In a metropolis with roughly 160,000 restaurants and more Michelin stars than any other city in the world you might think there is nothing food-related that will blow your mind. Think twice! And on your trip to Tokyo pay a visit to depachika, a place that perfectly merges two Japanese manias – love for food and shopping. In the basement of nearly any department store there is what I like to call a gourmet food wonderland, although formally it is referred to as depachika in Japanese (“depa” – department store, “chika” – basement). The vast space is filled with a maze of isles displaying domestic delicacies as well as imported culinary delights. The underground world truly runs at its own pace in Tokyo. Every night after work the food-lover Tokyoites descend into the vast teeming subterranean food halls to roam the fancy stands contemplating their take-away dinner choices or gift options. For the past few years depachika has become the next “it” thing, a hot place to see and be seen for locals. The most desirable items are limited in quantity like designer apparel items. Newspapers and special web-sites publish a list of the latest food trends and best-sellers on a daily basis to keep food-basement junkies abreast of the novelties and promotions. I highly recommend you visit depachikas of luxury department stores if you enjoy finer things in life. Think of them as the Japanese versions of Harrod’s. The food is presented like jewelry and the fruit treated like gold. Some of the most well-known and my personal favorites include Tokyu Food Show in Shibuya, Daimaru in Marounochi, Takeshimaya in Nihonbashi and Shinjuku, and Mitsukoshi in Ginza, which are even higher end. Shrimp-flavored cookies.It’s easy to get disoriented by the scale, diversity and sheer gorgeousness of the world’s choicest comestibles. This culinary theme park will amaze you with its limitless options of succulent savory dishes, perfectly packed bentos, gem-like sushi, Japanese tea, fancy sake, freshly steamed dim sum, rare honey, or wide array of condiments. I feel like I want to get the taste of everything! The best part is many stalls offer free tastings and lure customers via endless festivals and promotions. I even got a free sake tasting one time.Assortment of barrel-aged vinegar. Anything from strawberry to ginger, you name the flavor, they had it.The preparation of the food which, at times, equals artistic performance can also keep you entertained for hours.
The food isles further link to supermarkets which are filled with beautiful produce. Just the selection of thinly sliced super marbled wagyu beef was mind-boggling. I must confess it has become a sort of obsession of mine to carefully peruse these isles because it gives a wonderful insight into the local culture. The selections change on a regular basis, showcasing seasonal ingredients and introducing impressive culinary novelties. It is fascinating to see all that Tokyoites currently fancy and explore the latest food trends. I find it an interesting place not only to admire and savor the multitude of culinary delights, but also to people watch and observe what stimulates the taste buds of the locals. Some of the ingredients that are highlighted during fall season are chestnut, persimmon, apple, orange/yuzu, matsutake mushrooms. I developed particular fondness for elaborate dessert parlors which house some of the best bakeries in the world. I mean, how could I not? Look at these exquisite selections. My personal favorite is ISETAN in Shinjuku mainly because they have my all-time favorite Pierre Hermé outlet. I indulge in my little guilty pleasure – Ispahan macaroon – every chance I get. When you buy dessert to-go, they even pack it meticulously with an ice pack. Gorgeous pastel-colored traditional Japanese confections are elegantly molded into beautiful flowers, fruits or birds. Gourmet KitKat shop selling flavors which range from cheesecake to butter, from purple potato to matcha tea.Depachika is also a great place to pick up gifts. Honestly, being born and raised in Georgia, an agricultural heaven where the fridge would always be filled with fresh organic seasonal fruit and vegetables, I was a bit shocked to see individually wrapped strawberries, apples, persimmon and cantaloupe packed in fancy boxes and adorned with ribbons. Seeing the price shocked me even further! ~$60 to $70 for each.$35 for a box of strawberries, which, despite the off season are deliciously sweet and juicy.The thing is, the aesthetic plays a significant part when it comes to these precious fruits. There is value in growing a perfectly shaped fruit and having them all identical. Hence, the high price.
Also, if you need omiyage (edible souvenirs) to bring home, depachika is a great place to look with limitless choices of lovely boxed sweets, cookies, assortment of Japanese teas in immaculate tea tins and such to bring back home. Just remember, it is culturally unacceptable to eat while you walk, so definitely plan on finding a place to savor all your goodies once you purchase them. A great place might be a nearby idyllic park or a manicured roof-top gardens which are located in almost every large department store. These gloriously diverse and bountiful food parlors in the basements of department stores are definitely worth exploring while visiting Tokyo!
Have you been to Tokyo? Which part of local food scene fascinated you most?
This post is part of Weekend Wanderlust at A Brit and a Southerner. Pay a visit and read other interesting travel link-ups on to this wonderful blog!