Experience the Japanese Craft of Making Fake Food at Kappabashi, Asakusa
Do you know about Japan’s “fake food” that’s been gathering attention locally and abroad? Usually made by hand, this elaborate and delicate craft is a part of Japan’s culture. In this article, we’ll be participating in the fake food crafting workshop at Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya, which is located in Kappabashi, Asakusa – an area that still retains the nostalgic atmosphere of old Japan.
Mar 09 2018 (Jan 06 2020)
Make Fake Food at Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya!
Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya Kappabashi Branch is a respected, long-established store with a history of 85 years. It is located in Kappabashi Street, which is known as Japan’s biggest shopping street that’s dedicated to cookery. Its fake food display, as well as its sushi and soft-serve ice-cream menus, make it extremely easy to spot.
Let's Make Fake Food!
We’ll be using wax, which was the main “ingredient” used in the past. Nowadays, vinyl resin and silicone are more commonly used. By freely shaping the wax in warm water, we’ll attempt to make shrimp tempura (a Japanese dish that involves dipping ingredients into a batter made of wheat flour and water, and then deep-frying it until crunchy) and lettuce. Keep the techniques and history behind fake food in mind when doing this!
*Those who find it difficult to communicate in Japanese will need to be accompanied by an interpreter.
*You need to book in advance, as the store normally does not allow same-day reservations.
1. Choose the ingredients that you'd like to turn into tempura
First, pick which ingredients you’ll want to turn into tempura. There are seven ingredients for you to pick from: shrimp, pumpkin, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, bell pepper, eggplants, and lotus root. Choose any two that you like! It is recommended to choose different ones, as that looks better on a plate. If you really can’t decide, we recommend shrimp.
2. Watch and learn from the staff
Many first-timers are worried about messing up, as it’ll be their first time. However, all they have to do is watch the staff, who will thoroughly teach them what to do.
Other people may also be participating in the workshop. To ensure that everyone can successfully make fake food, please try to stay as quiet as possible.
3. Create the tempura batter
First, we’ll be making the important batter (made of wheat flour and water). Since the wax is rather hot, make sure to grab the top of the cup. Drizzle it down to the warm water from a height of around 60cm. To make it fluffy, try to fill in the gaps while imagining a square shape. Always be wary of your arms, since they tend to drop as you get more tired.
4. Put the batter on the shrimp
Next up is putting the batter on the shrimp. Lay the shrimp on the batter, making sure that its tail slightly extends past it. Next, grab the tail with your fingers and gently turn it, slightly submerging everything into the water. If you think the batter’s a little too thick, use your nails to reshape it while it’s submerged. However, you absolutely must not touch the surface too much, or you’ll ruin it! Finally, under cold water, shape it so that it curls together.
5. Your shrimp tempura is complete!
With that, you've successfully made shrimp tempura!
Depending on the ingredients you choose, you may get a different shape – such as elliptical or square – and you may have to drizzle the batter in a different way. However, the process from there is generally the same!
Let's try making the lettuce next! Just like the tempura, observe the staff first to see how it's supposed to be done.
6. Creating the lettuce core
For making lettuce, you’ll need to use two different-colored waxes. To create the root, scoop out 30ml of white wax (around one scoop) with a ladle and pour it in. After slightly stretching it, continue pouring from the bottom up, making sure to stretch it each time. You can do this by using the bottom of the ladle and sliding it sideways.
7. Creating the lettuce leaves
After you’ve poured all the white wax, it’s now time to use the green wax to create the lettuce’s leaves. You will need around two scoops of green wax. While holding the edge of the white wax, gently layer the green wax so it just slightly covers the white wax, and then swiftly stretch it out.
8. Take out the lettuce from the warm water
To create the depth needed to pull it out from in front of you, use three fingers to grab onto the lettuce and move it far away from you. Then gently grab onto the white part and submerge it down to the bottom of the case (or as low as your hands will go).
9. You've created a giant lettuce leaf!
Pull it out of the water by tugging it out to your front. You now have a giant lettuce leaf! Its size is sure to surprise anyone and everyone.
10. Shape it into an actual head of lettuce
Afterwards, let it float in the warm water, and then grab the white part and collect it so it becomes almost like a ball.
11. Roll the lettuce
Next, roll the green part together, switching from left to right. Make sure that it has a slightly puffy exterior, like as if there’s air in it. If there’s absolutely no space between the leaves, it’ll actually look more like cabbage! After lightly shaping it, harden it in the same cold water that you used for the tempura.
12. Cut the lettuce into half
Lastly, watch the staff cut the lettuce into half. Your lettuce is now complete! Doesn't it look almost like real lettuce?
13. You've successfully made fake food!
The fake lettuce and tempura set that you made will look authentic from any angle!
The staff have transparent packaging and paper bags, so you can easily bring your fake food creations home. Wax collects dust extremely easily, so it is recommended to wrap it up so that it can last for a long time.
