Food Halls Around the World

11 02 2009

Whenever I am shopping while abroad, I inevitably find myself in a food hall. At the most basic level, a food hall is any indoor area that offers a variety of food for sampling and purchasing. They are often found in department stores, but can also operate independently.  A food hall is more than an indoor market or run of the mill mall food court, however.  A food hall is above all an exhibition of local and international artisinal food.

Harrod’s famous food hall
The most famous food hall in the world is arguably Harrod’s in London. While for many destinations I end up in a food hall by coincidence, Harrod’s Food Hall was a must-see for me even before my arrival in London. Harrod’s was founded in 1834 as a wholesale grocery with a specialty in tea.

Harrod’s has some of the fanciest groceries I have ever seen.

There are lots of stands to try out at Harrod’s Food Hall.

After arriving at Harrod’s, I bypassed all other departments and made a beeline for the food hall. There’s better shopping in the United States. I was here for the food hall. I was not disappointed. In room after themed room, attractive gourmet food was presented to me, the shopper, for my perusal. If you want seafood, there is an entire room dedicated to these delicious creatures under the sea.

You can eat fresh oysters in the seafood room at Harrod’s food hall.

Need gifts for loved ones? Harrod’s has quite a selection of packaged ready to gift gourmet food items. Perhaps some proper English tea would delight your grandmother, or lemon cookies for your best friend, or Turkish Delight for your unsuspecting brother!

Food gifts at Harrod’s

Indulge your sweet tooth at Harrod’s.

Before heading out, be sure to view the over the top escalators at Harrod’s. The escalators have an ancient Egyptian theme to honor the heritage of Mohamed al Fayed, the current owner of the department store. The escalator bay is also where you can find Princess Diana’s and Dodi al Fayed’s memorial.

The Egyptian decor is historically listed to protect against their removal and alteration.

Yep, that’s the actual face of Mohamed al Fayed on the Sphinx.

Despite Harrod’s fame, to many English residents the designation of best department store for gourmet food would belong to Fortnum & Mason, which has held royal warrants for 150 years. Harrod’s also holds some royal warrants, but Fortnum & Mason is more closely associated with British royalty and the peerage.

The circular stairway at Fortnum & Mason decorated for Christmas.

Although we had heard of Fortnum & Mason, it was by chance that we stumbled upon this establishment while shopping near Piccadilly Circus. I thought we had entered my version of department store heaven. Exquisitely decorated for Christmas, Fortnum and Mason offered all kinds of British foodstuffs, from minced pies to jars of ribbon candy to traditional china. Fortnum & Mason is most well known for its teas and luxury picnic hampers.

A selection of Fortnum and Mason’s gourmet products with its signature turquoise label on display.

Fortnum & Mason’s food hall is not to be missed for foodies the world over!

Inside Fortnum and Mason during the Christmas season.

These two luxurious food halls reminded me of my visit to the highly regarded Alois Dallmayr in Munich, Germany.  The Dallmayr is a famous luxury delicatessen and food hall that has served European royalty since the 17th century.  You can read about our day in Munich and see some more photos of Dallmayr here.  

Alois Dallmayr plaque proclaiming its status as a royal purveyor.

Window display at Alois Dallmayr.

Inside Alois Dallmayr delicatessen.

Inspired by these elaborate European food halls, the Japanese created their own twist on the concept with depachikas, department store basement food halls. Similar to the Harrod’s concept, depachikas seek to create a high end retail experience, but for food. Only the best brands are offered, from sushi to desserts to mochi to tea and other delicacies. However, depachikas have a larger selection of freshly prepared takeaway meals for shoppers. Many professional stop by and pick up bento boxes for lunch and dinner on a daily basis. Another major difference is that Japanese department stores often directly rent out the spaces on the store floor to bakeries and food businesses. As a result, the salespeople of these kiosks do not necessarily work for the department store. These businesses of course have to pass a rigorous test of quality and name. A third distinction is that Japanese food halls tend to emphasize trendy food over more traditional flavors.  You can read all about the depachika craze in this Food and Wine magazine article.  

The Dessert comes First blog has an excellent post on food in Japan, including an entire section on depachikas with fantastic pictures.  Here is the link to that specific post.  I have included two of her photos below for reference. 

Photo of depachika by Desserts comes First

Photo of depachika store display by Desserts comes First

I have visited the depachika in person at Isetan in Tokyo and Kaohsiung.  You can read my entire post about the Isetan department store in Kaohsiung here. These basement food halls are one of my favorite places to just relax and eat. I wish the US had places like these – I would be there every night!

One of the stores within a store in the basement food hall at Isetan in Kaohsiung.

A bakery in the basement food hall at Isetan


Germany: Munich

8 10 2008

A vacation to Germany is not complete without the obligatory tour of Munich (München), the capital of Bavaria.  To many Americans, just the mention of Munich conjures up images of beer, pretzels, bratwurst, and of course Oktoberfest, the beer drinker’s paradise.

Touristy shops abound in Munich, selling all of kinds of beer drinking paraphernalia.

We saw this display at a local department store. There were racks of traditional Bavarian costumes so that locals and visitors alike could dress up, presumably for Oktoberfest.

The must see on every beer drinker’s itinerary – the Hofbrauhaus!

Of course, Munich is much more than just Oktoberfest. Among other things, it was the center of the German counter reformation, a victim of the Bubonic plague, home to many of the most famous composers of all time, and a stronghold for Nazis during WWII. It is well known that much of the city was heavily bombed during WWII and the people chose to have the old city rebuilt as it was before the war. Today, Munich is politically liberal within the largely conservative state of Bavaria.

We began our tour of Munich at Karlsplatz, where we strolled under the Karlstor and into the pedestrian friendly old city center.


