The Great Japanese Department Store Food Halls

19 Apr

The other day, I mentioned to Tom my last visit to one of the big department store basement food halls in Tokyo, and how I’d been offered a sample of something unusual*, and Tom suggested I do a blog post on the Japanese department store basement food hall, or depachika for short. (It’s an abbreviation/portmanteau of “department store” and “chikashitsu,” which means basement.) “But everyone** knows about the depachika,” I protested. “Besides, I didn’t take photos.” Tom quibbled with my definition of “everyone,” and upon consideration, I decided it would be fun to write about — even if I had to borrow someone else’s photos from Flickr.

Tasty offerings at the depachika. (Thanks, ae-j, for letting me use this!)

The depachika is a food wonderland. Imagine Harrod’s crossed with Whole Foods (the ginormous one in Chicago) with Trotter’s To Go, and then imagine if they were also giving out samples like a Costco on a Saturday. (I confess to making a lunch out of those samples many a time as a high schooler with a tiny allowance.) Some of the depachikas are like open-air markets (like the Odakyu Halc, where my grandma does a lot of her shopping), complete with whatever-mongers yelling out the day’s specials, while places like Isetan showcase high-end boutique foods. Halc is where you get food for yourself; Isetan is where you get food to give to other people, like these adorable sweets:

I took this photo myself, which is why it's not nearly as good.

My mom’s second cousin once removed on her mother’s side (or something like that) brought these on a visit. All of them are basically the same thing — sweetened bean paste — but that’s not the point. The point is that they’re an attractive and edible way to convey the greetings of the season, in this case, early spring (hence all the cherry blossoms).

I don’t want to imply that depachikas only sell food that’s fit for gifting. What’s great is that they sell the food you buy for yourself (deli items, groceries, the best prepackaged sushi ever) and the crazy-expensive-impressive stuff. I always miss depachikas when I come back from Japan. Whole Foods, you need to step it up.

*Horse sashimi, if you must know. It’s a delicacy in southwestern Japan, as I found out when I visited my grandma’s family in Kumamoto.

**”Everyone” meaning people who are obsessed with food, or have traveled to Japan, or both.

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2 Responses to “The Great Japanese Department Store Food Halls”

  1. Nate @ House of Annie April 20, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    There are a lot of Japanese department stores in Singapore, particularly on Orchard Road, that have these food courts in their basements. Takashimaya and Isetan are two of them. They have some pretty awesome and eclectic food.

    But they cannot compare to the department stores in Japan. When we went Japan last year, I remember a whole section beneath Isetan in Yokohama, devoted to pickled vegetables of all types. So amazing, and so fun to browse and graze.

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  1. Market Monday: The most expensive strawberries in the world? « Straight Out of Kampung - April 23, 2012

    […] in the guise of a hamburger. I’ve never eaten real Kobe beef, but I did see it for sale at a department store food hall on my last visit. I tried to take a photo, but the salesperson wouldn’t let me; perhaps she […]

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