Bonus: Explore Kappabashi Street and More with a Guided Asakusa Food Tour!
Do you want to do more than just make fake food samples in Asakusa? If you're not sure where to start, we highly recommend giving the Asakusa Cultural & Street Food Walking Tour a try. In a short amount of time, an English-speaking local guide will take you around all the best spots of Asakusa, including Kappabashi Street and more!
What is Kappabashi Street?
Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya has three stores in Tokyo and Yokohama. The one we visited this time is located in Kappabashi, Asakusa. Kappabashi Street is Japan’s largest cookery-related shopping street that stretches out 800m from north to south. You can find anything from cooking ware and eating utensils to ironware. It has a somewhat nostalgic and retro Japanese atmosphere that you can take in.
The giant man towering on top of a building is the landmark for Kappabashi Street. It has enough impact to rival the Godzilla in Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku! Once you spot the giant man, head towards Kappabashi Street.
You'll notice a shop that'll blind your eyes with red. If you take a closer look, you'll find that it sells paper lanterns (used to light one's way at night and bring attention to shops). The red paper lanterns that it sells are hung at outdoor food stalls and izakaya (Japanese pubs) in Japan. Why not try purchasing some to decorate your space?
At Kappabashi Street, you can also find various sizes of wooden spoons. You can use them like they're meant to be used, but their unique designs make them great for certain occasions, such as when you've invited a friend over for a meal and you want everything to look a little special.
Many of the items sold at Kappabashi Street can be purchased at reasonable prices. If you’re interested, try grabbing one to see what they're like for yourself!
History of Fake Food
Fake food is something that you don’t usually see outside of Japan. However, it’s been the hot topic among travelers lately. Made with such attention to detail that people often mistake it for the real thing, fake food in Japan is almost like an art. You can find fake food being displayed in restaurants across Japan. How did this come to be?
There are various theories as to when fake food first came into existence, but many believe that it was created somewhere between the late Taisho period (1912 – 1926) and the early Showa period (1926 – 1989). Back then, when customers attempted to order food, they found it difficult to imagine dishes just from their menu descriptions. Fake food was created with the intention of lining up food samples that looked exactly like the real thing, which would make it easier for customers to make orders, improving the restaurant’s business.
Also, can you imagine what would happen if a hungry person came across a display case filled with fake food that looked exactly like the real thing…? They’d want to drop by those restaurants! For both customers and restaurants, fake food was an incredible invention.
Recommended Souvenirs From Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya
On the first floor, there’s a corner where you can buy reasonably-priced fake food items, like keyholders and magnets. We recommend picking up their fake food crafting kits, which are separated based on experience levels. They’re great as souvenirs or for those who would like to try their hand at making fake food at home! They come with English instruction manuals, so you can rest easy on that.
They also have various other interesting and unique products! One big hit with tourists is their stationery. From bookmarks that look exactly like real food to pen stands, they sell a bunch of products that’ll spice up your every day life just a little more.
If you turn your eyes above, you’ll find amazing creations that fake food craftspeople worked really hard to make. Some of them are not available for purchase, but others are. In particular, their clock that’s shaped like a hangiri (wooden tub used for preparing sushi rice) is extremely popular with inbound travelers.
Their adorable product series of carrots with arms and legs may cost a little more, but there are plenty of people who purchase them for wedding ceremonies or for their friends!
On the second floor, you’ll find the workshop area for making fake food. If you book in advance, you can participate in the workshop too! This is a store where you can discover something new with every visit!
[About Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya Kappabashi Branch]
Opening Hours: 10:00 am - 5:30 pm
Closed: January 1 - 3. *May close early around the end of the year
Price/fee: (Tempura & Lettuce Set) 2,160 yen for 1 person
*Starting from April 1, 2018, this will rise to 2,300 yen.
*Only people who are 7 years old or above may participate. Children who are 10 years old or younger must be accompanied by a guardian. The guardian must also participate in the workshop, and must pay their own participation fee. During the summer (July 21 - August 31), non-participants may not participate at all.
*Reservations are required. You can book online. Those who have difficulty communicating in Japanese must be accompanied by an interpreter.
*Phone reservations can only be handled in Japanese.
Time required: 60 - 75 minutes for 1 workshop
Access: 5-minute walk from Exit A2 of Asakusa Station
12-minute walk from Tawaramachi Station
Address: (Main Branch) 3-7-6, Nishi Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo [本館] 東京都台東区西浅草3-7-6 (Google Map)
(Annex) 2-25-9, Nishi Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo [別館] 東京都台東区西浅草2-25-9 (Google Map)
*The annex building is a workshop space, so they do not sell any products.
HP: www.ganso-sample.com/en/ (English)
HP: www.ganso-sample.com (Japanese)
The next time you visit Japan, try participating in the fake food crafting workshop held at Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya! It's an activity that's perfect for making long-lasting memories.
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.