In Japan a bargain is 100 yen. Here, it’s all about the dollar stores. One of my favorites is Ichiban Kan in the Miyako Mall of San Francisco’s Japantown. “Different things!” — their tagline — means just that: aisles and aisles of random stuff. All of it for $1. Okay, some things cost $1.50, and the really big ticket items can put you out $2 or more.

But where else can you find stacking pickle containers, universal pot lids, mimikaki ear cleaners complete with tickling tufts, and Hello Kitty toasters that brand her reassuring face into each slice of bread? It’s like the Bargain Bank crossed with Containers and More, where the practical rubs shoulders with the utterly unnecessary.

Wander over into the pharmacy section to check out the menthol eye drops, SuperMILD shampoo, and crazy strong Biore strips. Useful gadgets that you never realized you must have can be found in the laundry and office sections. Where I spend the most time (and bucks) is, of course, in the kitchen aisles. Divided into separate displays for food prep, storage and service, this store is one place I’ve never left empty-handed.

Three locations in the Bay Area serve our little needs and whims:

Ichiban Kan
22 Peace Plaza #540 (aka Geary @ Webster)
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 409-0472

98 Third Ave
San Mateo, CA 94401
(650) 347-1347

10562 San Pablo Ave
El Cerrito, CA 94530
(510) 528-5210

Egg forms: Simmer an egg gently for 5 minutes, peel immediately, pop it into one of these cute molds, drop into a bowl of ice water, and — presto! — hard-boiled eggs shaped like fish and cars.

Bag clip: How to keep your Thai beef jerky perfectly chewy.

Pretz: Crispy snacks that smell and taste exactly like French toast. Amazing.

Trays: Lots and lots of different colors and sizes.

Napkins: Bright, cheerful and not too thick.

Lunchbox: Stacked airtight compartments, a fork, a stretchy band, and requisite Japanese-style quote: “My name is Mink.It likes reading the book of an adventure.It is excited very good.”

"Different things!" 28 January,2007Thy Tran

  • Amy

    I love this store! I too have found lots of bargains and items I didn’t know I couldn’t live without. It’s also a great place to find inexpensive gifts.

  • Anonymous

    On a blog that urges people to buy locally and eat seasonally and respect our earth, it’s ironic that we’re also peddling cheap, plastic junk to people.

    I don’t want to sound preachy, but significant amounts of energy are put into the production, transportation, and consumption of junk like this. We should always think about the impact our purchases have on the rest of the world, whether the product is cheap or not.

    Simplify, simplify, simplify….


Thy Tran

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place.

Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website,, to learn more about her culinary adventures.

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