Depachika Fruit Sweets

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The muskmelons that go for hundreds of dollars exists in Japan. If you go to a fancy restaurant, like Sukiyabashi Jiro, you may get it for dessert. I should say, if you are lucky and have a nice friend who treats you to dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro.

The muskmelon is amazing. Aromatic, juicy, and tender, and the most amazing piece of fruit that I have ever had. But, it is possible to try a few bites of the infamous melon without breaking your wallet. Check out the fruit dessert counter at any depachika. Cakes, tarts, and much more topped with pristine, blemish-free fruit cut into bite-size pieces. The muskmelon balls are above.

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More muskmelon, figs, and grapefruit.

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Marron, mango, apple pie, and more.

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Top left is the Mont Blanc made with chestnuts.

Some department stores have small eat-in counters in the depachika to have a glass of fresh juice or a slice of melon. Or, some shops, like Shinjuku Takashimaya, have a larger café on an upper floor. Takano Fruit Café in Shinjuku Takashimaya. Some famous fruit shops include Sembikiya, Takano, and Lemon.

Sembikiya Nihonbashi (Japan’s oldest fruit shop)

My favorite depachika in Tokyo.

Hanami 101

Hanami3

Each spring cherry trees around Tokyo blossom while friends, families, and co-workers gather under the blossoms to enjoy the ritual of hanami. If you are lucky to be in Tokyo this week, it is the quintessential Japanese experience. A few tips on how to best enjoy hanami.

hanami1

Most essential is to pick up a bentō. The best place to select from a wide variety of bentō is depachika, the epicurean basement food floors of department stores. Here is my list of the top ten depachika in Tokyo. But, if a depachika is not on your way to the park, no worries, a convenient store will have lunch boxes or sandwiches, chips, and other snacks.

The bentō above comes from AEN at Shinjuku Isetan, which came in a beautiful bamboo box and had genmai (brown rice) with two types of grilled fish, croquette, pickles, and more. The saké is a junmai ginjō from Shoutoku in Fushimi, Kyoto. It was only 12% alcohol, lighter than most saké which is about 16%, so perfect with lunch. And, I couldn’t resist the packaging.

hanami2

Another bentō company I love and can’t get enough of is Yonehachi, which has branches in almost every depachika. Yonehachi is famous for its okowa, a mix of mochi-gomé  (sticky rice) and uruchimai (regular rice) that is steamed with different vegetables and meat or fish. You can select what kind of seasoned rice you want with your bentō. This one here has takénoko (bamboo shoots) and fuki (a type of spring mountain vegetable), both seasonal spring vegetables.

hanami

Yonehachi bentō, again, as it is my favorite. This one with the takénoko and fuki rice and the kuri (chestnuts) and red beans okowa. The saké with this bentō is from Masumi, a great saké brewery in Nagano. Masumi has an excellent portfolio of saké, including this junmaishu Okuden KanzukuriThis saké is light on the palate and perfect for sipping under the cherry blossoms. I’ve also had this warmed up and it is lovely hot or cold.

Once you’ve picked your bentō and drink, stop by a convenience store to get a plastic sheet to sit on. For some reason these are usually blue.

And, then get to your hanami spot early as the choice spots tend to be taken early in the day.

Be sure to do some research on where to go. I was surprised to see that Shinjuku Gyoen doesn’t allow alcohol to be brought in. There are security guards who check your bag on your way in. Guards are walking throughout the park as well to make sure everyone is abiding by the rules.

Enjoy and have fun enjoying food food and saké under the cherry blossoms.

Amour du Chocolat at Takashimaya

choco Kyushu

Kyushu Shochu Chocolates

choco sake

Junmai Ginjo Saké and Uméshu Chocolates

choco Tengumai

Tengumai Saké with Tsujiguchi’s Nama Chocolate

* all photos are from the Takashimaya website

If you are traveling to Tokyo between now and February 14th, be sure to stop by a department store to check out all of the chocolates that are for sale. Valentine’s Day in Japan is done like nowhere else in the world. Chocolate is given from women to the men in their lives. Not only to your boyfriend or partner, but to colleagues at work, family members, and good friends.

