Grocery Stores

The Cult Snacks and Secret Chef Ingredients We Found at Hidden Japanese Market Fulamingo

Plus: Ride-or-die favorites from the underground grocer inside the bumping Wellspent Market

By Karen Brooks May 12, 2022

Erik and Kana Hinohara Hanson bring the fun to their Japanese food collection at Wellspent Market. 

Imagine a great playlist, but with Japanese food instead of music. The mix includes cult snacks, instant wonder foods, and secret ingredients favored by chefs. That's the A-side, the fun side of eating, what we live for. The B-side is basically everything you need to capture the essence of Japanese home cooking, plus a collection of artisanal sakes to go with it. 

And that, in a bag of fried ramen chips, is Fulamingo—a DIY Japanese market from industry vets Erik Hanson and Kana Hinohara Hanson. Since 2020, Fulamingo has existed online, selling hundreds of fanciful and practical Japanese foods, complete with cooking suggestions and tasting notes. Inspiration comes in part from the world of konbini, or Japanese convenience stores, which the couple frequents on trips to Japan, with inside tips from Tokyo relatives. 

“I think of myself as translator,” says Kana, who grew up in California. “I'm the first-generation child of Japanese immigrants. I'm in a unique position to see both worlds, the US and Japan.” 

Now, Fulamingo also has a physical home inside of the reimagined Wellspent Market at  935 NE Couch St. Think highly curated Japanese store within a highly curated mini-mart where you can find fresh eggs, a high-brow olive oil, or a bag of instant hot chocolate-flavored Ffups corn puffs, which proudly calls itself “Not Healthy.” 

In 2019, Wellspent opened as Real Good Food, an outpost for the passions of local food legend Jim Dixon and business partner Noah Cable. The expanded store, rebooted on May 10,  is now a bustling, Beastie Boys-bopping neighborhood market with two new in-house vendors: florist Fieldwork and Fulamingo, whose shelves occupy an entire wall. Erik, known for his keen wine palate, doubles as house sake buyer, with its own shelf devoted to the drink. 

The couple met years ago at the hip Portland izakaya Biwa. She was the manager; he made cocktails. They bonded over a love of all things Japanese (Erik, a Japanese major, studied in Hokkaido during college). In 2018 they opened the adorable but short-lived Japanese deli Giraffe inside of the curio shop Cargo. Plans for a brick-and-mortar are on hold for now. Cable, one of their business mentors, welcomed them into Wellspent, which has a strong collaborative bent and stages food events in its parking lot throughout the year.

“They have this awesome love for Japanese foods,” says Cable, who also co-owns iconic pie shop Lauretta Jeans with his baker wife Kate McMillen. “They just want to bring the joy.  Creating this collection—this is the palate they paint with. It's such a great expression of what they like to eat.” 

How do they decide what makes the Fulamingo collection? “Uwajimaya is such an amazing store,” says Erik, “but there's so much stuff, all these choices. If not for the help of friends saying 'this is good,' I'd be lost.” 

Instead of having you stare down 15 kinds of rice vinegar, their motto is: “our favorite brands, industrial to artisan to seasonal, this is the best, the one you have to have.” 

The Fulamingo Desert Island Playlist: 
ide-or-die Japanese food favorites 

Instant Spicy Cod Roe Spaghetti Sauce

Tokyo guides consider mentaiko spaghetti a must-know dish from the annals of yōshoku, or Japanese-style Western foods, a genre delightfully explored at Toki in downtown Portland. Kana calls the flavor of mentaiko salty, almost spicy, buttery, a little crunchy but unlike anything else. “In Japan, spicy cod roe is ubiquitous and very well-known as a flavor in and of itself.” It's easy to make with this instant packet—just stir into a bowl of noodles and boom. 

Boss Coffee Cold Café Au Lait  

Even in our craft coffee world, don't knock Boss canned coffee 'til you've tried it.

Canned coffee is officially a thing in Japan, found in the country's omnipresent vending machines. Some coffee nerds actually prefer the canned version by Japan's Boss Coffee, whose label sports the visage of pipe-smoking William Faulkner. Boss's claim to fame: flash-brewed coffee, made piping hot then instantly chilled for richness and silky texture. Erik and Kana swear it's the best iced coffee, period, and they're willing to fight you over it. Adds Cable ,”I love it. It's so easy and delicious. We have hundreds of roasters in Portland. It's OK to drink coffee out of a can.”

Garlic Miso Rice Topping 

This table condiment is a staple at Japanese steakhouses for one reason, according to Kana: "It's really good on steaks!” Or spooned over rice, or vegetables for that matter. “I'm obsessed with it,” she says. “And everyone I give it to becomes obsessed, too. It's garlicky but not crazy garlic; it's miso but not strong miso, just balanced between savory, salty, and a little sweetness. It's really good on everything. Put it on everything.” The Kuze Fuku & Sons brand has its own following for its artisanal ingredients.

Baby Star Wide Ramen Snack 

This ramen is designed to be eaten straight out of the bag.

Ever thrilled to eat instant ramen noodles right out of the packet, uncooked? If so, says Cable, these crunchy, salty, fried noodle chips are for you. The “Artificial Chicken Flavor” proudly brandished on the bag is actually vegan, with a chicken-y ramen stock flavor. “Artificial Spicy Flavor” signals a dusting of paprika spice, “not that spicy but super tasty,” notes Kana. Artificial doesn't have the same connotation in Japan as it does in America.  As Kana puts it: "It's not the same as Velveeta.”

Matcha-Anko Spread with Butter 

Cable, an avowed toast freak, has put this spread, which sports pureed sweet white beans and two kinds of matcha tea, into regular rotation at home. “It has a little green tea vibe, a little butter, and this delicious sweetness. It's almost like a buttery version of green tea ice cream.” 

Yuzu Kosho 

Fulamingo dubs this flavor-bomb condiment the “chef's secret weapon.” At its core: the spicy heat of fresh green chiles, a spike of salt, and warm acidity of yuzu, a fragrant citrus. “There's a whole series of Japanese secret ingredients,” says Kana. “You don't know it's there, but just a little adds so much depth and complexity.” Followers use it in soups, cocktails, popcorn, even cookies—noting that a little goes a long way. 

Eiko Fuji Honkara Honjozo Sake  

A very likable, crisp bottle of sake

If Erik is pressed to pick one sake from the house collection, this is it—not too expensive ($27), easy to like, and very accessible. “Some sakes are big and massive or overpowering,” he says. “Honjozo is one of my favorite styles for crisp, clean, refreshing drinking. The quality is like alcoholic spring water.” Need they say more?

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