At my school an Asian Cultures Club was started this year. The members eat asian food, listen to K-Pop (Korean Pop) and learn Japanese. A handful of my friends are members, but the breakpoint for me was the homework and quizzes on Japanese. I once asked my Chemistry teacher, who runs the club, if I could just stay for the food. The look she gave me was reactive enough to make Noble Gases loose all their valence electrons.
One of my best friends decided to bring Japanese food for the club the next day, and she asked me to come along. It was on a Tuesday, so all the students get out of school forty-five minutes early, and I had basketball practice starting at 3:30. So basically, I had an hour to kill. My friend told me where the store was, across the street from Bryant Park. I would have never guessed that, because I passed through Bryant Park every Tuesday for eight months to get to my Playwriting Workshop last year.
On the outside, Kinokuniya looks like a regular bookstore. The first floor is like one, too. What's interesting about Kinokuniya is that the books are all either written in Japanese, or about Japanese culture. There's books, magazines, DVDs, posters, music, and some really cool little electronics (headphones for Christmas, hint hint.) The second floor has the DVDs, Manga, and music. For those who didn't know, Manga are japanese comics. My friend could point out more comics and movies that she'd seen, while I could smile, nod, and talk about Ponyo and what I remembered about Spirited Away.
After making our way through the fashion magazines, my friend and I stepped into a small corner of the store with a sign saying, Cafe. My friend dove straight for triangle-shaped seaweed-wrapped rice with jam in the middle. She started picking out fifteen for the class, while I meandered around, looking at the food. There was sushi, of course, but also several different pastries. Sweet cakes were cut into samples with green tea, spices, and something else that tasted delicious. I must have eaten a sixth of each sample bread. There were rolls, bread, things dipped in chocolate, dumplings, drinks, and fancy desserts. Everything was wonderfully inexpensive, perfect for the snacking teenager. Sushi was probably the most expensive thing there, but the rolls and sweet cakes weren't more than five dollars each.
The best thing about the cafe, in addition to the food being tasty, everything was authentic. Nothing was deep-fried or packaged. Fresh food was being made even as my friend and I stepped up to the counter.
Later that week I would return with my mom, and we both agreed that Kinokuniya's cafe was great. So if you want authentic but casual japanese food, and maybe a new book to read, Kinokuniya is a great place to go.
Here's to finding places where you would never glance at twice, but realizing that you would go to the same place ten times over,
For the address of Kinokuniya in New York City, it's