At the stunning new Aeon shopping mall in central Okayama, the sixth and seventh floors are a delight for foodies. Creating their own separate world, isolated from the hubbub around them, concept restaurants offer every variety of Asian food.
But it’s the way their food is merchandised that grabbed our eyes. Outside every restaurant, the menu is presented on plates, its texture reminding us of Lenin lying in his subterranean Red Square tomb, and for a few moments we did wonder if this was actually real food embalmed. But no. Somewhere in Japan there must be a factory where chefs can send their dishes to be converted into plastic fake food.
We went online for more facts and discovered that fake food called sampuru, which originated in 1926, is a multi-million Yen business; restaurants pay a lot to have their dishes faithfully reproduced. First, silicon is poured over the food to create a mould, this is then filled with plastic and the whole thing cooked in an oven, followed by intricate detailing and painting, and a few secret techniques.
It’s interesting that whilst this food promotion is standard in Japan, where people want to taste with their eyes, we haven’t seen it (yet) in any other country. A quirky example of how modern Japanese culture delightfully surprises and may always remain an enigma. To our British eyes, fake food seems just too shiny and plasticky to be appealing.