Eating in Japan is one of my favourite things to do. Wherever you eat the food is good. Even in the convenience stores. In fact, convenience store onigiri and arabiki sausage on a stick are some of the things I yearn for when I think about Japan. Something I worked out quite quickly on our first trip was that every large department store has at least one, if not two floors of restaurants. These are almost always located on the top floors. In large cities, usually floors 7 and 8. There is always a confusingly good selection of restaurants to choose from. In addition, there is usually a basement floor which is like a market hall. This is called the depato-chika. Or department store basement.
Most shopping malls also have food courts. The restaurant floors are different. They are designed so that people waiting for a table may queue along the front of each place, while sitting. The restaurants can be anything from a burger joint to a high end place. They are all sit down restaurants and usually they are licensed. The menu is displayed at the front entrance. In Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and other large cities like Nagoya, the menu will almost always have an English translation. If there is not one displayed they probably have one inside. The window will have wax models of the food. I find this really helpful when choosing where to eat. It gives you an indication of the size of the dish, as well as what it contains. The prices are displayed alongside the dish. Even the drinks and desserts are immortalised in wax. The “fake” food, the wax models makes it pretty easy to decipher the menu. In a bind you can always order by pointing to the dish you want in the display window.
My favourite restaurant floor in Tokyo is in Lumine Est in Shinjuku. This was where we ate on our very first night in Tokyo and always try to get back here at least once every trip. ABC Canteen is my favourite restaurant. It is located on floor 7 and serves healthy and delicious versions of classic Japanese donburri (rice bowl dish). They do an excellent Taco Rice. A fusion dish from Okinawa which is a staple in our home. The restaurants here are popular and busy. Lumine Est calls these floors “7 & 8 Dinner”.
In the depato-chika you can find pre-packaged and ready to eat food. You can have it heated while you wait. Sometimes there is also a supermarket. Many places have different food counters in the centre of the floor and then specialty products, like sake and high-end groceries around the perimeter. You can sit and eat at a few of the counters. Usually only seating for three or four people, and often at counters where they are making unagi (eel) or other more expensive specialties.
There are no tables and chairs in this area, apart from the occasional sit or stand counter. These foods are designed to take home to eat. It is bad etiquette to eat this food while loitering around, unless you sit in a park and have a picnic. Japanese do not tend to eat and walk. They also frown upon eating on the train. Unless it is a bullet train. It is then expected you will eat which is why they provide trays on the back of the seats. More about that in the next blog. The foods you can find in the basement include yakitori and kushikatsu skewers, amazing salads, katsu sando (pork cutlet sandwich), onigiri, fruit salad, tempura and many other delights. The food is really delicious. Many of the items are paid by weight. You can fill your container with whatever you like, buffet style. My favourite food market hall, by far, is Daimaru. The food is delicious. The selection is extensive. The cakes are mouth-wateringly magnificent.
Talking about all this delicious food is making me hungry and making me miss Japan. Next I will write about eki-ben (train bento) and then kombini (convenience) food. YUM 😋