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Plastic Food in Japan


Sweet Willie
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I found most restaurants do not have English menus, but many have displays of the food they serve in the window. Just go into the restaurant, come back out w/your waiter and point to what you want. While helpful to us, I found all the displays kind of ironic when Japanese patrons would look at them and comment. To clarify, I as most people in the U.S., have a very good picture in my head of what a hamburger, roast chicken, spaghetti, or any other typical meal will look like. Yet the Japanese would point and comment on the dishes displayed, even though every display at every restaurant looks like the same person put it together. If you're Japanese do you really need to see what a soba noodle dish looks like?!?!?! I personally found it funny.

An article in Saveur magazine (April/May 2003) answered my question as to why many Japanese restaurants have food model displays.

quote:

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Replica food was cooked up at least 80 years ago by Japanese restaurants hoping to introduce locals to an influx of dishes, from places like China and the US, that arrived on their shores when Japan relaxed its isolationist stance. Today more than 80% or restaurants in Japan display faux food….”

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80% seems slightly high to me, but it sure made ordering easy.

"I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be"
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80% sounds realy high to me too. I would estimate more at 50% at least in the area where I live. Most family restaurant (Denny's like) have given them up and now have menus with pictures of all the dishes.

I actually do find them useful when deciding on a restaurant, they seem to be the most common on restaurant floors of malls/department stores and it is fun to go around and look at them and you know that what you order will look EXACTLY like the model! :biggrin:

Although most people know what something like soba looks like, you can order say tanuki-soba at 10 different places and never be served the same one, everyone tries to make theirs stand out in some way.

No trip to Tokyo would be complete without a trip to Kappabashi to see all of the stores that make and sell those plastic food models, they are REALLY expensive!

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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some gorgeous pictures of food displays (interspersed with some real food):

http://fjordaan.redgecko.org/photos/2003_0...japan/food.html

Those are great photos! Thanks for sharing this! There are also photos of other edibles like Pocky and other packaged goods. Also vending machines, signage and lots of other neat stuff. What a find!

This is most fascinating:

Lucky eggs boiled in the sulphur pits at Owakudani (Hell's Valley), reputed to add a year to your life for every one eaten.
Gustatory illiterati in an illuminati land.
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80% sounds realy high to me too. I would estimate more at 50% at least in the area where I live. Most family restaurant (Denny's like) have given them up and now have menus with pictures of all the dishes.

I actually do find them useful when deciding on a restaurant, they seem to be the most common on restaurant floors of malls/department stores and it is fun to go around and look at them and you know that what you order will look EXACTLY like the model! :biggrin:

Although most people know what something like soba looks like, you can order say tanuki-soba at 10 different places and never be served the same one, everyone tries to make theirs stand out in some way.

No trip to Tokyo would be complete without a trip to Kappabashi to see all of the stores that make and sell those plastic food models, they are REALLY expensive!

I must have ended up in Kappabashi where I bought some replica food. It's expensive but I have to admit looks so real. They made good presents for friends and family (who are familiar with Japanese food).

The replica food is made to look like the real food and not the other way around. Diners know the portion size and the ingredients that will be in the dish.

Foodie_Penguin

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  • 7 months later...

A good friend of mine works for a Japanese company here in the states and had to go on her first business trip a few weeks ago. She knows I'm a sumo fan and diligently tried to find some sumo chotchkies for me (apparently sumo stuff is kinda hard to find). But the real treat was this little box she bought.

She could see the pictures on the box were various food items, but it was not until we opened it that we realized I received an entire set-up for Hot Pot! It had four portions, with four styles of food for each portion, a bowl of soup, an accompanying spoon, chopsticks, and a rest. And the whole set measures about 2 inches across!

So, searching the box, we discover the company's website: Weird Miniature Food Site. After plunking around (by clicking the first house on the left), I found some amazing pictures. Seems you can buy miniature grocery store items, fast food set-ups, and even European dishes like fondue, paella, squab, or charcroute!

But it is the miniature Japanese meals that have me completely entranced. My friend has instructions to help me try and complete my set, but I'm curious if those of you living in the country have seen them? I also got two miniature okonomiyaki which I thought of making into earrings, except they tend to look like cow patties...

I can take pictures of mine and the box it came in, if interested. But perhaps someone could translate the site and tell me how I can buy more!

Domo...

Edited to add -- the one I got is from this set - the bottom left-hand, four-sectioned pot.

Edited by Carolyn Tillie (log)
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That is so cool! I wish the site was in english so I could order some of that stuff. Now that the baby has his own play kitchen he needs something interesting to cook in it. Right now all he has is a plastic onion and some plastic peas. :sad:

Melissa

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I love those things! You can buy these at J-list. Look under "Japanese snacks and candy". They have tons of them, including pork katsu and fast food themes :smile: . I once got my brother a bunch of funny food-shaped erasers for his birthday and have ordered various things from them (including some very cute kiddie bento boxes). They are fast, cheap and very nice to deal with.

