America's love affair with exotic foodstuffs is fickle. Need I remind you that Starbucks, 40 years ago, was considered exotic? A traditional Jewish deli on Mercer Island, Stopsky's, just announced it is shutting down because, the owner admits, he hasn't found that sweet spot where he can make money. And, shake your head, if a Jewish deli can't succeed on Mercer Island, what hope is there for Seattle's other food niches?
As it turns out, gourmet popcorn, with a relatively low barrier to entry, is poised to be the next big thing. And one of its leading practitioners — KuKuRuZa — is based right here in Seattle. Headquartered in the International District, with a thriving store in the heart of downtown, it's having its greatest success in Japan, of all places.
Howzat? Fashion is part of the explanation; novelty is another. The Japanese have long been impressed by American (and French) consumer trends, but popcorn? Well, why not? It's reasonably exotic, it's portable, doesn't require expensive equipment and it tastes good. And the name, KuKuRuZa, even sounds Japanese (though it's not).
The word is actually Russian for “maize,” though KuKuRuZa's corn comes from Nebraska. A “mushroom” variety that looks like kernel corn candies, it puffs up beautifully when air-popped at the company commissary. There's also that movie-theater version, which requires an all-white “butterfly” strain that breaks open when it pops to better absorb the brown butter.