Japan's ritzy depato (department stores) don’t just give you the chance to obliterate your entire shopping list in one fell swoop, they also contain culinary delights. The in-house food halls – or depachika – are known for their comprehensive array of gorgeous sweets and confectionery, immaculately packaged food, ready-to-eat dishes and picture-perfect bento. These food-filled basements, which are often attached to train stations, allow you to cover the breadth and depth of Japanese cuisine and beyond in a few steps.
To walk into a depachika is to submit yourself to temptation – so take your time and keep your eye out for free food samples to taste before shelling out on an actual portion. Some depachika even have eat-in counters and sections dedicated to alcohol where you can indulge in sake and wine tastings. So really, a good depachika is more than a food court or grocery store; it is all your foodie dreams come true.
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You’ll really get an old school vibe while walking around this depachika. The iconic Takashimaya Nihombashi is set in one of Tokyo’s most historic neighbourhoods and its locale is reflected in the store’s classic interior design. For one, you’ll see that they still have attendants, complete with uniform and gloves, working each of their antique elevators. Once you get downstairs, you can shop for all your typical depachika finds, but the attentive service here really sets it apart from the competition.
Drool over Fauchon’s display of delectable baked goods, work out the courage to consume fugu (blowfish) at eat-in counter Shunpanro, or browse the fresh food section for picture-perfect produce, including luscious seasonal fruits, approximately 20 types of tomatoes and some of the freshest seafood in town.
Don’t miss... The annex area will lead you to the newly opened Takashimaya SC where there is another basement level of hip eateries and takeaway shops serving up Japanese and international cuisines. Go to Greenbowl for healthy salads and wraps, or if you’re craving spicy food, the curry plates at Hatonomori should satisfy. The best part is, some of the eateries in the new building are open from 7.30am on weekdays – perfect for breakfast.
Conveniently attached to the bustling Tokyo Station, Daimaru is understandably one of the busiest depachika in the city as it sees constant foot traffic from peckish commuters. Heading out of town on the shinkansen? Stop by to pick up a bento for the journey. You’ll have no shortage of options to pick from since Daimaru’s Bento Street offers a staggering selection of approximately 1,000 types of bento. What’s more, most of the food stations here actually have onsite kitchens behind the shop counters, so you know you’re getting the freshest bento possible. Oh, just be wary of long queues – you’ve got a train to catch.
Don’t miss... ‘Depachika’ is actually a portmanteau of ‘depato’ for department store and ‘chika’ meaning basement, but Daimaru is the first depachika with a ground floor level. Here, you’ll find a selection of perfectly packaged sweets and gifts including the overwhelmingly popular NYC Sand cookies, and nutty treats from Noix, which can only be found at this particular store.
Taking over both the B2 and B3 levels of this flashy Ginza department store, Mitsukoshi features an entire floor dedicated to ready-made food, Japanese and Western sweets and baked goods. B3, on the other hand, features the in-house supermarket, where among the regulars of ingredients, wine and liquor you’ll find one of the city’s most impressive cheese counters and flawless Japanese fruit with prices to make your eyes water. In a neat touch, Ginza Mitsukoshi has refrigerated coin lockers – so you can store all your perishable goods while you continue to shop around the department store above.
Don’t miss... Jean-Paul Hévin. This French chocolatier is contained inside a temperature-controlled glass cube on B2 to make sure all its chocolates are kept at the right centigrade for optimum taste and quality.
Connected to the east exit of Shibuya Station, the sprawling Tokyu Food Show in the Tokyu Department Store is a regular hound for the Shibuya crowd clamouring over its commendable food selection, especially the rotating feature of speciality food stands from other parts of Japan. There’s also a Vietnamese banh mi stand, plus plenty of other international food options such as Spanish and Italian in case you’re not feeling like Japanese.
Unlike most depachika, Tokyu Food Show has a designated area for you to enjoy your purchased food. You’ll find a few standing counters at the Shibuya Stand area at the west side of the depachika; conveniently enough, they even feature hooks for you to hang your bags.
Don’t miss... Pariya gelato shop’s huge glass counter is a colourful display of mouth-watering flavours. You don’t need to pick just one: you’ll get a small spoonful of an additional flavour for free on top of your cone or cup order.
Located in the flagship Isetan Shinjuku, this basement food market is well-organised and easy to navigate: you can clearly see where one section ends and another begins. It is one of Tokyo’s posher depachika and home to Café Prunier Paris, where you can rest your feet while savouring fine caviar and champagne. The fresh market area features tasting counters for you to try everything from ham and sausages to Japanese oden.
Don’t miss... The Kitchen Stage is a dedicated area featuring guest chefs from restaurants around Tokyo; there are the occasional food demonstrations here, too. Aside from the open kitchen where you can watch the chefs at work, they have comfortable seating where you can enjoy the wonders of their creation.
The biggest depachika in Tokyo, Ikebukuro Tobu’s food hall sure makes an impact with more than 200 outlets (that’s on top of the department store’s staggering 60 restaurants and cafés). You’ll want to set aside some time to make your way through the food hall which is divided into two floors: the first basement floor is home to tea and liquor shops, chocolatiers, bakeries and fancy packaged desserts, whereas the second basement floor sports the fresh food section, a deli and inviting eat-in counters.
Don’t miss... The tendon (tempura rice bowl) at Ginza Tenichi. Located on the second basement level, this eat-in counter is an offshoot of the popular restaurant known for their tempura dishes since the 1930s.
For steep discounts, head to a depachika about 30 minutes to an hour before closing. Most ready-to-eat food items will be discounted to clear.
Talk to the depachika concierge – yes, that’s a thing – who will inform you of any special events at the department store including pop-ups and limited items from different prefectures around Japan.
Enjoy the eat-in counters and tasting bars at each depachika. Don’t forget to try the free samples that are offered at the food counters as well.
Find the rooftops. Many department stores which have a depachika also feature a rooftop or terrace where you can take your food out to enjoy with a view.
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