“Since moving to Japan, a lot of things have struck me as weird (I mean different) but one of the things I was intrigued with was the plastic food samples in front of restaurants. Sometimes in a display case, sometimes on a little table by the door, but always life-like replicas of whatever food the restaurant serves. In our orientation to Japan, given by the Navy, one speaker said samples can make it easier for a non-Japanese speaker to order at a restaurant when they can’t read the menu. I assumed that meant these samples are only found in places where non-Japanese speakers eat. How wrong I was. In six months in Japan I have seen these samples, called sampuru, everywhere. I have seen plastic pizza, beer, salads, soup, sushi, curry, everything. I have touched every example that I have the opportunity to do so and I have watched people use the samples as a menu before entering a restaurant.” ( By Morgan Deboer from www.matadornetwork.com )
The plastic food manufacturers fiercely guard their trade secrets as business is lucrative; the plastic food industry in Japan, by conservative estimates, has revenues of billions of yen per year. A single restaurant may order a complete menu of plastic items costing over a million yen. In recent years, Japanese plastic food manufacturers have been targeting markets overseas, such as China. While some large companies exist, others are small shops with a single proprietor. They can be found in Kappabashi-dori, the food supply street in Tokyo. Factories can be found in Gujō, Gifu. Iwasaki Be-I, the biggest plastic food manufacturer in Japan, founded by Takizo Iwasaki in 1932. Maiduru (Maizuru), another old and large manufacturer. Here bellow are some examples:
These okonomiyaki sampuru show the raw ingredients that will go into the grilled “pancake.” The bowl in the center is a seafood combo, picturing asari (a little clam), ika (squid), and ebi (shrimp). The sign in front of the sampuru says these will be cooked Kyoto style, which means all of the ingredients are mixed together and cooked on a griddle. The other popular way to cook this, Hiroshima style, is similar to a thin crepe on top of the meat and vegetables on top of noodles.
This lunch set plate is similar to what is found in an o-bento, but since it is served in a restaurant, it doesn’t come with the box. This sampuru shows Naporitan (Japanese pasta with tomato or ketchup based sauce), gomai (spinach with sesame and miso dressing), egg, potato salad, stir fry with gobo root (burdock root) and a sandoicchi (sandwich). I asked a friend about this particular combination and she said, “That might be a kids meal.”