This being Japan, gift-giving is not a one-way street. Men return the favor to the women in their lives a month later on March 14th, White Day. However, the okaeshi, or return gift, is typically white chocolate. There is a good reason for that. No re-gifting. Also, it was interesting for me to see that on White Day, many of the older men who were returning gifts often bought much nicer presents, such as wine.

Working at Takashimaya for two years I was able to observe the retail side of this tradition. First of all, my colleagues were surprised to hear that it is only in Japan that this is done. Most of them would laugh at themselves and say how brilliant the chocolate companies are to sell so much chocolate during a holiday that isn’t even Japanese.

Most department stores attract customers to their stores by offering unique chocolates that are only available at their shop. Each year the offerings vary as do the chocolatiers who are invited to create special boxes of chocolates.

This year, Takashimaya’s offerings include chocolates from Japanese chefs like Sadaharu Aoki, who currently has a great program on NHK on making French pastries at home. Of course, world-famous chefs like Pierre Herme, Michel Chaudun, and Pierre Marcolini.

I am always attracted to any that involve any type of alcohol like the three in the photos above. Most of these unique sweets are only available this time of year. And, it is no secret that some of the chocolates that are sold this time of year is by women buying for themselves.

Department stores will hold these chocolate fairs usually the first two weeks in February. If you are near any department store, stop by the concierge on the first floor to inquire into the chocolate events. Most often they are held on the special event floor, but some are held in the depachika as well. Nihonbashi Takashimaya starts on Saturday, February 2nd. Shinjuku Takashimaya starts on Friday, February 1.

Popular Omiyage – Baumkuchen

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This photo of baumkuchen comes from the Juchheim website.

Baumkuchen is a very popular omiyage, or gift, in Japan. It can be found at all depachika. This German cake is made of thin layers of cake that are baked onto a spool. At first sight the cake is a delight on the eyes as the layers are so delicate.

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We received this Juchheim baumkuchen as a gift at a home party and we were thrilled. It is an ideal dessert and everyone is happy to receive a baumkuchen.

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Other popular baumkuchen companies include:

Nenrinya at Tokyo station’s Daimaru

Club Harie at Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi

Taneya at Tobu Ikebukuro

Since I posted this I got this note from a reader. Very good to keep in mind if your travels bring you to Hiroshima.

When I read your post today I immediately felt I should tell you about another place to get real artisanal Baumkuchen. If ever you come to Hiroshima, please do not miss to visit Kyo Tagashira’s “Felderchef” in Hatsukaichi or his “Mehl” downtown Hiroshima. Kyo-san has learned in Germany and makes fabulous, authentic German cakes and bread. He is certainly worth being mentioned! 🙂

http://www.felderchef.com/felderchef.htm

He is a very pleasant guy, very serious about his work though.

Osechi Ryori at Depachika おせち料理

Homemade Osechi Ryori

Homemade Osechi Ryori

Osechi ryori is food made to eat the first days of the New Year. The photo above is of osechi ryori I made two years ago (I made most of it, I am still not confident to make kuromame).

Here is a list of just some of the popular items in osechi ryori:

Kazunoko (herring roe) – tiny yellow fish eggs. Like the tobiko often find at sushi restaurants, kazunoko have a bite or crunch to them, however, the eggs are not loose. They are marinated in a broth of dashi, sake and soy sauce.

Kuromame (black beans) are soft and quite sweet, although you may notice a bit of soy sauce flavoring.

Gomame (also known as tazukuri) are small sardines that have been dried and then finished in a sweet sauce of sugar, mirin, soy sauce and sake. These are rich in calcium and yes, you can eat the head.

Kobumaki are nothing more than the umami-rich kombu rolled tightly and bound shut with a ribbon of gourd strip (kampyo). Often kobumaki are stuffed with salmon. This is also cooked slowly in dashi, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce.

