Simply put, a depachika is a Japanese food hall – but confuse it with the average grocery store at your peril. Usually found within Japanese department stores, depachikas are carefully curated tributes to Japan’s finest foods: the best cuts of meat, beautiful cakes, rare bottles of sake and gift-wrapped fruit baskets. Hungry? Here's everything you need to know:
They’ve now become more mainstream, but there’s still a huge emphasis on fine foods and breathtakingly beautiful displays. You’ll also find (albeit elaborate) bento boxes, salads and appetisers designed for hungry office workers. Many department stores also have roof gardens that are perfect for alfresco lunches.
And beyond those doors? Towers of rainbow-hued cakes, ribbon-adorned fruit baskets and yokan: colourful cubes of bean paste, decorated with images of cherry blossoms and sunsets.
Those with a sweet tooth should head to the patisserie section. Staples are miniature cakes shaped like Hello Kitty, and tiny, shiny domes of jelly (the ones made from white peach juice are especially popular).
If you’re shopping for friends back home, opt for the the small, fish-shaped taiyaki biscuits, which are symbolic of good luck. Like many of the items, they’re individually packaged. Mix and match them with other purchases to create a bespoke gift box.
Expect elaborate and colourful displays of the chocolate bar, and a mind-blowing variety of flavours. Give in to temptation and your purchases will be lovingly gift-wrapped and placed in a miniature freezer bag, complete with a tiny ice pack and instructions about how to care for your purchase.
Feeling hungry? There’s no shortage of samples. You’ll have most luck in the patisserie areas, although the sheer variety of Kit Kats means that Kit Kat concession staff are usually especially keen to convince you to try the latest weird and wonderful creation.
The one at Daimaru Tokyo, inside the city’s main station, has a large Kit Kat concession. Osaka’s Hanshin department store is worth a visit simply to check out the enormous meat and fish departments – although they’re probably not for the squeamish.
Elsewhere, the UK’s first depachika will open at the Japan Centre on London’s Panton Street. Chopsticks at the ready...
Explore more of Japan with The Rough Guide to Japan. Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. Header image: Atiwat Witthayanurut/Shutterstock.