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


WSJ on 48 Hours in Taipei (with Kids)

26 10 2007

The Wall Street Journal published today in its Weekend Journal Asia some interesting suggestions on what to do if you have 48 hours in some major cities in Asia – with kids. While I often read the Travel section of this newspaper, I was pleasantly surprised that they included a section for Taipei. I thought this article might be helpful to readers who have kids. The other cities mentioned in this article series are Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, and Kuala Lumpur.

I have excerpted the Taipei article below:

Nellie Huang, “48 Hours in Taipei,” Weekend Journal Asia, Wall Street Journal, (October 26, 2007).

As a child, my visits to Taiwan with my family meant enduring long Chinese banquets with relatives, and worse: a visit to the boring National Palace Museum. Now that I have kids of my own, I set out to find some fun things to do with them in Taipei.

Day One

8:30 a.m.
Our hotel, the Far Eastern Shangri-La — chosen for its central location and its two swimming pools — offers a sumptuous breakfast buffet. But we’ve opted instead to introduce Kate, who is 3 years old, to a traditional Chinese breakfast of doh jang (sweetened soy milk) and you tiao (fried breadsticks). My relatives in Taipei tell me there’s only one place worth going to for this breakfast: Yung He restaurant, next to the fire station on Fuxing Road, Section 2.

Next, we went to the Eslite bookstore with its Children’s Museum on Song-gao Road in Xinyi district. Kate is soon in heaven. (So am I: There’s a Lavazza coffee stand at the museum entrance.) The so-called museum, it turns out, is a giant playroom filled with smaller rooms: There’s a play grocery store, a pretend cafe and a toddler room with a slide and small climbing gym. There’s also a fire truck, two motorcycles and even a Mini car, all of which kids can ride on or climb into. We spent an hour in the make-believe dressmaker’s shop, outfitting a paper doll with clothes we designed and cut out.

After a bite to eat at the Eslite cafe, we took a taxi to the zoo. Given Taipei’s stifling heat, in the summer at least, and the park’s hillside design, it’s best to ride the train from the zoo entrance that takes you to the penguin habitat at the other end of the park. From there you walk back toward the entrance to see the animals, but it’s a comfortable downhill ramble.
Near the zoo is the Maokong Gondola (100 meters to the left as you exit the zoo). It’s a 20-minute, four-kilometer ride to the top of a ridge, with two stops along the way. The cars aren’t air-conditioned and the windows don’t open. Still, it’s an exhilarating ride. Near the gondola station is a place to rent bikes for a ride along a new path by the river — great fun for older kids.

Next to the gondola ride is the Zoo Mall, an indoor amusement park. There are toddler-size rides — a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round and a crazy-car ride — and I make a note to remember this place for a rainy day.

We decided to visit the Taipei 101 building before dinner. I was fascinated by the structure and the sweeping view, but Kate is too young to appreciate it. This diversion is best for kids over the age of 5.

Day 2 … continued here. (Subscription not required for this article.)

The author, Nellie Huang, took her 3 year old daughter to the Eslite bookstore with its Children’s Museum on Song-gao Road in Xinyi district, the Maokong Gondola, the Taipei Zoo, Da’an Park, Children’s Recreation Center in northwest Taipei (amusement park), The National Science Education Museum, and the Taipei Astronomical Museum. Sounds like a very full 48 hours! 

While I’m not sure that I would take my hypothetical child on the Maokong Gondola, I agree that certain museums are inappropriate and boring for kids. It sounds like Taipei is quite kid friendly from all of these suggestions. However, I’m sure all of these entrance fees really add up!

Tokyo – Details

29 07 2007

Note: We went to Tokyo in May 2006. Please scroll down to the first Tokyo post, titled “Tokyo – May 2006” to start at the beginning of this series of posts.

We stayed at the Dai-Ichi the first night, and then at a business hotel in Yaesu near Tokyo Station the rest of the time. The Dai-Ichi was beautiful and the staff excellent. The rooms are spacious with a luxurious bathroom. Definitely a great choice!

We flew to Narita from Chicago on a connecting flight through San Jose, CA on American Airlines. On the way back, we were able to fly directly to Chicago from Narita. American Airlines uses Boeing 777s on flights to Narita. You can take the Narita Express train to and from Tokyo Main Station, and it’s just an hour each way. Narita also has a nice mini-mall inside the airport where you can buy Japanese desserts to take home or Mikimoto pearls. For information on layovers in Narita, check out this great website:

We had a very full schedule just doing 3 things in one day. The ideal pace would have been to visit 2 sites a day. The best shopping for souvenirs and gifts (and fresh traditional snacks) was at Asakusa.