Datemaki looks like the tamagoyaki (egg custard) you often find in a bento box, but here it’s made with a fish paste and has a sponge-like texture. It’s quite sweet.

Sweet potatoes and chestnuts are the base of kurikinton, which can look something like yellow mashed potatoes.

Kamaboko, a dense cake of fish paste, is red and white (traditional New Year’s colors). You can often find thin slices of this on your soba.

Another red-and-white food you’ll find is called namasu – typically daikon and carrots pickled in vinegar.

For vegetables, look for gobo (burdock root), often dressed with sesame. Also lotus root, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and pea pods.

Konnyaku (devil’s-tongue starch) and fu (wheat gluten) will also be sprinkled throughout the stacked boxes.

For seafood, shrimp (representing long life) and sea bream (for auspicious fortune) are most typical.

This time of year all depachika will sell a variety of osechi ryori that can be ordered ahead of time. Some are simple bento boxes with just the basics. Famous ryotei will make a limited number of stacked boxes filled with premium ingredients. Some of these can go for hundreds of dollars. This photo below is Takashimaya’s Tokusen Wafu Osechi featuring items from famous purveyors from throughout Japan.

Takashimaya Tokusen

Takashimaya Tokusen

This year Takashimaya is also featuring osechi ryori from famous ryokan in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. Click here to see photos of these sets.
If you are in Tokyo, check out the osechi ryori displays, if not in the depachika then on the event floor (usually the top floor) of the department store. If you are keen on putting together your own osechi ryori then check out the depachika for ingredients or components to assemble your own.
Here are some of what you will find:
Suzuhiro Kamaboko

Suzuhiro Kamaboko

Suzuhiro has been making kamaboko for 170 years in Odawara, Kanagawa. When I worked at Takashimaya the Suzuhiro shop was directly in front of the sake shop. It was swamped this time of year with customers picking up kamaboko.

Nihonbashi Kanmo Kuromame

Nihonbashi Kanmo Kuromame

Kuromame for me is one of the hardest items to make well and so is better bought. This kuromame is from Nihonbashi Kanmo, a shop famous for its hanpen.

Shibamata Marujin Kurikinton

Shibamata Marujin Kurikinton

Kurikinton is always the first component to go in our house. It is hard to resist the chestnuts. Marujin is in the historic shitamachi district of Shibamata.

If you are picking up osechi ryori, be sure to pick up a bottle of sake.

Hokkaido Food Festival at Nihonbashi Takashimaya

Now through Monday, October 10th, at Nihonbashi Takashimaya  on the 8th floor, is a great Hokkaido Food Festival. Highlights include pop-up restaurants serving sushi from Hokkaido seafood like ikura, uni, and crab, local ramen, and grilled pork over rice. Lots of sweets, seafood, and cheese. Check out this promotional flyer for photos of some of the many foods for sale.

The event ends at 6 p.m. on Monday, which is a national holiday.

Tuscan Food Fair at Shinjuku Isetan

prosciutto pizza

prosciutto pizza

Toscana wine

Toscana wine

Now through Monday, October 10th, at Shinjuku Isetan on the 6th floor, is a food festival promoting the great food and wine of Tuscany. From pizza to gelato to wine, there is a wide variety of products available. Note that the event ends at 6 p.m. on Monday.

August Seasonal Japanese Vegetables

Edamame

Edamame

August is when the gardens are overflowing. Look for these vegetables when dining out. Edamame at beer gardens, vegetables in bento at depachika, and in the supermarket. One of my favorite shops at depachika for inspiration on Japanese vegetables is RF1. It is located in most depachika and is a deli with a wide variety of dishes that incorporate a cornucopia of vegetables.

