Kick your shopping game up a notch by visiting a depachika, Japan’s underground gourmet wonderland.
Are you a foodie who’s willing to go the extra mile for the perfect cut of meat, slice of cake or cup of tea? Are you willing to brave winter storms to get your hands on the rarest and tastiest treats? If you’re in Japan, you’re in luck, because you can head straight for the wonderful underground world of depachika (デパ地下). Literally a contraction of the words for “department store” and “basement,” depachika are fashionable underground food utopias, usually housed in the basements of mid-to high-end department stores. These impeccably designed wonderlands feature hundreds of regional delicacies and seasonal goods, which are artfully displayed in a brightly lit maze of food stations. Depachika are sometimes linked directly with a city’s main subway stations, so you can do your gourmet shopping safely tucked away from the sleet and snow.
You can find a smorgasbord of delicatessen-style foods, from freshly fried pot-stickers to plump German brats or beautifully arranged bento boxes. Each station features squeaky-clean, shiny displays and courteous, uniformed staff, and if the visual appeal isn’t enough, the delicious smells will be sure to draw you in. Not sure what you want? No worries, many of the stations offer samples. You can also buy a rare bottle of sake or limited-edition beer to go with your delicious meal. If you’re more in the mood for sweets, choose from hundreds of varieties of delicious pastries, cakes and candies. Japanese sweets are a far cry from the sugar bombs you find here at home, and ’tis the season for the famous Christmas cake, a modern tradition in Japan, where Christmas Eve is celebrated as a romantic couples’ holiday. Depachika sweets pair perfectly with a steamy cup of tea, also available in many varieties. You can also buy omiyage (or souvenirs) for your friends or family, like traditional Japanese sweets or top-grade green tea powder. And for international tourists, depachika help you fill out your duty-free paperwork as soon as you buy. Sweets are a great gift to bring back to your friends in Canada, but they also make a lovely gesture when someone invites you over to their house while you’re travelling in Japan.
If you’re seeking something healthier, you can also get some of Japan’s famous fruits, including giant Muscat grapes, square watermelons and muskmelons that can cost more than $100 each. If you’re looking to have a date night in, depachika are also great places to pick up ingredients for a gourmet dinner, including prime cut steaks. But if your main purpose is to get out of the house, after you’ve had your fill of the depachika you can hop on the elevator and have a white-gloved attendant escort you up to the department store’s upper floors, where you can shop to your heart’s content.
Know your underground eating etiquette
Samples are a great way to try new and exotic foods without committing to a whole meal.
Do NOT go short on patience
Even if you’re light on cash, depachika are a visual feast, so go ahead, enjoy all the eye candy.
Illustrations by Chieko Watanabe