Back in March (whew, that long ago already??), I took my mom to visit Tokyo after one of her visits to our home here in Kyushu. We were meeting up with good friend and foodie extraordinaire Courtney (of Washoku Wednesday fame) and of course, we knew that our afternoon really needed to have some sort of edible adventure in it. I had been in contact with Yukari Sakamoto of Food Sake Tokyo for quite a few months prior to our trip and it seemed the perfect time to officially try out her depachika tour.
Depachika are department store food halls, found on the basement levels of popular department stores like Mitsukoshi in Ginza and Isetan in Shinjuku. Yukari is the perfect person to lead you through these food paradises as she once worked in a depachika, one of the only Japanese-Americans to ever hold such a position. She has also been a chef and is a restaurant critic/reviewer for several publications both in Japan and abroad. Her husband Shinji leads tours as well and his past experience as a buyer at Tsukiji Market means a wealth of unique information shared with tour participants.
I am rather familiar with depachika, having spent an inordinate amount of time wandering through them (and salivating …) while I lived in Tokyo. So to give me a better chance to explore other food-related shops in the Ginza area, we also tacked on visits to several satellite or antenna shops. These are individual shops run by the various prefectures (ie Hokkaido, Niigata, Yamagata, Kumamoto) where shoppers can both sample and purchase local specialties from each specific region, like certain pickles, miso, sake, vegetables and various curries and snacks. I had an incredibly nostalgic wander through the Okinawan antenna shop, eating pieces of sata andagi and sucking down shikuwasa juice (I miss me some shikuwasa juice). Yukari was a fount of knowledge, pointing out the different types of miso and their various preparations and going into detail on some of the Yamagata specialties. Courtney and I quizzed her on vegetables we could recognize and we all sprang for some goodies to take home. All in all, we spent about an hour or a little more exploring the antenna shops in Yurakucho and Ginza before moving on to Mitsukoshi’s depachika.
I consider this my “home” depachika, as it was to Mitsukoshi I would always come from my apartment in nearby Shimbashi. If you have never visited a depachika, they are a must. Graced with food stalls all offering drool-inducing cuisine impeccably presented, you could eat three meals a day here for a month and still not try everything. While admittedly I already knew a number of the things Yukari pointed out (ie the square melons used as gifts), I did learn some notes on how to read package labels and got a whole tutorial on seasonal sweets. I also never realized that most of the food stalls in depachika are branches of famous restaurants around the city and it’s a competitive honor for them to be there. So if, for example, you can’t make it to the city’s premier tonkatsu (breaded pork) eatery, you’ll get top quality takeaway at their booth here.
A tour with Food Sake Tokyo is an investment but one that foodies – especially serious ones – should highly consider. Depachika are worth a wander on their own at any time (and multiple repeat visits, of course) but coming with Yukari is like bringing along your friend … who just happens to have encyclopedic knowledge on Japanese cuisine.