sell wines), gently guided by a knowledgeable staff member, at least one of whom is a sake sommelier.

I had a chance to sit down and chat with with Monsieur Toshiro Kuroda, the owner and president of Workshop Issé. Having owned and run a Japanese restaurant in Paris for nearly 4 decades, he started Workshop Issé two years ago. His main reason, he said, was simply because he couldn’t get a hold of the high quality ingredients he wanted from Japan through existing channels, so he decided to import them himself. There are no mass produced products here. All are of the highest artisanal quality; a typical supplier has 20 employees or less, and has been in business for more than 200 years. Here’s M. Kuroda with his dog Pii-chan.

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Besides selling via their web site and the boutique directly to customers, they also supply some of the best professional kitchens in France. For instance, if you’ve had the yuzu-flavored macaroons from Pierre Hermé, the yuzu juice and powder came from Workshop Issé. They also sell to the Michelin three star restaurant Troisgros.

I asked M. Kuroda about his marketing approach. He said that his mainly French customers take very well to the concept, since they are after all used to buying wine this way. They also don’t blink an eye at the prices for their Grand Cru equivalent sakes, which can cost up to €250 per bottle and more.

It’s obvious that M. Kuroda, not to mention his staff, take great pride in what they are doing. And no wonder - their product lineup would be impressive even in Tokyo. I don’t know of a store like it anywhere, certainly not outside of Japan.

My budget that day was not up to buying a Grand Cru sake, so I picked up a few things that intrigued me. Here are a bottle of ume vinegar, and aged soy sauce. I love the classic labels, and the simple list of ingredients - for the soy sauce, just soy beans, salt, wheat. The ume vinegar is made from organic ume plums.

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And here’s some stone ground yuzu powder. Now I usually have this sent to me from Japan (or I buy it there), but it’s nice to know it’s available on this side of the world. The fragrance of this slightly coarse powder is wonderful, and the slightly bitter citrusy taste is addictive.

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Is Workshop Issé worth a detour in Paris, even if you go to Tokyo regularly? I would say absolutely yes, unless you are thoroughly familiar with Japanese cuisine, speak and read Japanese fluently, or have a Japanese gourmet guide at your side. The combination of the carefully selected range of products and the knowledgeable staff, who speak Japanese, French and English, make this store a real winner. And if you aren’t going to Tokyo on a regular basis and live anywhere near Paris or are visiting, and love Japanese food and cooking, it’s a must stop.

I guess the only negative things about Workshop Issé are: They don’t really have much in the way of fresh ingredients. There is a small refrigerated section with a limited supply of things like tofu and vegetables, plus real grated wasabi in a tube (€15, but worth it). Also, their prices are not cheap by any means, but you are paying for top quality.

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Workshop Issé
11 rue Saint Augustin (Paris 2)
Tel: 01 4296 2674
Open 7 days, 11:00 - 19:30 with no lunch break. Closed on national holidays.
French and Japanese website. Mailorder within France and throughout Europe (but verify if they can ship something to your destination first).
Besides food and alcoholic drinks, they also have a small selection of dinnerware and gift items (they did have a couple of nice bento boxes).

You may also want to check out the rest of the Issé & cie. Japan-in-Paris mini empire: Bizan, a high end kaiseki restaurant; Issé, a ‘tempura and tapas’ restaurant; Momonoki, a tonkatsu and obento restaurant; and O-bento, a bento delivery service. All are described on this page (French). You can buy some readymade foods (osouzai) from the last three establishments at Workshop Issé too.

For a look at cheap Japanese eats in Paris, see A Frugal Eats mostly Japanese blitz through Paris.

(Merci beaucoup to Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini for telling me about Workshop Issé!)

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Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

So glad you enjoyed your visit to Workshop Issé! And if it can draw you back to Paris more frequently, so much the better. :)

I would also like to put in a good word for the furikake that they sell (esp. the one with shrimp and small sardines), the nori sheets (using good nori sheets makes such a difference in makisushi), the black sugar from Okinawa (so flavorful) and the black sesame paste.

