Nowhere is the age-old adage "you eat with your eyes" more true than in Japan.
When approaching a Japanese restaurant, you may see a window display of the delicious food served inside even before walking in. Surprisingly, it isn’t freshly-made food left out to entice you -- it's actually model food!
Model food, or shokuhin sampuru, has a long tradition in Japan. While stories vary about when the first display foods were created, it can generally be traced to between 1917 and 1932, around when the number of restaurants in Japan began exploding during the Taisho and early Showa eras.
While having actual food items out on display would be wasteful and lead to spoilage, wax and resin display foods offered a way for restaurants to show off their food and invite customers into the store.
While one may assume that model foods are mass-produced and widely sold, a great many are actually custom-ordered and made to replicate the actual
dishes as closely as possible. This service does not come cheap, though, and bespoke model food creations can easily cost more than $500 USD.
The art of making model food has become so popular that there are even shopping districts in Japan that specialize in model foods and cooking supplies. One such place to visit is the Kappabashi-dori shopping district in Tokyo. Located near Asakusa, this shopping street sells everything a professional or home chef could want, including many model foods. Not to be outdone, Doguyasuji in Osaka is another well-known hub for everything kitchen-related in Japan.
Regardless of which shopping district you visit, chances are you’ll be able to
find a delicious-looking souvenir that will keep your stomach rumbling and your eyes pleased.
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