This is the view inside the pedestrian only zone looking back at Karlstor after passing through.

We were able to see the domes of the Frauenkirche.

After strolling down the Neuhausen Strasse, we headed to the Viktualienmarkt for lunch. The Viktualienmarkt is a farmer’s market that has gone gourmet. Stalls selling honey, cheese, flowers, herbs, and other victuals/foodstuffs are surrounded by dozens of bratwurst stands and ready seating.

Huge wheels of cheese.

I think this stand sells herbs.

All kinds of flowers for the back garden.

The Maypole of Munich.

We decided to eat lunch at this bratwurst stand (see below).  While my sister and I saved some seats at a long table, the men stood in line to buy our food.  We had some delicious bratwurst and fried potatoes accompanied by locally brewed apple soda.  While we were eating, we chatted with some friendly locals who were sharing our table.  This is very normal in Germany, especially in Munich, which is known for its friendly citizens.

Bratwurst for lunch!

After lunch, we walked over to the famous Marienplatz. Like many old city centers, Marienplatz has a famous glockenspiel in the Rathaus. The architecture here was beautiful!

In the Marienplatz, with a view of the Rathaus Glockenspiel and the Marian Column.

A tavern near the Marienplatz

Near the Rathaus in Marienplatz is Alois Dallmayr, the most famous delicatessen and food hall in Germany. This upscale food haven has supplied royal courts throughout Europe and inspired many like concepts across the world.  Seeing these displays reminded me of the deli inside Whole Foods in the US and the food halls in the basement of Japanese department stores such as Isetan.

Alois Dallmayr, a royal purveyor of foodstuffs.

Part of the elaborate window display.

There’s a bakery.

The freshly ground gourmet coffee section.

This was the most gourmet supermarket I’ve ever seen and heaven for foodies.

After our walk, we decided that we deserved a reward so we made our next stop the Hofbrauhaus. The mecca of beer drinkers everywhere, be forewarned that this is on every tourist’s itinerary.

Once we entered the Hofbrauhaus, we wandered about looking for the actual beer hall since this place was HUGE! We found some stairs and went up to see what was upstairs.

The large gothic stone stairs.

The painted ceiling on top of the stairwell features was very Bavarian, with the flags and the pretzels and the beer wench.

We found this private beer hall reminiscent of being inside a Viking ship.

After we went back downstairs, we went towards the noise and finally found the beer hall. Surprisingly there were not too many people there.

That’s because everyone was out in the beer garden! We grabbed a table and sat down to enjoy.

The Hofbrauhaus is so patriotic, even the fountain in the beer garden has the Munich shield on it.

You can request an English menu, although they will probably just automatically give it to you.

Thankfully for me, there was a section in the menu for non-alcoholics.

After finishing up at the Hofbrauhaus, we headed over to the Residenz, the former royal palace of the Bavarian kings. It had started raining so we only looked at this area briefly.

Right outside the Residenz were these streets and this monument.

We had planned to go to the English Garden at this time, but it was pouring rain so we decided to skip it this time around. If you do plan to go to the English Garden, the Chinese pagoda was highly recommended to us and the beer garden.

Although Munich can be classified as a must-see because of its place in Bavarian history and culture, in many ways it felt like any other European big city. We saw high end shopping streets, expensive gourmet food stores, large palaces and grand monuments, and other places that make the city very cosmopolitan and a great place to live and work but not necessarily the best place to really experience the German way of life. Despite this thought, however, we still very much enjoyed our time in Munich and recommend it to all visitors to Germany.

Kaohsiung – Shopping Mall

1 10 2007

After visiting Lotus Lake, we were very hot so we headed to Da Li / Isetan, the Japanese department store, to cool down.  My aunt had also heard that Din Tai Fung, the famous maker of xiao long bao (little steamed pork buns) from Taipei, was coming down to Kaohsiung for two days to offer these xiao long bao at Da Li.  These sounded like very good reasons to go to Da Li.

Isetan in Kaohsiung

When we arrived, Da Li was still closed so we waited outside for about 10 minutes. 

Doors of Isetan

Across the street were these two interesting shops right next door to each other.  Mos Burger is a Japanese burger chain.

Mos Burger in Kaohsiung

This store requires no explanation.

Interesting Shop

Finally, after the doors to Da Li opened, we headed down to the basement food level.  The workers from Din Tai Fung were already hard at work.

Din Tai Fung at Isetan

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung

Finally we received our order, and scarfed down all the food.  It was GREAT!  It was just as good as advertised – flavorful, delicate, yet satisfying.

Din Tai Fung

Afterwards, we explored the rest of the food hall.  The food and snack hall is one of my favorite parts of Asian shopping malls.  Picture an entire floor full of small stores featuring all different food specialties, all beautifully presented.  There is also a very nice grocery store.

Da Li Food Hall

Da Li Food Hall

Having been to the Isetan in Shinjuku, Tokyo, I have to say that one is obviously nicer.  However, the Isetan in Tokyo does not have the Taiwanese flavor and food choices!

We went shopping for a little bit after the food hall.  There are 7 or 8 floors at Isetan and, of course, the food hall in the basement.  I will not bore you with my shopping experience, which is standard the world over.  However, the next to top floor was an arcarde – a kids’ paradise!



This basketball game is very popular all over Taiwan.  In fact, it could be called an obsession.

Basketball Arcade

The roof of the shopping mall had a small amusement park for little kids.  I fondly remember taking all these rides more than 20 years ago with my sister and cousins.

Lucy and Amy, this picture is for you!

Rainbow Bridge

Amusement Park

Amusement Park

This mall really brought back memories for me.  It is one of the older malls in Kaohsiung, since it is about 20 years old – I remember when it first opened!

PS – The air conditioning was heavenly!

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