With Giraffe, the Biwa Folks Take On the Japanese Grocery
You can score discount office chairs and cheap fright masks in the Central Eastside. But since 109-year-old Japanese market Anzen closed in 2014, it’s been tougher to find the staple groceries, snacks, and baked treats that signify Japanese home cooking anywhere in the area. That is, until Giraffe, a charming little deli and pantry market hidden inside Cargo, opened this winter. Owned by a pair of vets from beloved izakaya Biwa (which closed mid-2018), it’s a postage stamp–size culinary mash note to the kitchens of Japan.
The left-hand front corner of the global curiosity emporium is now devoted to a cold case packed with tidy lines of plastic-swaddled pork katsu and egg salad sandwiches, bento boxes, and canned drink imports—a nod to Japan’s grab-and-go convenience store culture. That’s next to a long counter loaded with treats from Beaverton’s Oyatsupan Bakers: Giraffe’s the only place to nab the Japanese bakery’s goods on the east side. (The panko-crusted beef curry donut is Oyatsupan’s best seller. Get it.)
Steps away, a few tall shelves boast pantry goods carefully chosen by Giraffe owners Gabe Rosen (Noraneko) and Kana Hinohara Hanson: Kewpie mayo, Okinawan black sugar, and Kyoto Prefecture vinegars sit with locally made go-tos like Umi noodles and Ota tofu, plus all the Hello Panda, Hi-Chews, and shrimp chips you could conceivably devour.
“Our goal is to have all the basics so you can prepare Japanese meals at home,” says Rosen, detailing plans for okonomiyaki-making kits and gyoza-making classes. “And, really, we just want to get everyone eating bento.” That bento is a great light lunch: six or so varieties, salmon or vegetables to cold karaage fried chicken, paired with good rice, a scoop of briny potato salad, and jewel-toned veggies, squash to smoky burdock.
To be clear, this is no Uwajimaya. (Giraffe could probably fit inside Uwaji-maya’s bathrooms.) But it is a sweet, close-in spot to snag quality, tough-to-find ingredients and treats. Plus, where else can you nibble onigiri steps away from giant fake lotus flowers and Mexican folk art? Nowhere.