For Great Japanese Cuisine And Grocers, Head To Central Ohio (Really) : The Salt Why Ohio? Thanks to a nearby Honda plant, Columbus is full of bakeries, highly-regarded restaurants, markets and other retailers specializing in Japanese food, ingredients and wares.

For Great Japanese Cuisine And Grocers, Head To Central Ohio (Really)

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's go to Ohio now for some Japanese food. As Tony Ganzer of member station WCPN in Cleveland found, grocery stores there and in much of the country are changing.

TONY GANZER, BYLINE: When Mariko Becker wants a particular kind of noodle, she can't find it near her northeast Ohio home.

MARIKO BECKER: But this one is, like, a tied, knotted - very convenient, but you can't get it. Well, at least I know around in Akron area, I don't see something like this specific kind.

GANZER: Becker is Japanese, and she's lived in various Ohio cities for more than 20 years. She says Asian markets are good for general items like soy sauce and rice vinegar, but not specialty items.

BECKER: When you get into some Japanese brand or the - specifically catered to some sort of cooking style, then it's a little bit harder.

GANZER: Becker prefers some items she enjoyed in Japan. From the cuts of meat or fish to kitchen sponges or washcloths, she stocks up when she can. And a prime place to do that is about two hours south.

JOHN MILLEN: It's this remarkable place. It's a little Japanese wonderland that right here.

GANZER: In northwest Columbus, John Millen and his family are standing at the Japan Marketplace shopping center. There's a Japanese grocery store, a Japanese restaurant, gift shop and bakery.

MILLEN: We moved here 20 years ago. And one of the most significant fears was that I wouldn't find the food that I had in California. I have cousins who are half Japanese, and I grew up with sushi and everything else. And you come to Ohio and you think it's going to be small time (laughter) - no offense. And in fact, it's big time.

GANZER: From hair salons to a restaurant praised by the likes of chef Anthony Bourdain, Akisa Fukazawa heads the Japan-American Society of Central Ohio and says a nearby Honda plant provided the spark.

AKISA FUKUZAWA: Because of this big Japanese corporation being here such a long time, including also Japanese executives and their families are here. So to support that lifestyle, a lot of grocery stores like here and Japanese restaurants.

GANZER: It's not unique for regions to take on the tastes of an immigrant population, but specialty grocery stores and restaurants are reacting much quicker. Take a look at California. Laresh Jayasanker teaches history at Metropolitan State University of Denver and studies how globalization and immigration have changed American eating habits. We spoke via Skype.

LARESH JAYASANKER: You have people coming from India and China to work in the tech industry or in Hollywood. And so because they're going back and forth, there's this expectation that they have whatever they want in both places.

GANZER: Jayasanker says you also see this influence with grocery chains adapting for Hispanic and other ethnic consumers. Akisa Fukuzawa says it sometimes amazes her what she can find.

FUKUZAWA: There's a certain brand of sake that I found here. And I took a picture and put it on my Facebook. And my Japanese friends saw. Oh, my God. That is very difficult to come by, even in Japan, in Tokyo. Why Columbus, Ohio, you have this sake?

GANZER: Maybe it takes a visit to the Midwest to get a taste of the Far East. For NPR News, I'm Tony Ganzer.

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