Japan's underground "depachika" markets

>>  Monday, February 04, 2013

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This is the tenth post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi AkasakaRokurinshaMikawa ZezankyoKaoriyaSushi SawadaSushi AokiStreet Food in TokyoOmotesando Koffee, and Ukai-tei.

I don't think I'll ever tire of visiting local supermarkets regardless of which country I am visiting.

There's something about a country's supermarket that really speaks volumes about the country's culture. I love roaming the produce aisle to see what's in season locally. I'm intrigued by the junk food that local residents enjoy. Heck, I even like paying with the local cash just so I get a sense of the currency. One of my favorite things to do when I lived in Japan over the summer in college was to shop at the local market and cook in my apartment. For some reason, I felt much less like a foreigner and much more like a local.

It was so fun.

I haven't lived in another country again since that 3-month stint in Japan, but I still love roaming supermarkets whenever I travel.

Here's a fun and surprising look at what I found as I roamed a fancy supermarket underneath a Japanese department store called Isetan, part of a larger underground food hall (the "depachika" - literally underneath the department store).
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Japan's underground markets are full of fun places to pick up a quick snack or lunch. Here's a simple set of sashimi that I picked up one evening for a simple dinner.
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Produce can feel extremely expensive, especially if it's stuff that's not local to Japan. Here, a single zucchini costs close to $3 USD (238 yen), while two medium sized tomatoes will run you $5 USD (479 yen).
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Matsutake mushrooms appear in the fall and are very expensive. Am I reading the package right? Does each package really cost 52,500 yen ($600 USD)??!!!
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Fresh wasabi root is a luxury that is hard to find in the US, especially in a US supermarket!
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Can you imagine paying over USD $10 for an apple? (1050yen each)
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Here's the kicker - 31,500yen (whaaat? $340 USD?) for a set of two gift cantaloupes. I seriously wonder who buys this stuff, and really, how good is that cantaloupe??
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It's also fascinating to look at the beef offerings at the market. Here we have Wagyu black beef selling for 5250yen per 100g. Whoaaaa . . . . that's like $500 a pound!!!
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This is grade A-5 Matsuzaka Wagyu, arguably the highest quality steak the world. A-5 is the highest rating possible, and many would argue that Matsuzaka beef is even better than Kobe beef (though most say that cows from the two areas are just different, but equal). This one goes for 10,500yen for 100g. Yep, we're talking $1000 a pound. This kind of explains the ridiculous prices we paid for Wagyu the two times we've had it in Japan.
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There are also many cuts of gorgeously marbled otoro (fatty tuna belly) for around 5000 yen (gulp, over $50 USD) and maguro (tuna) for about $20.

I could go on and on about the wonderful variety of bentos, prepared foods, and seafood that are available at these markets. It can be expensive, but it's still super fun to explore. I would highly recommend checking out a depachika while you're in Japan. The one at Isetan in Shijuku is awesome if you want to see crazy stuff like the ones I've posted above. They also have some of the best bakeries in the world selling beautiful pastries and lovely boxes cookies and such to bring back home.

Even if you can't get to Isetan, there are many department stores in Tokyo that have underground food halls in which you can roam. I often visited ones in Shibuya, Ginza, and Ikebukuro.

I personally find them to be super fun.

Just remember, Japanese people don't eat while walking, so definitely plan on finding a place to eat all your goodies once you pick them up. I actually just ate my sashimi back in my hotel room while waiting for Bryan to finish a work dinner, which was perfectly fine by me.

Tomorrow: Sukiyabashi Jiro - the final post of this series!

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