Bear Meat, in Japan?

One of my favorite aspects of eating in Japan is the department store.

Hold up, what?

Whereas department stores may be terribly dull in most of the western hemisphere, places like El Corte Inglés in Spain, and KaDeWe in Berlin, and many, many choices in East and Southeast Asia’s biggest cities do more than just delight the average clothes shopper.

Japan is where my first memorable introduction to department store food halls occurred, at the Daiwa Korinbo in Kanazawa. While living there for the summer of 2000, I’d get corn bread — that is, buttery bread stuffed with corn kernels — at a place called Don Q., and an apple almost everyday, always in the basement section.

Years later, I realized that Japanese department stores sometimes had food festivals in their upper floor event halls; some focused on a specific prefecture (let’s say it’s like a state or province), whereas others covered the entire country.

Last week, at a Hokkaido Food Festival — Hokkaido being Japan’s northernmost prefecture, known for its dairy, miso ramen, salmon, and melon, among many other edibles — I found an exotic (for me, anyhow) treat to sample:

Brown bear, known in Japanese as 羆 (ひぐま/higuma). Although brown bears were historically hunted by the indigenous Ainu culture, they also have greatly influenced Ainu life for generations, with both having shared the often frigid and remote terrain of Hokkaido. (link in Japanese)

n.b. bear meat can also be found in Aomori prefecture, the one atop Honshu island most famous for apples, but Hokkaido is where its consumption is just a bit more common. (link in Japanese)

Want to know how it tasted? Check out my YouTube video!

Is this the Best Japanese-Style Food Hall Outside of Japan?

As that stubborn country in the East Sea continues to only roll out a departure mat to its own citizens, those of us who are glad to liberate our wallets of yen continue to seek alternatives. Let’s take Southeast Asia as an example.

While in Singapore last month, I visited my two favorite places in the city: Singapore Botanic Gardens, and Takashimaya Ngee Ann City, on the busy Orchard Road shopping street.

Since my first visit to the city-state in 2004, I had been a fan of the Takashimaya department store. It had become my choice ersatz Japanese food hall — called デパ地下 (depachika) — when in town, with many of the seasonal and regional food festivals, bakeries, and liquor you’d expect to see in Japan.

For a very small, ehem, taste of the Takashimaya depachika, please have a look at my YouTube video:

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