None of their goods are cheap, as you pointed out, so these are not really ingredients for everyday cooking, but the quality, advice, and infectious passion make up for the cost.

clotilde | 28 April, 2009 - 15:46

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

I really wanna go to that place now. x_x I really like buying the best and the most high quality ingredients. *happy sigh*

Off topic -- are you watching The Great British Menu? You usually mention British Cooking shows in an essay every now and then, and I was just wondering.

MN | 28 April, 2009 - 15:47

The Great British Menu

I haven't been watching it this series, since I'm a nomad with no access to the BBC (legally, cough) but I did watch the first series and parts of the second. It's not a bad show, and those chefs sure do seem to care about winning!

maki | 28 April, 2009 - 21:05

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

Issé is really class, as you indicated with the quality of products and the super professional service they offer. But, gah, the prices! I allow myself a trip there once every couple of months as a very special treat to myself. Like when I treat myself to some very choice olive oil, or champagne. I agree with your comment regarding fresh produce. It would be nice to see an expansion of the produce section with items like mizuna, or misome, or red komatsuna, chrysanthemum flowers/leaves that you never see elsewhere...

Jool | 28 April, 2009 - 21:01

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

I’m really happy to know that there is somewhere like this in Europe.
Even in Tokyo, I agree it’s not that straightforward to find these kind of products, and even in some of Tokyo’s finest delicatessens there may only be a small, themed selection of artisanal ingredients, to find such a range would mean a lot of criss crossing around the city.

It’s staggering the difference in taste between a hand crafted, naturally aged miso and one of the very many mass produced miso aimed at the general market, same with shoyu (I’m just coming to the end of a bottle of aged soy sauce from the Kamebishi ‘brewerers’ near Takamatsu and am already beginning to mourn). And there are so many, many other wonderful food treasures beyond these that would take years to unearth and try. How wonderful that Workshop Issé has assembled so many of these delights together. It will be a while before I can make it there, but I’m really looking forward to my own visit. Thank you very much for this tantalising report!

Loretta | 30 April, 2009 - 11:04

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

Great! This shop is only 3 blocks away from our Paris office... And I've never seen it. I can't wait till my next obligatory visit. Lunch-breaks to look forward to.

Thanks for the tip!

Nisses | 30 April, 2009 - 14:18

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

I live in France, but I am nearly a three-hour train journey from Paris, so it is not easy to shop in Paris on a regular basis. I was not aware of a Japanese food supplier that sold online here in France, so I have up until now been ordering online from London. A huge thank you to you for sharing this information with us. Now I can order gourmet ingredients here in France, and also visit the shop when I am in Paris. Thank you so much!

Sasza | 1 May, 2009 - 09:15

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

Sasza, as Jool and Clotilde said, Workshop Issé is very high end, so for every day Japanese groceries I'd still shop from other places like Japan Centre or Kioko etc (though Kioko doesn't have an online catalogue)...Issé is more on the special treat level ^_^;

maki | 1 May, 2009 - 11:19

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

Thanks for your reply. Yes, going through their online catalogue, one can see that their products are very high end, but I do not consider them to be for special treats only. They have products that are unobtainable anywhere else and some of them are what I consider to be for everyday use. When my son lived in Japan he used to send me the most wonderful food items which I have obviously not been able to get here. Now I have the best of both worlds – Japan Centre and Workshop Issé. Once again many thanks for this article and thanks for a super blog!

Sasza | 1 May, 2009 - 13:49

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

Thank you for telling us about this place. I go to rue St Anne often but would never have stumbled upon this place if not for you. The prices are high but considering we'll be eating it ourselves it'll be worth it, with good quality ingredients you don't need much and a little goes a long way.

umami | 3 May, 2009 - 18:47

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

I'm so glad that this post has helped people to discover this wonderful store!

maki | 3 May, 2009 - 21:13

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

Great article Maki! There are several Japanese stores here in Manhattan where I live, but it is great to see the difference between the typical products I find here and the beautiful, carefully crafted specialty products you showed us. I will definitely stop by there on my next vacation to Paris! Thanks!

