When I saw the basement food hall of the Bon Marche department store in Paris 10 years ago, I thought that I had died and gone to heaven. If a temple to food existed, then surely this was it.
Turns out, I haven’t seen anything yet.
Cut to the end of our morning visit to the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. After we’ve finished gorging ourselves on the visual feast of seafood, we wander back towards the Ginza. Our path of travel takes us right to the front door of the Mitsukoshi department store, one of the Ginza’s most glamorous stores.
We take the escalators to the clothing and accessories floors. M – like a few other men I know – has a relatively low tolerance threshold for inspecting fashion items so I suggest that we might both be happier in the basement.
He agrees without hesitation.
The displays are mesmerizing.
The only thing that stops me from taking more shots of the food offer is an advancing store attendant who politely, but very firmly, asks that I desist. So I do. I don’t want a scene in one of the Ginza’s finest stores. Or risk public humiliation for a few souvenir photos.
Of course, there are many other basement food halls in Tokyo as well as elsewhere in Japan. And while I am chastened by my experience of having been ticked off as a food papparazza in Mitsukoshi, I can still inspect – and buy – the wares.
This sight greets us across the tracks of Shinjuku station every morning.
Takashimaya has its origins in early nineteenth century Japan, when the first shop to sell kimonos opened in Kyoto. Today, Takashimaya is one of the largest department store chains worldwide. In addition to its Japanese stores, it has a presence in Singapore and Taiwan. For six days, we become two of its regular customers. Its name rolls off my tongue as if spoken by a local.
The Shinjuku store is no mean affair at 15 floors. It has everything you’d expect from an upmarket department store, including three restaurant floors.
And a basement food hall.
We’ve read in the Lonely Planet Guide that a good time to stock up on some of the freshest and most affordable sashimi is after 6 p.m. when prices are slashed and the crowds start to dissipate. Sashimi is not the only item that is discounted; we also find salads, chicken and pork skewers, and various other prepared foods at up to 30% off the regular price.
A sample of our discount take away dinners from Takashimaya. Note the little ice packs that are included with every food purchase to ensure maximum freshness between store and home.
After only a few days in Japan, we start to have cheese cravings. Dairy is not a natural feature of the Japanese diet, but you can get cheese at the department stores, even if some of it is rather on the expensive side. We do not find any discounted cheese. Ever.
A red cheddar from the bottom end of the price range.
This one is a little dearer and has been bought, together with a baguette, for breakfast on the onward journey to Yudanaka the following day.
Unfortunately, we forget to take it out of the fridge before checking out. As we await our shinkansen at Tokyo station, we mourn our loss and the prospect of a depleted breakfast.
From hereon in, we switch to locally made yogurt. It tastes good and is healthier, cheaper and more versatile.
Best of all, it’s still dairy.
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