For a sense of scale, look at the van in the foreground.
I like food (well, duh! Who doesn’t?) But one of the many things I value about travel is getting a chance to taste and see food that either I’m unfamiliar with, or that I don’t get a chance to eat at home. Tokyo gave me opportunities for both. The Fake
You have probably seen fake food, made of plastic, displayed outside of restaurants in order to lure you in. When I found that there was a whole street in Tokyo dedicated to shops that sold this sort of fake food, I knew I had to go look.
The street is Kappabashi-dori, located in the Asakusa neighborhood – not too far from Senso-ji Temple. As I was standing on the corner, looking at a map and trying to get my bearings, a gentleman came up and asked if he could help. Even with my crummy pronunciation, he knew exactly what I was looking for, and pointed me in the right direction.
It is notoriously difficult to find your way around Tokyo, since most streets don’t have names. But when I looked up and saw the 40 foot tall bust of a chef, complete with
Is it real or fake?
chef’s hat, on top of a five story building, I figured I was in the right place.
Some of the food replicas wouldn’t fool anybody, but some were so good I thought maybe the shop owner had put some real food in the display case just to trick people, but nope, these copies were just that good. One shop sold plastic sushi that was so life-like that you could probably deceive most people unless they got a chance to touch it or smell it.
In addition to the fake food, there were also shops that sold restaurant sign boards, wait staff uniforms, pots and pans, dishes and tea sets in bulk. In short, everything you would need to start a restaurant can be found here. Except for a chef, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you could get in touch with a chef in one of these shops. The Fantastic
Department stores – called depato – almost always have a food hall in the basement. Individual purveyors of everything from bread to sushi to cheese to pork curry can be found here, along with some sweets for dessert. Think farmers’ market crossed
with Harrods’s food hall, and you’ll get an idea.
These food halls are huge, and it is easy to get lost. On my first visit, I went into a fruit stand, and found all these beautifully displayed fruits. There was one watermelon set on a display stand with little LED spotlights trained on it, almost like it was a piece of jewelry. Then I looked at the price –JPY 5,400, or about US$ 49.
Other fruit was just as expensive. A display of oranges was priced at about US$10 each. Now, in fairness, these oranges, labeled as dekopon, are supposed to be the most perfect examples of orange-ness ever developed. A little history
Cuttings from dekopon trees were smuggled into the United States in 2000, but the trees propagated from the cuttings were pulled up and burned for fear of disease harming the native citrus. Finally, someone legally brought in cuttings, and kept them in quarantine. By the time the trees were released from quarantine, the company had gone bankrupt.
The legal budwood was sold to the Griffith family that controlled two large citrus companies. They quietly propagated trees
until they had enough to start marketing the citrus, which is sold in the US as Sumo Citrus. It is still very hard to find in the states, and it is still controlled by the Griffith family – and still expensive.
Depato food halls aren’t just about expensive fruit. They are a great source for take-out meals, and also a place to buy European groceries. One of them – Takashimaya – even has a whiskey bar in case you need a bit of a break from all that food. Possibly Useful Information
- The closest metro stop to Kappabashi-dori is the Asakusa Station, stop 19 on the Ginza line and stop 18 on the Asakusa line.
- The two department store food halls that I recommend are Takashimaya and Isetan, though there are many others. Both have locations within easy walking distance of Shinjuku station.
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