Edamame 枝豆

Tomato トマト

Nasu 茄子 eggplant

Shin shouga 新しょうが new ginger

Papurika パプリカ bell pepper

Pi-man ピーマン Japanese green bell pepper

Tougarashi 唐辛子 green pepper

Zucchini ズッキニ

Chingensai ちんげん菜 bok choy

Kyuuri きゅうり cucumber

Saya ingen さやいんげん green beans

Tougan 冬瓜 winter squash

Kinshi uri 金糸瓜 spaghetti squash

Nigauri にがうり bitter melon

Okra オクラ

Tsuru murasaki つるむらさき Malabar spinach

Zuiki ズイキ taro stems

Myoga みょうが

Tomorokoshi ともろこし corn

Ninniku にんにく garlic

Takahara Kyabettsu 高原キャベッツ Takahara cabbage

Top Ten Depachika in Tokyo 東京のデパ地下

Working at the sake section of the depachika in  Nihonbashi Takashimaya was loads of fun. As a sommelier it was my job to sell wine but my responsibilities also included selling sake, shochu, and other spirits. Who wouldn’t love to be surrounded by amazing food all day long? My breaks were spent carefully perusing the floor for new items. I would plot all morning what to have for lunch that day. The food was constantly changing and Takashimaya often held special food events on the top floor of the department store. Here I would learn about regional food, sake and shochu, and meet the purveyors who enthusiastically shared cooking suggestions and what makes their products unique.

Here are my favorite depachika in the city. It is best to pick a location based on what is convenient for you. Most of the depachika are similar. However, if I have to pick some favorites they would be Nihonbashi Takashimaya, Shinjuku Takashimaya, Shinjuku Isetan, Ginza Mitsukoshi, and Ikebukuro Tobu.

Inquire at the concierge if there are any special food events going on in the store as they may be held on an upper floor and not in the basement.

Shinjuku Takashimaya

Shinjuku Takashimaya

1. Shinjuku Takashimaya, Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 5-24-2

The restaurant floor here is great – several floors of tempting restaurants. I love Katsukura for tonkatsu. Better yet, pick up a bento and a beer in the depachika and head to the rooftop picnic area. Next door to Takashimaya is a huge Tokyu Hands for great shopping for kitchenware, tableware, stationary, and much, much more.

Nihonbashi Takashimaya

Nihonbashi Takashimaya

2. Nihonbashi Takashimaya, Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi 2-4-1

There is a branch of Taiwan’s Din Tai Fun in the basement 2 and the sake department often does weekly tastings of small sake and shochu producers from around Japan. The rooftop garden is a great place to have a bento. Also, do not miss the white-gloved elevator girls (rarely seen now) and the historic elevators.

3. Shinjuku Isetan, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-14-1

Aged sake (koshu) in a special cellar and a manicured rooftop garden for enjoying your bento. Pierre Herme and Jean-Paul Hevin are popular with the locals but I love the wagashi (Japanese confectionaries).

4. Ginza Mitsukoshi, Chuo-ku, Ginza 4-6-16

A recent renovation has made this a depachika you don’t want to miss. The restaurant floor includes a branch of the famous Hakone Akatsukian soba shop, formerly in Hiroo. Time it right and watch as the soba noodles are rolled out into thin sheets and cut with the large soba bocho (soba knife).

5. Ikebukuro Tobu, Toshima-ku, Nishi-Ikebukuro 1-1-25

Japan’s largest depachika. Spend hours here and still not see it all. Also, several restaurants on the restaurant floors including a branch of Chinese iron chef, Chin Kenichi.

6. Ginza Matsuya, Chuo-ku, Ginza 3-8-1

The French bakery Maison Kayser is here.

7. Shibuya Tokyu Toyoko-ten, Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-24-1

Located just under the Shibuya station I love the affordable sushi at Uoriki, a sushi counter located near the fresh seafood section. The sake department here also does interesting tastings of small sake and shochu brands.

8. Shinjuku Odakyu, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku 1-1-3

Divided up between two buildings it may be tricky to see all of it but worth checking out. The breads at the Trois Gros bakery are tempting. There is also a Bic Camera for electronics located above the Odakyu annex.

