[From February Issue 2011]
In the windows and display cases of Japan’s restaurants and other eating establishments, delicious-looking ramen, soba, hamburger steaks, and more can be seen. These are real-looking, life-size samples of restaurant menu items. Now, similar food samples are made into small, popular, souvenir items such as key rings and fridge magnets.
The technique of making realistic food samples was developed in Japan around 1920. Hachiman-cho, Gujo City, Gifu Prefecture dominates Japan’s fake-food market, and has recently drawn attention as the product’s place of origin. There is even a studio where visitors can try their hand at making food samples. Those interested often come from far away on organized tours.
Located in Tokyo’s Toshima Ward, Yamato Sample was founded in 1952, and also manufactures fake-food samples. However, not only do they make and sell fake-food samples, but they also actively organize hands-on workshops in and around the Tokyo metropolitan area. At one event held at Sunshine City Ikebukuro, Tokyo, they had 150 people attend their two-day workshop.
When making a mini-parfait, silicon is used for the cream. By making a similar soft ice cream shape, then adding the pre-made fruits and other garnishes, the parfait is completed. The fake fruits are all handmade and with very realistic color and texture, making it difficult to distinguish them from actual fruits.
After putting a few drops of melted wax into a bucket of lukewarm water, wrap it around a prawn-shaped mold before removing it, which completes, in a blink, your fake, prawn tempura. The wax’s outer coating is then exposed to air and solidifies, giving it a crispy looking texture, just like real, fried batter. To make a lettuce leaf, which will resemble the relish, drop some white wax (the inside of the leaf) and green wax (the outside of the leaf) into the lukewarm water. Pinching the corners while keeping the wax submerged for a second let’s you quickly and easily create a piece of fake lettuce.
ITO Yuichi, a Yamato Sample representative, visits each workshop participant one by one, to give detailed instruction. “At our hands-on workshops, children from two-years-old to senior citizens come to try and make food samples. Each participant is entrusted different fruit molds, so no two finished pieces look the same,” he says, adding that he started the workshops after receiving requests from customers who wanted to try making food sample for themselves.
One participant, NAGANO Fumiko, expressed her pleasure by saying, “I was surprised that I could do it so easily. I feel attached to it since I made it myself. It’s now my treasure.” The participation fee to try and make a mini-parfait, a tart or a cup cake, is 1,575 yen. This includes the instruction and the cost of the materials. However, since melted wax could splash onto people and cause burns when making fake tempura, this type of workshop is presently not being offered. But they are planning to include it at their new studio, scheduled to open this spring, after they have devised a safer way to do it.
Thanks to food samples on display at the entrances of many eating establishments, customers know what they can have there. “Displaying food samples was born out of the kindness of Japanese people who wanted to let their potential customers more easily understand what they offered. By having more people try to make their own food samples, we want them to more deeply understand this particular aspect of Japanese culture,” says Ito.
Text: MUKAI Natsuko