BTW, I am a great fan of just bento and just hungry!

Andrea Montero | 5 May, 2009 - 18:27

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

I actually asked Mr. Kuroda if he's thought about opening a similar store in the U.S. (I think it would do quite well in NY for instance, even in this economy) but he said flatly 'no'. I asked why and he said 1. he has not much interest in the U.S. and 2. he thinks that Paris is the culinary capital of the world, so it's perfect for his shop. I thought that was interesting.

Glad you like the sites :)

maki | 5 May, 2009 - 22:00

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

Hello, I just wanted to say thank you : You just made my day, I will stop by this shop next time I go to Paris ! Thanks again :o)

Pyogazel | 13 May, 2009 - 11:22

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

It is indeed quite expensive.. the marushou vinegar you bought costs around 500 JPY in Tokyo (F&F shops chain, all along the tokyuu toyoko line, http://www.n-rs.co.jp/brand/shoplist/ff.html), and that one goes on sale for 11 euros right? that's triple the price roughly.

but hey, it's true that it's quite amazing to see such a diversity in paris!

marco | 13 June, 2009 - 10:06

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

Whlist I agree with marco that the isse prices are a pretty big mark up, I'd still need to criss cross Tokyo in order to accrue the variety of foods Issé has on offer - or get them by mail order. I think the point for me is that there is a bewildering amount of foods and this workshop almost 'curates' the items which takes out a lot of the guesswork and expensive disappointments when a purchase doesn't work out.
I just received my first package from Issé which I bought mail order. Firstly, the order was lightning quick, it's taken a day and a half between making my selection and receiving it in London.
The shipping fee isn't unreasonable as you can add quite a few items without it affecting the price (mine was about 13Euros and I got 2kgs worth of stuff, I could probably have added more)
My order was a trio of miso. I usually buy the kanae aka miso from Yamato but that's not available for at least another 3 months. So, thanks to this article, I took the plunge and made an order.
I got the mogozaemon miso - this has a rather assertive flavour, kind of natto-y but reminds me more of the moromi miso I've tried. Definitely a country style and I can imagine this miso reflects Northern tastes (it's from Akita). I rather like it but I wouldn't recommend it to a natto hater.
Also in my package was the nidanshikomi 'inaka' miso from Kyoto. This still has a rough and ready strong taste but lacks some of the assertive 'personality' of the mogozaemon miso. It does have a strong allure of its own and manages to stand out from most of the commercially available darker miso I've tried. It is kind of similar to the Yamato miso I'm so fond of, so it's natural that I love this one.
I'd recommend this to anyone wanting to upgrade to a miso with a bit of character.
The last miso I got was a kg of shiro miso from the same Kyoto makers of the nidanshikomi miso. This has been the revelation as I'm usually not that keen on white miso. It's kind of hard to say why I prefer this miso to the cheap stuff that's widely available but it's like comparing the smell of aging potpourri with the scent of a fresh bouquet of the same flowers. Delicious!
This white miso from Kantouya shouten will be my little daughter's introduction to miso shiru.
I've still to try the salmon and the sea urchin furikake (I did get them for my husband!) but they do look awfully good.
Thanks for the recommendation Maki, it would have cost so much more to get a similar selection shipped over from Japan!

Loretta | 11 February, 2010 - 13:18

Re: Workshop Issé: Purveyor of the finest Japanese food ...

I was in Workshop Issé for the first time ever this weekend. What a wonderful place! I didn't have a chance to meet the owner but I bought a few things that I really look forward to test. What do you do with the yuzu powder? I considered getting some but I was not sure how to use it !

Gegp2000 | 31 May, 2010 - 10:28

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