Travel information and guidebooks: Lonely Planet -Tokyo provided a great overview for our trip. I also extensively used the Tokyo message board on as a source of valuable information. I want to thank Route246 and the other forumers especially for their useful advice.

Some general comments:

– Tokyo is the most unique city I have ever visited worldwide. I would have to say that this is the cleanest, most efficient, and most crowded city I have ever visited.

– The Tokyo public transportation system is wonderful – clean, efficient, convenient. It was intimidating at first, but after the first time it was very easy to figure out. There are English maps in most of the stations. If there are no English maps, we just bought the lowest fare and adjusted it at the end of the ride. The fare machines all had English menus.

– For those who have never used the public transportation, the biggest thing to know is that the ticket is scanned when you enter and when you leave the station. Thus, if you bought the wrong fare, you can simply adjust the fare right before you leave in the fare adjustment machines that are situated right next to the exits.

– Since we stayed near Tokyo station, we found the Underground Mall adjoining it very useful. There were all kinds of food options and shops.

– I do not speak or read Japanese and was able to navigate and find everything fairly easily. The three words to know: Sumimasen (excuse me), Arigato gosaimasu (thank you very much), doko… (where). Please excuse my spelling. All the train and subway information and signage is labeled in English in Tokyo.


Tokyo – Day 3

29 07 2007

Note: We went to Tokyo in May 2006. Please scroll down to the first Tokyo post, titled “Tokyo – May 2006” to start at the beginning of this series of posts.

This was my last day in Tokyo, so I stuck around the immediate area around our hotel. We walked to the Imperial Palace grounds, but they were not open until 9-10AM. I still got in a few photos, and I am supplementing them with photos that Charles took a few days later.

The Imperial Palace gardens are open to the public, but the palace itself is closed to the public except for one day a year because it is a working royal residence.

According to Charles, the Imperial Palace grounds were beautiful and felt like what you think of Japan in the days of the samurai. He loved the beauty, tranquility, and the rest houses.

Imperial Garden

Imperial Gardent 2

Imperial Stream

We came back and walked around the Marunouchi area, the business district, right before rush hour on a Monday morning. It was like walking in a sea of suits. We both work in the Loop in Chicago, but Americans are mostly business casual these days. In Japan, everyone in the business district wears suits, so the effect is much more striking.

Look! It’s Bloomberg Japan!


We then went back to the hotel so that I could catch my flight to Chicago. This was also Charles’ last day of fun, as he spent the rest of the time in the convention center (pictured below) attending a conference.

Tokyo Convention Center

Charles did have an opportunity to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market one of the remaining days he was in Japan. However, you have to remember it is a working fish market. Charles felt that he and the other tourists were just in the way a lot of times.

He did get to see a giant hunk of tuna though.

Tuna at Tsukiji

So ends our brief but enlightening trip to the city of Tokyo. We really wish we could have stayed longer. Next time, I hope to visit Kyoto and other places outside of Tokyo, in addition to spending more time in Shibuya, Shinjuku, and the Imperial Palace area. I also hope to have a chance to taste more of Japan’s cuisine, including some of the Iron Chef restaurants.

Next: Tokyo – Detail from our trip and some closing thoughts.

Tokyo – Day 2

29 07 2007

Note: We went to Tokyo in May 2006. Please scroll down to the first Tokyo post, titled “Tokyo – May 2006” to start at the beginning of this series of posts.

On Day 2, we went to Asakusa, Akihabara, and Shibuya.

Asakusa is a must-see for anyone going to Japan for the first time. Yes, it is touristy, but its popularity is well deserved. The main attraction for Asakusa is the Sensoji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo. When you first walk out of the station, it looks like any other city block in Tokyo except the buildings look a little older. Then you get to Thunder Gate, a grand entrance marking the beginning of the temple grounds that is guarded by the gods of Thunder and Lightning.

Thunder Gate

After you pass the massive gate, you come to a long outdoor arcade of shops selling touristy trinkets, traditional snacks, and other souvenirs. Even though most things being sold are knick-knacks, we found some great souvenirs here.

After walking past the shops, you finally come to the temple itself. Tourists and pilgrims come here to make incense offerings in the outer courtyard before this Buddhist temple. Inside the temple itself, you can pay a nominal fee for a fortune. If you get a bad fortune, you tie it to a tree and the bad luck will be taken away from you.

Sensoji Temple

Next to the Sensoji Temple is a five story pagoda dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu. (I had to look that up, as I couldn’t remember to whom it was dedicated.) There is also a beautiful temple garden that has trees, ponds full of carp, and small monuments and little houses.

