Dining Out: Oto’s Marketplace

They’re not expiration dates.

That was a key thing we learned on a recent visit to Oto’s. Located on Freeport, it’s probably the most shiny and attractive of the many Asian markets the dot Sacramento. It’s also one of the smaller ones. But on a recent night we decided that instead of a restaurant, we’d check out their takeout options.

Unfortunately, there was no sushi left that day—an Oto’s specialty. No matter, there were still numerous packaged food to choose from. The fun part—we didn’t know what many of them were.

The first item in the basket was kimpira ($2.49). After eating this, we still didn’t quite know what it was. Three days later, with the benefit of Wikipedia, I discovered that kinpira is “a Japanese cooking style that can be summarized as a technique of sauté and simmer’.” Anyway, this seemed to be a pickled combination of carrots and something else, much like you might be served as a small, complimentary appetizer in many sushi bars.

Next was the hiyashi wakame ($7.99/lb.). This is your standard sushi bar seaweed salad—three different types of seaweed in different shades of green, characterized by the really neon looking one. This is a personal favorite of mine.

But even better was a different type of seaweed salad, the hijiki ($9.95/ a pound). Wikipedia knew this one—“a brown sea vegetable growing wild on rocky coastlines around Japan, Korea, and China.” This was really flavorful, with huge, thin slices of ginger. All four of us agreed that this was the best dish of the night.

My eyes really lit up when I saw the Hawaiian poke ($14.95/lb.). Poke consists of cubes of raw tuna with bits of onion and lots of spices, which help preserve it. I’ve been to Hawaii four times and have family there—and poke has been featured prominently in every trip. There, you can buy many different styles in grocery stores, generally for about half the price they were selling it at Oto’s. But here it’s a rare delicacy when you can find it at all, which I’ve always found strange, given the fact that you can’t throw a rock without hitting a sushi bar in Midtown. Oto’s version was tasty and quite fresh, having just been packed that day.

The reason I bring this up was our last purchase, ajitsuke ildako. This consisted of lots of little octopuses in a spicy red sauce. I thought it was fine, but my girlfriend insisted she’d had it before and these didn’t taste as good—then looked in shock at what appeared to be a freshness date showing them several weeks expired. I took them back and was informed that this was the date they had been packed on. Indeed, everything in the refrigerated bins was either marked that day or sometime before. The man behind the counter said that the ajitsuke was good for three months after it was packed, as long as it was kept refrigerated.

And yes, we’ll be going back. Especially for the Ohayo ice cream bars we had for dessert. We could have chosen the same mochi they sell at Trader Joe’s, but I insisted that we try something with foreign (I think Japanese) writing on it. Shying away from the more exotic flavors, including several options that seemed to mimic those popular tapioca drinks, we chose ice cream bars with mixed chocolate, coffee and caramel flavors. They oddly came in a package of seven, but they were so good they inspired a theological discussion I won’t get into here.

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