bustling fish market with ultra-fresh, affordable sushi; tiny kiosks selling sizzling hot yakitori (grilled chicken skewers); and 7-Elevens offering onigiri (seasoned rice balls wrapped in nori), the city's streets are an easy place for a visitor to find a fast, fresh meal. But venture down a flight of stairs or two and you'll discover that an important part of the city's food culture is hidden well below street level... ...in depachika - the basement gourmet food halls of major department stores. On a trip to Tokyo earlier this month, I visited one such food hall - at Matsuzakaya department store, in the Ginza district of Tokyo. I stopped by on a Monday morning, just before the lunchtime rush, and took a look around. The place was filled with individual vendor stalls selling everything from beautifully packaged rice crackers, to imported chocolates, to freshly packed bento box lunches, exquisite teas, and a dazzling array of fresh pastries. I didn't know where to start. I zeroed in on the grocery store occupying a large corner of the floor, and began to explore: TOP ROW • 1 Entering the food hall at Tokyo's Matsuzakaya department store in Ginza. Vendors call out "Irrashaimase" or "Welcome" as customers pass. • 2 Wine, sake, and a counter devoted to European deli foods • 3 Inside the grocery store: Mayonnaise (including the iconic Kewpie) on display • 4 Pricey gift boxes of cherries (3,150 yen is roughly equivalent to 32 U.S. dollars!) • 5 More fancy fruit BOTTOM ROW • 6 A grocery store section devoted to salt • 7 Assorted varieties of Asian mushrooms • 8 Bundles of shiso leaves • 9 Points for presentation: A sushi lunchbox garnished with parsley and aster flowers • 10 So much to choose from!
Have you ever visited a depachika? Related: Tsukiji Fish Market (Images: Nora Maynard)