Sensoji Temple garden

Sensoji Temple garden 2

After leaving the temple grounds, I discovered there was a Studio Ghibli store right outside of Thunder Gate (on the left coming out of the gate). I was really excited and dragged Charles inside to look at everything Totoro. It wasn’t until later that I realized that there are Studio Ghibli stores EVERYWHERE. There is also a Studio Ghibli store in the underground mall at Tokyo station, and of course in the Studio Ghibli museum. I heard there is a big store in Odaiba, and one near the Tokyo Tower. But I digress…

Our next destination was Akihabara, the electronics section of Tokyo. This area is popular with students, tech geeks, and anime fans. While the area is said to be not as good for electronics as in the past, it is still a great place to poke around. There are still tons of electonics shops, both little ones lining a shopping arcade to 8 story stores with several departments featuring different appliances.


In addition, we found a street off of the main drag where there was a row of cheap eats, including a ramen shop, a tonkatsu (port cutlet) shop, and an udon shop, among other choices. We had a great lunch in the ramen shop, and it was pretty easy to make our order understood (again, the order by number via the plasticized food menu). We only stuck around a little while here, but I wish we had more time to browse! We saw some tiny Canon cameras that the US mostly wouldn’t even see in stores for at least a year.

Our last stop of the day was Shibuya, the famous trendy area of Tokyo where the young and fashionable come to shop. We first stopped by Hachiko the statue, a monument to the famously loyal dog that is now a popular meeting place.

Here’s Hachiko:

Hachiko the dog

And here is the famous Shibuya crossing, the Japanese version of Times Square. Amid humongous flashing screens hawking ads is a large 3 road intersection. The coordination between the pedestrians walking and cars driving is amazing. The intersection is so large that all pedestrians walk at the same time and all cars drive at the same time.

Shibuya crossing

We walked around Shibuya, gathering in the atmosphere. Imagine pop music blaring, ads flashing, bright shops selling all kinds of things and throngs of people everywhere and you might get a hint of what Shibuya is like. There was an underground arcade full of teenagers and a first floor area that had dozens of claw machines where you try to pick up different stuffed animals. From my knowledge of Asian culture gleaned from watching Hong Kong movies, winning a stuffed animal from the claw game seems to be a mandatory date activity a la “He won me that giant panda – our relationship must be fate!”

We also saw a bunch of American fast food chains represented in trendy Shibuya.

KFC Shibuya

We returned to our business hotel after our busy day and had dinner inside Tokyo Station. Here I am going to rhapsodize about Tokyo Station and its underground mall. It is fantastic, convenient, and huge! It has a gourmet supermarket where you can grab groceries or pre-made dinners! It has a Studio Ghibli store, an arcade, a drugstore, and other random clothing stores. It has restaurants, including a breakfast place, a traditional Japanese lunch place, and a conveyor belt sushi place! We actually ate at the conveyor belt sushi place for dinner, and it was great! The sushi was fresh and there was quite a selection (at least compared to the Americanied Japanese places in the US). Seeing that we are so close to the Tsukiji fish market, it comes as no surprise that the sushi is fresh even at the little sushi place next to the train station.

Ah, another satisfying yet hectic day in the rambling city of Tokyo.

Next: My last day in Tokyo, walking around the Imperial Palace and the Marunouchi business district.

Tokyo – Day 1

28 07 2007

Note: We went to Tokyo in May 2006. Please scroll down to the first Tokyo post, titled “Tokyo – May 2006” to start at the beginning of this series of posts.

Charles: We were up early today, around 6:00 AM. I just couldn’t sleep anymore, no matter how hard I tried. (Sandy: Jetlag is the worst – I hate getting the “your head feels like it is in a tight helmet all day” feeling)

We wandered around Ginza looking for breakfast, but nothing would open until 8:00. One street in Ginza reminded me of the Champs Elysee. All the major French and Italian luxury designers have boutiques in Ginza, and there is a myriad of bistros and cafes. In fact, it seems difficult to find traditional Japanese breakfast anywhere, because the Japanese seem to prefer French pastries. Eventually a cafe opened and we had pastries and coffee for about $10. So yes, it was just like the Champs Elysee.

Sandy: Here’s a pic of a side street in Ginza. It’s so cute!

Ginza side street

Charles: We checked out of our hotel in Ginza and headed for the conference hotel in downtown Tokyo, near the Imperial Palace. We couldn’t check in yet, so we left our luggage with the bell desk and went on our next adventure, the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. Mitaka is a suburb of Tokyo, so we took a commuter train. I really liked Mitaka, it was a little more laid back. People were jogging, going for walks and riding bikes. The Ghibli museum is in a giant park. In case you don’t already know, Studio Ghibli makes animated movies in Japan. They’re the Japanese equivalent of Disney.

Since Sandy saw lots of Ghibli movies as a child, she really wanted to see the museum. The museum was a lot of fun. It was just like a children’s museum back in the U.S.

