Depachika – the food halls of Japan

Now, if there is one peice of advice I can give to any traveller visiting Japan – it’s to dedicate at least one meal to the food halls found in department stores of Japan.  Otherwise known as depachika, you can often find absolutely delicious food to take home and eat.  It doesn’t matter if you want a simple sandwich, an intricately made cake, or some fine tea, you will find something you like in a depachika.

I have many happy memories doing this over the years, including once going with my brother as we had after dinner munchies.  We ended up buying half a dozen katsu or korokke items, a tub of Godiva chocolate ice cream, a couple of creme caramels, and we also stopped off the local konbini (convenient store) to buy some beer.  Needless to say, we didn’t finish all our goodies, and we ended up eating some cold korokkes for breakfast the next day!

Some depachikas are better than others, but if you stick to the major department stores in the big city areas, you’ll be alright.  As I stayed in the heart of Shinjuku, my favourite depachika to go nuts in is Isetan.

Following the Japanese obsession with European food, Isetan houses quite a few big brand food names, including Pierre Herme, Jean Paul Hevin, Henri le Roux, and Henry Charpantier.  There were also other favourites of mine including Hollandische Kakao-Stube and Fukusaya.

After one particularly tiring day out and about, I headed to Isetan to buy dinner.  Yes, this was all just for me.  Did I finish it all?  Not quite!  I got a salad from one of the deli’s, a couple of macarons from Henri Charpantier, and a few caramels and a caramel tart from Henri le Roux, a little creme caramel, and some other bits which I will go into further detail below.

Depachika degustation dinner - Isetan, Shinjuku

These are my all time favourite depachika dumplings.  They’re teeny little flat dumplings with a bit of pork mince and super fine cabbage inside, seasoned with a healthy dose of pepper and ginger to give it some omph.  I always like to eat them while they are fresh as the skin is nice and crunchy.  I love these little things!

Teeny dumplings - Isetan, Shinjuku

I also got an Ispahan macaron from Pierre Herme.  This is the famous macaron from this well known macaron store from France.  As I was doing a macaron test for several places, I thought I’d just jump to the Ispahan to see what it was like.  The macaron shell was nice and almond-y and quite sweet.  However the fresh raspberries cut through the sweetness which was a good balance.  Right in the middle of the macaron was a fresh lychee which was a good surprise.  Unfortunately the lychee cream that sandwiched the macaron together was honestly disgusting.  It was heavy and thick, and tasted fatty with butter.  It was horrid.  I didn’t enjoy this at all 😦

Pierre Homme 'Ispahan' macaron

Now, I’ve found my all time favourite korokkes in the world.  And it is from this little stall in Isetan.  This is the third time I’ve eaten them, after losing them on a previous trip (I visited so many depachikas that they all kind of merged into one big messy map in my head).  Korokke are basically croquettes, but they come in all sorts of flavours.  Crab cream, sukiyaki, corn, curry, prawn, and my favourite – Kobe beef.  The filling is so light and fluffy, and the teeny bits of marinated Kobe beef is simply devine.  And they only cost around ¥200.  Bargain!

Kobe beef korokke

Yummm, this one even had a bit of stew in it and was sprinkled in fresh herbs….

Kobe Beef korokke - after a bite!!

Taking a shinkansen ride during lunch time?  Not sure what to eat?  Not to worry, just bring a packed lunch from a depachika!!!  When we took a shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto to visit Mr Ana’s aunt and uncle, we bought a few bits and peices from a depachika.  My favourite was a garden salad jam packed full of mushrooms.  The ginger soy dressing went well with the salad – admittedly, I do give my salads a bit of a drenching…

Lunch for shinkansen

I also had a grilled steak bento box.  The smell from the store was enticing so I bought one.  While the steak was juicy and delicious, the sides were boring.  Luckily I had my yummy salad with me.

Grilled beef bento box

Mr Ana lashed out and bought a wagyu beef bento box – the premium of bento boxes.  I didn’t even get to taste it, however Mr Ana assures me that it was perfectly grilled and not too fatty.  The sides in his bento box were better as well.

Wagyu beef bento box

Often food festivals are held in depachikas, and we’ve attended a few.  The most recent one we attended was a Hokkaido festival in one of the Shinjuku depachikas.  It was noisy and busy, and there were lines everywhere!  Mr Ana had a beautiful chirashi sushi with Hokkaido scallops, and I ate a delicious rice bowl topped with charcoal grilled Hokkaido pork. mmmmmmmmm…  As I had some space left for dessert, I bought a cream puff with fresh Hokkaido cream in it.  I waited in line for over 10 minutes and it was the BEST cream puff I have ever eaten.

Choux creme with Hokkaido milk

So give it a go the next time you’re in Japan, you won’t regret it!  If you’re not sure which place buy from, just go to the bigger depachikas and follow the crowds – you’ll see very quickly which are the more popular places to buy from!

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