The Plastic Food District
I've always been fascinated by the plastic food that every Japanese restaurant (whether in Japan or the U.S.!) displays outside. Ever since my first trip to Tokyo, I've been trying to acquire some more lovely pieces of this art. On my last trip to Japan, I had heard that there was a "plastic food district" in Tokyo where the plastic food comes from, but hadn't found out exactly where it was or had time to go... So on this trip, I was determined to make it!
|It turns out the plastic food district is really the kitchen equipment district, Kappabashi. Pretty much anything that you might need to start and furnish a restaurant can be had here, from pots and pans to silverware.
My favorite store (not shown) sold the little curtains that have the Kanji characters for the type of restaurant you are -- sushi shop, tempura restaurant, udon shop, etc. -- and those curtains were the only thing that shop sold.
|Just so that those foreigners trying to stock up on restaurant supplies while in Tokyo won't be confused, a large sign in English over the sidewalk as you enter proclaims, "Kappabashi -- Tokyo's only kitchenware and restaurant supply district." I immediately wondered, "Did there used to be two?"
I wandered up the main street of Kappabashi looking for plastic food stores, and saw only kitchenware, silverware, china, restaurant furniture, kitchenware, and on and on. I got all the way to the end of the street, and was beginning to be pretty worried about not finding my precious plastic food when I turned around and came back down the other sidewalk on that street. It turns out my fears were groundless; it's simply that all the plastic food stores are on the right side of the street, and there are none on the left.
|This is the first piece of plastic food I ever got, a totally convincing heap of fried rice. I've taken to leaving at least one of my pieces of plastic food out -- first-time visitors to the house pretty much always give me a funny look when they see fried rice or a broiled fish sitting around. This and the beautiful broiled fish shown at the top of the page were both gifts that my friend Mark Friedman got me before I got back to Tokyo.
|So when I finally found the plastic food stores and was browsing around aside, I was contemplating this gyu-don (beef bowl -- something which I had just eaten for the first time) when the shopkeeper came up and said in his finest English, "Beef bowl!" I nodded studiously, frowned in deep contemplation, and finally replied in Japanese, "Yes, I'll take it please." It took some time to convince him that the random American tourist (me) really wanted to buy the plastic food (gyu-don) -- I gather not too many tourists stop by to brush up the plastic food collection yet.
|My other purchase on this trip was the really well-done shrimp tempura at right. One of the things I learned on this trip is that to make plastic food for high-end restaurants, the chef will actually prepare the dish, the courier will dash it over to Kappabashi, and they'll cast the actual food to make the mold for the plastic version to put in the window (all the plastic food is hand-cast and hand-colored). Now that's Japanese!
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|© 1998 Leo Hourvitz