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  • 1 month later...

those of you fortunate enough to have dined in japan will be

familiar with the japanese custom of displaying amazingly

life-like plastic reproductions of the dishes being served

within. all i can find on the subject is that it's quite a thriving

business and can only be found in the Kappabashi area of the

city.

does anyone know the history of this practice...and/or

are these miniature scultptures available for purchase?

thanks

-michael

Ecce homo qui est farba

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Someone once told me that the idea of displaying dishes outside restaurants in Japan originated as a result of the language barriers of American soldiers after WWII. Don’t know if this is true.

Kappabashi is definitely a place to visit if you are in Tokyo. Great place for all varieties of kitchen supplies in addition to the wax food. Kappabashi guide

I am sure in this day of the Internet, there are probably some websites selling plastic/wax food as well.

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I have no idea of the history behind it and am too lazy to do a search now...

Kappabashi is definitely THE place to buy them, they aren't cheap though, they average in the $40 to $80 (and much much higher) range, though they do have smaller souvenir types like key holders and magnets.

I am sure there are some online sources in Japan, but I won't be on a computer that can read Japanese for another 2 weeks....

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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yes indeed. those are exactly what i was referring to

and a humble bow to petite tete de chou for providing

the link. i had no idea they were so expensive but i

should have figured on the japanese craftsmanship factor

to see some real artistry on something so seemingly

inelegant.

Ecce homo qui est farba

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<<snip>>

does anyone know the history of this practice...and/or

are these miniature scultptures available for purchase?

thanks

-michael

I can only answer the last part of your post. Yes, some (maybe all?) of the businesses do sell retail 'cos the last time I was in Japan (1999), my Mum (a Japanese speaker) and I popped over there and bought some wonderful replica pieces of sushi and some miso soup (we provided the bowl).

As someone else pointed out, items aren't cheap but they're a unique Japanese souvenir. It's really a marvel to see the replica food, identical in size and color to the real thing and made with such detail. Truly fascinating.

If non-natives want to go over to Kappabashi, I would strongly recommend going with a native Japanese speaker to assist.

Foodie Penguin

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  • 7 months later...

I regret to tell you that Japanese doll's clothes books often have instructions on how to make extremely miniature mini plastic foods :biggrin: .

Sylvanian Families books are particularly bad for this. All you ever wanted to know about how to make toy spaghetti from cotton thread and resin...

But I digress...this is far from Kappabashi...

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  • 9 months later...
  • 4 months later...

Even though my husband studied Japanese for a year before our trip - it is a difficult language - and his language skills were limited to essentials (where is this - that or the other thing) and pleasantries. Also - there are - if I recall correctly - 3 forms of written Japanese. Kanji (based on Chinese characters) is the most difficult - and it is also the one in which most menus are written. It really isn't posssible to learn Kanji in a short period of time.

So what came to our rescue repeatedly when dining was "plastic food". I am not sure why - but a very large percentage of restaurants in Japan have "plastic food" renditions of their menus in their windows. There are a fair number of stores which sell nothing but plastic food for restaurants.

I'm not sure why that's the case. It isn't for tourists (at least not western tourists). For example - we ate a restaurant named Edogawa. A well known eel restaurant in Kyoto on the top floor of a department store in the rail station. Not exactly a place where a lot of tourists wind up. But whatever the reason - plastic food is extremely useful.

Here is the plastic food rendition of what my husband ordered at Edogawa:

gallery_13301_251_47656.jpg

Looks good enough to eat :smile: . Robyn

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That second one is really interesting, gyoza bibimbap don. I have never seen that before.. How was it?

I love the plastic food and don't think I will ever become tired of seeing it.

It is definitely most common on the restaurant floors of shopping areas, it is nice to be a able to walk around and take a look at what the different places have to offer before making a decision of what restaurant to chose.

It is also amazing how similar the food actual looks to its plastic models.....

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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The dumplings were really excellent. And who can complain about a complete lunch for 830 yen (about $7)?

Here's a website for the place where the restaurant - Chao Chao - is located. It's part of the "market" at the aquarium - and - if this restaurant is any guide - this part of the market has terrific food for a "tourist attraction". Note that you can also get Kentucky Fried Chicken if that's your cup of tea :wink: .

By the way - we had a fair number of dumplings on our trip. Perhaps our special favorite was "take-out" dumplings from the Isetan department store in Kyoto (we had a couple of "take out" dinners from Isetan in our hotel room near the end of our stay - we were getting very very tired!). Picture to follow. Robyn

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I had a serious love for the plastic food when I lived in Japan. For one thing, it simplified ordering for me as I learned Japanese, and hense I felt more comfortable trying restaurants I normally would have balked at due to the language barrier. Once my knowledge Japanese language and food became more extensive, I used the plastic food to hunt out things I wanted to try.

And it IS truly remarkable how much the plastic food resembles the actual food you are served. Not at all like the food advertisment photographs here in the States that can rarely be relied on as an approximation of what you will actually be served.

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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