A Taste of Essex Street Market: Ni Japanese Delicacies
A historic culinary destination on the Lower East Side, Essex Street Market is home to more than 20 independent merchants. This series features the characters that make up the bustling corner of Delancey and Essex Street.
Atsushi Numata first wandered into Essex Street Market on a trip from Japan in the 1980s.
It was a different place then. "The Army/Navy store was selling switchblades," Atsushi remembers. "There were bootlegged bags and shoes."
Little did he know that the market would transform into a central community gathering spot in the Lower East Side, where he and his wife, Saori, currently make their livelihood. Their business, Ni Japanese Delicacies, sells all-natural Japanese vegan specialties ranging from brown rice onigiri balls to miso-cured salmon bento boxes.
We spoke with Atsushi about how he and his family have grown with the market and why they're excited for the upcoming new space at Essex Street Crossing.
Owners: Atsushi Numata (pictured left) and Saori Numata
Business name: Ni Japanese Delicacies
Market start: 2012
Product sold: Ready-to-eat noodles, sandwiches, rice balls, sushi rolls, and packaged products
Why did you start Ni Japanese Deli in Essex Street Market?
My wife Saori knew Rona, the owner of Boubouki, who said that the space occupied by the electronics store next to her might be opening up. Saori came up with the concept and really got it started. She wanted to focus on vegetarian and vegan food and also raw food with a Japanese focus.
I was a cook in Japan and did my sushi training there. Here in New York City, I had been a line cook. I worked in Japanese restaurants and also Italian and American restaurants, pretty much everything. We were about to have a baby and wanted to have more control of our time. With the space opening up at the market, everything came together.
What is your favorite memory at the market?
When we first arrived, we had a newborn and the other vendors really took us in as family. They all took turns taking care of my daughter. And everyone had different ideas about how to raise her, which they didn’t hesitate to share with us!
My children have grown up in the shop; my daughter can even roll sushi already! Soon she’ll be teaching her little brother.
What is Ni Japanese Deli's specialty?
Our specialty is our bento box, which is like a Japanese lunchbox that includes several small dishes that are different every day. The bento box is a good way to sample what we do.
We’re well known for our gluten-free dishes. Even our soy sauce is gluten-free.
I love being in the market because you get to see the real New York. People from the neighborhood talk about change. You meet people who’ve been living here all their lives and then you meet new people as well. The Lower East Side is such a mix of people, and I guess it always has been. Everyone has stories. And everyone has opinions.
What is your favorite time of the week at the market and why?
I ride my bike down from the East Village every morning, getting here between seven and eight. I think that’s my favorite time of day, when I choose what I’m going to cook. I decide based on what I want to eat that day. It often has a lot to do with the weather and the season because I choose my ingredients based on what’s in season and what’s fresh. It’s a nice time of day. I enjoy the cooking, and I always wonder what the day will be like and who will come to the shop.
Do you source any products from within the market?
Lots. For vegetables, the grocers tell me what’s fresh and what’s in season and that’s how I’ll decide what to cook. I also get spices and condiments from Formaggio Essex. They provide a lot of inspiration.