Perfect for souvenirs! Recommendations from the depachika
In Japan, the food floors in the basement areas of department stores are called "depachika." Japan is a country full of gourmands, so the depachika always has the best food on offer. Here are some recommendations of what to get at the depachika, from food prepared with attention to quality and the latest gourmet trends to limited products you can't find anywhere else.
There's a full line-up of wagashi
When you go to a depachika, first you should go to the wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) corner. In the depachika, storefronts are organized by genre, so you won't get lost. You can find well-established shops like Toraya, Taneya, and Bankaku Souhonpo (famous for shrimp crackers), so the real pleasure of the depachika is being able to compare all of the wagashi at once! Each store's showcase changes depending on the season, including the colorful daifuku (mochi rice cake filled with sweet bean paste), youkan (sweet bean jelly), castella (sponge cake), mamekashi (treats made with nuts), senbei (rice crackers) and more. For items you can take home as souvenirs, castella and senbei are recommended since they don't have high moisture contents and will keep longer. Recently karintou (dough cake fried until crispy) is a wagashi that has gained a lot of attention thanks to its wide variety of flavors.
You can enjoy a wide variety of sweets
Next you should check out the non-wagashi sweets. There are famous Japanese brands like YOKU MOKU and KIHACHI, but also internationally famous brands like Godiva, Pierre Herme Paris, and Demel. Depachika are on top of all the trends, so every brand that becomes a hot topic is introduced very quickly, so you'll definitely be able to enjoy the latest popular sweets! They have a huge line-up of sweets that you'll be enraptured with, including cakes, roll cakes, and chocolates. You'll definitely be at a loss over what to buy, so make sure to take your time and think it over. Consider YOKU MOKU's Cigare as a souvenir, as the baked treat is quite popular.
There are chances to try samples in the depachika. If you see someone handing out bite-sized samples of sweets or side dishes on a toothpick, why not try it?
You can taste local specialties and famous brands
While all department stores have depachika, each depachika has its own local flavor.
For example, a Kyoto depachika will have plenty of stores offering pickles or sweets made with matcha, while a Kyushu depachika will have various brands offering mentaiko (salted and spiced walleye pollack roe). In Osaka you can find the famous butaman (pork bun) from 551 Horai, in Tokyo the standard souvenir is mille-feuille from Berne, in Hokkaido it's Rokkatei's Marusei Butter Sandwich, etc. Local brands definitely have big outposts in their local depachika! Definitely look for the local specialty while you're there!
You can buy limited-edition products
Another plus to shopping at the depachika is the availability of limited-edition products. At depachika there is usually an event space where limited-edition pop-up shops are usually opened. For example, there are standard events such as a Hokkaido Specialties Fair or a Bread Fair. The shops can change weekly, and some of them are only available for a weekend! You should definitely take a look as you'll find delicious products that you may not be able to get elsewhere. Also, there are products like Glico's Baton D'or, their high-class version of Pocky, at some department stores in Osaka and Kyoto, so you might be able to find items like that as well!
You can find a line-up of ingredients from domestic to international
One great thing about the depachika is that they offer not just Japanese ingredients but ingredients from around the world. There are stores in the depachika offering local specialties, but also imported products from around the world. Also, there are stores specializing in Japanese ingredients like nori (a type of seaweed), tsukudani (preserved food boiled in soy), miso, umeboshi (pickled plum), tofu, tea, and more. However, there are also stores specializing in non-Japanese products like cheese, ham, sausage, kimchi, and more as well. Depending on the department store, the products and stores available are different, but if you go to one that's fully loaded then you'll definitely find products you want! It would be good to buy snacks and cheese to eat while you drink during your stay. Maybe consider buying products like tea, miso, or umeboshi as souvenirs as well.
*Photo is for illustration purposes.
They have plenty of liquor, from Japanese sake to wine
Most depachika have liquor stores in them. Here you can find Japanese sake, shochu (liquor made from potatoes), awamori (Okinawan liquor), liqueurs, and beer. Of course you can find Japanese products, but there's also a wide variety of international liquors including wine. You can get advice from wine sommeliers and some places will let you taste-test before buying. Definitely check it out! Why not buy sake or shochu as a souvenir?
*Photo is for illustration purposes.
You can buy carefully selected perishable foods
If you visit the depachika, make sure to go to the perishable food corner. It's standard for there to be stores specializing in fruits, vegetables, fresh seafood, meat, and more. Since it's raw, we can't recommend it as a souvenir, but there are many products that you might have never seen before so you may be surprised. The fruits are easy to eat, so it would be good to buy it and eat it during your stay so you can compare it with the taste of the fruit in your country. Definitely check it out. If they have it, we recommend trying the fresh fruit juice.
*Photo is for illustration purposes.
They have plenty of food prepared for take-out
In depachika, usually near where the sweets are lined up, there is a corner made for side dishes and bento boxes available for take-out. They're reasonably priced, so you can buy the amount that you like of salads and all sorts of international cuisine including Indian curry and Thai food! You can also buy Japanese food for take-out like sushi, tempura, and even grilled eel. Why not pick up food that you like from the take-out corner at a depachika at least once during your stay? There will definitely be at least 1 or 2 bakeries. Definitely check those out too. There are also stores selling grilled items like takoyaki to order, and you can buy those freshly made.
There are also cafes where you can eat-in
Finally, depending on the depachika, there may be cafes or eat-in corners. There are places where there are actual restaurants, but since you've come to the depachika, why not go for the simple eat-in corner to eat the meals that you bought? You can enjoy various meals at the counter seats like sushi or ochazuke (rice and other ingredients with tea poured over it). Please check before you go. Since depachika are always in places with great access, you can try it out as a meal in the middle of sightseeing.
Depachika are fun just to look at but it's also a perfect place to explore Japanese food culture and buy souvenirs and food. Definitely find your own way to enjoy them!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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