Sandy: Studio Ghibli is the famed animation studio headed by acclaimed director Hayao Miyasaki and Isao Takahata that was responsible for such wonderful films as My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and more recently Howl’s Moving Castle. Disney distributes the English language version of these film in the US, so you may have heard of them.

I am obsessed with all things Totoro. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside the Studio Ghibli museum. I need to post a picture of my Totoro collection one day.

Charles: After the museum we took the train back into Tokyo, but we got out before reaching downtown in an area called Nakano.

Sandy: Nakano Broadway is a very long covered arcade filled with little shops that is right next to the train station. There are a few floors, with specialization in certain areas. We went there because I heard that this was a good place to find anime stuff. They have a branch of Mandarake there. It looked like there were lots of different anime figurines there – like vintage Godzilla, masks, etc..

It seemed like a place where more locals went since we saw no other recognizable tourists there. It is like a market, with gift shops, clothing shops, trinket shops, restaurants, and snack stands. I liked the shops at Asakusa better for traditional gifts though. Nakano Broadway is not flashy at all and was more like other markets in Asia, and seemed older than other shopping streets in Tokyo.

Nakano Broadway

Charles: We shopped around for a bit and then headed to Shinjuku. Shinjuku is a really crowded area. There are lights and TVs blasting images at you from the sides of large buildings. In Shinjuku we went to Isetan, a large Japanese department store. The bottom floor of Isetan is a huge gourmet food market, and our jaws dropped when we saw all of the great desserts. Sorry, but we could not take any photos inside the store and it was pouring rain outside! We had lunch ( I had some great tempura) and then went back to check in to the hotel.

Next: Asakusa, Akihabara, and Shibuya

Tokyo – May 2006

28 07 2007

We went to Tokyo in May 2006. This was our first time to the wondrous city of Tokyo, and we had a blast! This was undoubtedly one of the most unique cities I have ever visited. Stepping out into Tokyo for the first time was like going to another planet. While I knew a lot about Japan, both in terms of history and pop culture, it was another thing to actually be in this country experiencing everything I had seen or heard about first hand.

My first impression of Tokyo was that it was the cleanest, most efficient, and futuristic city I had ever seen.

Charles on transportation to Japan:

Downtown Tokyo is an hour’s train ride from the airport. The train was on time, clean, and quiet. From the window I could see that this part of Japan is very green. There are rice paddies everywhere, and we could see farmers working them. After maybe 10 minutes we entered the outskirts / suburbs of Tokyo. These suburbs are themselves cities, and the urbanization has joined them all into this blob of humanity stretching in every direction, as far as the eye can see. Again, these suburbs are not like our own. Don’t picture our suburbs, picture our downtowns. It’s staggering to see the evidence of so many people living and working together in such close quarters.


The train went underground for the final leg, and we disembarked at Tokyo station, a central hub. Now we had to figure out which train, out of like 50 billion, was the train that went through Ginza, the glitzy area of Tokyo where our first hotel is found. Imagine a shopping mall with food court inside the food court of the [Washington D.C.] Metro Center Metro station (only much bigger!) and that’s Tokyo station. We found the platform easily enough, but had not seen a ticket counter. Sandy went to find tickets while I guarded the luggage. As each new train was about to leave there wasn’t that awful “Doors Closing” that we’ve learned to tune out, but instead they play a happy little jingle, which the Japanese have learned to tune out.

Back to Sandy:

On the night of our arrival (Day 0), we just managed to have dinner in Ginza, near our hotel.

My first view of Japan was of these large electronic advertisements outside of the Shimbashi station.


For dinner, we settled on this hole-in-the-wall establishment right outside of the station. It was an interesting experience not because of the food, but because of the way we ordered.

First, we chose what we wanted from this helpful display of plasticized dishes. They were numbered so it was easy to identify.

The Menu

Next to the menu display was the ordering machine. You push the button that bears the number of your order, then feed in money like any vending machine. This is a very efficient way to place orders, as there is no question about which order you placed.


You pick up your order in the actual eating establishment.


Finally we got to our hotel and checked in. We stayed at the Dai-Ichi the first night, and then at a business hotel in Yaesu near Tokyo Station the rest of the time. The Dai-Ichi was beautiful and the staff excellent. The rooms are spacious with a luxurious bathroom. Definitely a great choice!

Charles: Yes, there is a crazy toilet. Here it is.

Japanese Toilet

We could not figure out which button meant what, so we played it safe and didn’t touch anything.


Charles also found the warnings about playing with the toilet amusing. I think the basic gist is, don’t put your baby in the toilet!

Toilet Warning

And so that was the end of Day 0.

Tomorrow: Ghibli museum, Nakano Broadway, and Shinjuku

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