Going Underground: Department Store Food Halls

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is a food lover's paradise. Home to a 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:

• 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

• 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!

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Have you ever visited a depachika?

Related: Tsukiji Fish Market

(Images: Nora Maynard)

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Nora Maynard is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her recent work has appeared in Salon, Drunken Boat, and The Millions. She recently completed her ninth marathon and her first novel, Burnt Hill Road. Nora wrote for The Kitchn from 2006 to 2011.