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ARE YOU looking for plastic sushi to mix and match with your friends? How about a make-believe plate of spaghetti and meatballs? Or, if you’re into the real thing, where would you find a full-size broiler station for your restaurant?
Easy. Go to Kappabashi-Dori, also known at Kitchen Town, between Ueno (whose park has the best springtime sakura flower picnicking) and Asakusa (an old district of Tokyo with Sensoji, a 7th Century Buddhist temple).
Both We Love Japan (http://goo.gl/DFss1Q) and CNN Travel (http://goo.gl/ceuTUH) are good starting points of research. The closest station to Kappabashi-Dori is Tawaramachi Station, Stop G-18 on the Ginza Line. Check out your local map or Google Maps for directions on this six-minute walk, essentially north of the station. If you want, ask, “Sumimasen, Kappabashi wa doko desu ka?” Keep looking for a multistory building topped by a giant chef, complete with moustache, scarf and toque.
Unlike modern western practice, where businesses of all kinds prefer geographical exclusivity, Tokyo is akin to medieval London, where guilds representing specific trades were concentrated in unique areas.
Cheek to jowl (not a bad metaphor), shops along Kappabashi offer everything—and I mean everything!—for the restaurant trade. What’s more, unlike a western equivalent in some wholesale district, these are open and amenable to all for browsing.
What’s your favorite sushi or sashimi? Or do you prefer western food? What about lanterns announcing your establishment?
How many different kinds of chopsticks are there? Or are you seeking those little wood and paper umbrellas for fruit drinks? Or wooden mats for one presentation or another. The key wood is “wood.” If it’s used in a restaurant and had wood as a principal ingredient, it’ll be in these shops, several of which are lined one after the other.
Favorite destinations—and great souvenir hunting—are those selling plastic food. Obviously these renderings are essential in communicating menu items to those who are illiterate with a menu. And, face it, in Japan, most of us are illiterate (unless, as is often the case, a translation is provided).
It’s quite possible—and adds to the fun—to comparison-shop for your particular item. Is that shop’s Katsudon more appetizing than this one’s? Is this faux Bento more appealing than that one? A shopper’s delight.
There’s also education to be had in recognizing the kinds of heavy machinery used in the culinary trade. Giant dough mixers. Institutional-size stoves. Walk-in refrigerators. There’s more than one stop specializing in these.
Knife shops are especially fun, as this Japanese art is an ancient one. The shops will have rows and rows of utilitarian knives. But it’s also not a surprise to see a special store display, possibly of historically significant cutlery.
Curiously, Kappabashi isn’t known for actual dining. I suspect all its workers know a favorite little place around the corner…. Next time I’m there, I must ask “Sumimasen, tasty eating wa doko desu ka”? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013