Translated by MATCHA_En
Shopping At A Shotengai - Enjoy Local Food And Looking For Souvenirs!
Written by MATCHA-PR
A shotengai is a shopping spot that caters to the needs of the nearby local residents. From vegetables, meat and fish to daily use items, you can find almost anything in a shotengai. There are unique foods and souvenirs that can only be found here!
Various Shops - From Food to Miscellaneous Goods
The shops lined up along a shotengai are all closely connected to and play an important role in the daily lives of Japanese people. Now we'll introduce all the shops that are most commonly found at a shotengai.
■Shops Specializing in Food Products
Fruit and Vegetable Shops
As the name suggests, this is a shop specializing in fruit and vegetables. A wide variety of them, all in season, are lined up in front of and inside the shop. These shops are also called yaoyasan.
We recommend buying fruit that can be eaten even when you don't have a knife with you. For example, strawberries are in season during the spring, Japanese mikan (mandarin oranges), iyokan (*1) and other citrus fruit are on the market from the winter until the spring, and in summer, grapes are in season. These are all grown right here in Japan and are famous for being sweet and delicious!
*1 Iyokan: a Japanese citrus fruit that is grown mostly in Ehime prefecture and is similar in appearance to a large mandarin orange.
In Japan there are usually three kinds of butcher shops. Ones that sell beef and pork, ones that specialize in chicken only, and also those that sell beef, pork and chicken. The meat sold at these shops is usually labeled with the product's place of origin, and one characteristic of Japanese butcher shops is that they tend to have more variety in the cuts of the meat being sold, compared to a supermarket.
They carry many kinds of meat such as Japanese beef steaks and various cuts of meat for yakiniku-style cooking (grilled meat), so if you have kitchen facilities where you're staying we recommend buying some meat from the nearest shotengai butcher shop.
Butcher shops also sell a variety of deep-fried foods such as tonkatsu (pork cutlet), korokke (potato croquette) and ham cutlets, and yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) as well. Korokke and ham cutlets have been very popular in Japan for a long time, especially as student snacks. When you place your order, many shops will cook it right on the premises for you.
Eating your piping hot korokke as you go for a leisurely stroll is one of the many enjoyable activities at your local shotengai.
Fresh Fish Shops
A wide selection of fish, head and tail still intact, are on sale at your local shotengai fish shop. Of course you can buy the fish as is, but you can also have your fish sliced or filleted to your liking.
In addition to fresh fish, many shops have already prepared dishes such as sashimi (sliced raw fish) and fried fish. So buying some is a convenient way to enjoy delicious fish back at your hotel.
Fresh fish and sashimi tend to damage easily, so after your purchase it's best to refrigerate them as soon as possible, and not carry it around with you for a long time. We suggest that you buy your fish at the very end of your shopping excursion.
Japanese Confectionery Shops
At a Japanese confectionery shop they sell many kinds of sweets such as yokan, daifuku (red bean paste wrapped in mochi), dango and dorayaki, which are popular snacks. They also carry slightly more sophisticated sweets such as nerikiri (*2), a lavish treat savored together with matcha green tea at Japanese tea ceremonies.
The sweets are displayed in a showcase at most shops, so to make your purchase all you need to do is point out your selection to the shop staff. It's also convenient for when you only want to buy one individual sweet.
Many of the sweets are freshly hand made on the shop's premises, and therefore most of them won't keep a long time. So it's best to eat them on the day they were purchased. If you're interested in buying a souvenir, we suggest buying an individually wrapped package of sweets with a proper expiry date.
*2 Nerikiri: a Japanese confection made from white beans, sticky rice flour and sugar. The dough is molded into various shapes that often represent flowers, animals and objects found in Japanese culture.
Japanese Tea Specialty Shops
Japanese tea shops have a wide selection of products such as green tea, matcha, and hojicha (*3). There are many varieties of green tea which are produced in different regions of the country, each with its own distinct flavor and fragrance.
At many shops you can sample the tea, so searching for a variety with just the right taste makes for an enjoyable outing. The staff will often explain and demonstrate how to brew your tea, taking the guess work out of a potentially complicated process. Along with the tea leaves, shops also sell teapots, teacups and other tea utensils, so it might be possible to find the ideal souvenir here as well.
*3 Hojicha: a kind of tea made by roasting green tea leaves at high temperatures in order to bring out a rich, roasted aroma.
Japanese delicatessens carry many of the home cooked foods commonly found on a typical Japanese dinner table, such as salads, nimono (simmered dishes), fried foods and other prepared side dishes. Inside the shop they are often sold by weight (per gram) or sold in individual packs. It's possible to buy a small serving, so if you're curious to know how a dish tastes we recommend buying some.
In many cases the ingredients aren't listed, and even if they are, they're usually written in Japanese. So for those wondering what's inside a side dish or how it was made, it's best to ask a staff person directly. Also it's probably best not to walk around with your purchase for a long time, especially in the hot summer months, as the food can damage and go bad quickly.
Shops Selling Light Meals and Snacks / Specialty Take-Out Shops
Many of these specialty take-out shops prepare and sell a variety of snack foods such as takoyaki and yakitori, taiyaki and kaitenyaki (imagawayaki). As you're passing by one of these shops, the aroma floating through the air will quickly get your attention, so if you're curious please stop by and try some of them.
When you order your food you will probably be asked if you want it as mochi kaeri, meaning to take home and eat, or kokode taberu, meaning to eat it here at the shop*, so remembering these two Japanese phrases will come in handy. Whether you eat it at the shop or eat it while you browse around the other stores, in many instances there won't be a garbage can available. If this is the case, please take your garbage back to your hotel and dispose of it there.
*Note: These shops don't usually have seating inside, so most customers stand and eat outside or sit down on a nearby bench if there's one available.
When shoppers want to have a meal or take a break, they often stop in at a shotengai coffee shop. At a typical Japanese coffee shop they have the standard coffee and cake, but they also offer western-style dishes with a unique Japanese twist, such as curry rice (Japanese), omurice (Japanese) and neapolitan (Japanese).
Many of the coffee shops don't have menus in other languages, but outside near the shop entrance, there's usually a show window with plastic food samples showing you what's on the menu. Using this as your reference, you can choose what you'd like to order before going inside the shop.