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Kappabashi Market, Tokyo

Tsukiji fish market may be the first destination for foodies visiting Tokyo, and a department store basement food floor is also an essential stop, but one often-neglected attraction is the restaurant-supply district of Kappabashi.

Famous for its plastic food models, Kappabashi offers much more - it's the place where chefs and restauranteurs go when they set up shop, and a playground for anyone who likes to cook. If something is found in the kitchen or dining room, there's likely to be a shop in Kappabashi that sells it.

Rick Bayless, the owner/chef of Topolobampo and Frontera Grill in Chicago, took in Kappabashi while visiting Japan to explore the food culture. He says: "When I travel to other cultures, I want to get as close to real life as possible. Which usually means anything connected to food - groceries and markets, housewares stores and places that sell restaurant goods. Kappabashi was mecca for me ... the perfect peephole through which to view the wonderfully evocative details of Tokyo's everyday life."

Kappabashi is easy to navigate - the majority of the stores are lined up along the main street. Some shops cater exclusively to restaurant professionals, selling bar stools, restaurant uniforms and industrial-sized equipment. Then there are those selling kitchen gadgets - from intricate vegetable cutters to wooden molds for Japanese sweets. And of course there's a huge selection of realistic food models such as sushi, yakitori, and bowls of ramen.

Here are a few of my favorite spots:

1. For lacquerware, you won't want to miss Tanaka. Lacquerware is a traditional craft and an important element of Japanese tableware, and Tanaka sells elegantly crafted soup bowls, serving trays, chopsticks and more.

2. Kondo and Okuda are two shops specializing in products made from bamboo, which is light, durable and easy to take care of. They carry chopsticks and chopstick holders, plus a variety of strainers and baskets.

3. Hashito sells chopsticks - both disposable and non-disposable - as well as some old-fashioned long wooden picks for hors d`oeuvres.

4. Several shops sell knives, but I like the friendly and knowledgeable service at the Kamata knife shop.

5. Propack is a one-shop stop spread out over several floors. You'll find stationery supplies, disposable lunch boxes, imported and domestic foods, knives, coasters, kitchen gadgets and serving bowls - they pretty much cover all the bases.

6. Many restaurants in Japan still display plastic food models in front of their shops, and these are sold at several Kappabashi shops, including the two branches of Maizuru. Maizuru's samples look amazingly real, and on a hot day the cold beer looks good enough to quench your thirst. In addition to plastic models for the restaurant trade Maizuru also sells plastic-food souvenirs such as kitchen magnets, keychains, and even sushi clocks.

7. If you are passionate about coffee you'll want to visit Union Coffee Factory, which offers everything you need to produce an artisinal cuppa joe. Brewing equipment covers the range from simple pots for brewing Turkish coffee to elaborate water-drip contraptions that wouldn't look out of place in a chemistry lab. You'll also find coffee beans, roasters and mills.

Getting there: Come out of exit #3 of Tawaramachi Station on the Ginza Line; you'll be on the corner of Asakusa-dori and Kokusai-dori, facing north. Turn around and walk west along Asakusa-dori away from Asakusa, towards Ueno. You'll pass a post office (evident by a sign with an orange letter "T" with a line over it) and the Akafudado supermarket. At the second stop light you'll see a giant statue of a chef on top of the building on the far right corner. (There's also a police box on that corner.) Turn right onto the main street of Kappabashi and start exploring.

Print out our Kappabashi map for help in finding specific shops. Note that many of the shops in Kappabashi are closed on Sundays.

On the web:

Official link: http://www.kappabashi.or.jp/
Kamata knife shop: http://www.kap-kam.com
Maizuru plastic food samples: http://www.maiduru.co.jp
Union Coffee Factory: http://www.paseli.com/union/index.htm

Photos: (1) Tanaka. (2) Maizuru. (3) Tanaka. (4) Hashito. (5) Kamata. (6) Maizuru. (7) Kappabashi landmark (chef's head). (8) Kappa statue. (9) Kamata exterior.

Copyright (c) 2005 Yukari Pratt. Photos copyright (c) 2005 Yukari Pratt

See also:

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