9. Shinjuku Keio, Shinjuku-ku, Nishi-Shinjuku, 1-1-4

A branch of the French bakery Paul is here and the store often does interesting food shows on the upper floor with themes such as ekiben (famous bento boxes from local train stations around Japan) and regional food promotions.

10. Ikebukuro Seibu, Toshima-ku, Minami-Ikebukuro 1-28-1

In the Seibu department store is a branch of Loft, a shop filled with housewares.

OK, 11 best depachika in Tokyo!

11. Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi, Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Muromachi 1-4-1

Where do Tokyoites Shop for Food?

So where do Tokyoites do their grocery shopping? There are large supermarkets, like Ito Yokado, Daiei, or Seiyu (a subsidiary of Walmart) but these require a lot of space so are usually found a bit out of the city. There is an Ito Yokado a few stops from Tokyo station on the Tozai line at Kiba, definitely worth visiting if you are curious about a large Japanese supermarket. In the city there are smaller supermarket chains like Akafudado, Inageya or Queens Isetan. As well, there are discount supermarkets, my particular favorite is called OK. It is like a regular supermarket, just cheaper. These three types of supermarkets are good for one-stop shopping. I go to these shops when I am limited on time.

I round out my shopping at 100 (or 99) yen shops like Daiso or Lawson 100. Here I pick up sundries like dried shiso (yukari) and kitchen or tableware. These shops are everywhere (we live on top of one) so I usually end up going in at least once a day for one thing or another. Something to drink, an onigiri between meals, or some chips, these shops have a wide variety of products.

If time permits, I prefer shopping at shotengai, or shopping arcades. Small specialty shops for items like tofu, rice, seafood, produce, or tea. Here you’ll find freshly made tofu or you can have the fishmonger help you select seasonal seafood and have him filet it for you. I wrote a piece on shotengai for Metropolis magazine.

When I lived in Monzennakacho, very close to the city center I did most of my shopping at Ito Yokado and Akafudado. Not only a supermarket Ito Yokado sells almost anything else you would need for your home, similar to a Super Target in the USA. Akafudado is a smaller supermarket, but the shop in Monzennakacho also sold other items for home, etc. on the upper floors.

On Saturday mornings I would take my scooter a few minutes to Tsukiji Market and shop in the outer market. Tsukiji is ideal if looking for good quality kombu, katsuobushi, pickles, tea, and much more. If I am hosting a dinner party, Yamaya is good for getting wine and Hanamasa is great for discounted meat and vegetables.

For nihonshu and shochu there are several options including depachika or specialty shops like Hasegawa Saketen for nihonshu or Shochu Authority for shochu.

Our home near Kokubunji, in the Western suburbs of Tokyo, is close to a great discount supermarket called OK. Most of our shopping is done here because it is minutes from our home and the prices just can’t be beat. Shinji buys a lot of our seafood at Uoriki as he used to be a buyer for them.

I also love to shop at depachika, especially for prepared foods. I don’t like to fry at home so if I wanted to have some tempura with soba noodles I would pick up the tempura at depachika. Top quality seafood, meat, and produce are also available at depachika. While it can be expensive, some items will go on sale later in the day so if time permits, I like to poke my head into depachika before dinner. My favorite depachika are Isetan and Takashimaya.

There are many small chain supermarkets that vary from neighborhood to neighborhood. Names to look out for include Peacock, Tobu, or Tokyu. There are too many to list. Here is a list of supermarkets in Tokyo.

When I get a craving for Western products I usually go to Nissin (pronounced nishin) or Meidi-ya (pronounced meijiya).

If you are visiting Tokyo and would like to visit a large supermarket I suggest Ito Yokado near Kiba station on the Tozai line. Koto-ku, Kiba 1-5-30.

Here is a list of popular shotengai (shopping arcades) in Tokyo.

Here is my list of “gotta gets” at the supermarkets.

Here is Steve Trautlein’s article on International Supermarkets in Tokyo.

 

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