Anti-National-ism: Two alternatives for international groceries at cheap prices
National Azabu (Minami Azabu 4-5-2, Minato-ku, 03 3442 3181, 9am-8pm) enjoys a reputation as the premier international supermarket for those wanting the super-sized American grocery experience. You pay an outrageous markup, however, for the privilege of pushing around a giant shopping cart and gazing at the giant row of Hamburger Helper.
Here's the deal though: There are two cheaper, more convenient supermarkets in Tokyo for foreign foods -- Seijo Ishii and Kaldi Coffee Farm. They don't stock everything that National Azabu does, but for those in need of a foreign-food fix, they're worth a look.
Seijo Ishii: Location, location, location … and beer
Seijo Ishii's mission statement is "Good quality and good price." In the grander scheme of things, it should be "Good quality and better price."
With 27 locations throughout Tokyo, Seijo Ishii should be everyone's first stop for international food staples, from jalapeño peppers to Guinness. Seijo Ishii stores are usually located inside train stations like Shinjuku and Ebisu, or within a one- to two-minute walk from a station (e.g., Shinagawa, Hatagaya).
Convenience is a factor, especially when the pasta's in the pot and you're all out of canned tomatoes or wanting to pick up some hard-to-find foreign beer on the way to a party. In addition to international beers -- Pilsner, Hoegaarden, Chimay -- they also carry several 'jibiru' or Japanese microbrews.
Seijo Ishii Atre Ebisu: Atre Ebisu 3F, Minami Ebisu 1-5-5, Setagaya-ku, tel. 03 3448 1070, 8am-11pm
Seijo Ishii Select: Apartments Nishi-azabu 1F, Nishi-azabu 4-15-2, Minato-ku, tel. 03 5766 7555, open 24 hours
Seijo Ishii Lumine Shinjuku: Lumine Shinjuku 2 1F, Shinjuku 3-38-2, Shinjuku-ku, tel. 03-3448-5133, 10am-10pm
Kaldi Coffee Farm: Good prices with a heart
Kaldi Coffee Farm prices are unbeatable, consistently lower than National Azabu's and Seijo Ishii's in head-to-head price comparisons on everything from De Cecco's spinach fettuccine to Skippy peanut butter.
In addition to carrying well-known brands such as Old El Paso and S&W canned foods, Kaldi Coffee Farm offers a line of its own products. Kaldi Coffee Farm-brand dried fruits, spices and cartons of juice are especially low-priced compared with big-name counterparts.
Kaldi supports global causes such as the "Bird Friendly" project, which aims to protect Latin American regions by promoting traditional shade-grown coffee cultivation, and the Doi Tung Project, which helps opium-growing regions of Thailand and Myanmar shift to coffee and macadamia nut cultivation.
The only drawback: Kaldi Coffee Farm's super-narrow aisles and high shelves induce horrifying claustrophobia.
Kaldi Coffee Farm Shimokitazawa: Kitazawa 2-19-5, Setagaya-ku, tel. 03 3422 9512, 10pm-10pm
Kaldi Coffee Farm Nakameguro: Nakameguro GT Plaza 1F, Kami-nakameguro 2-1-3, Meguro-ku, tel. 03 5720 6275, 10am-11pm