Take a look at the picture above and take a guess: are they real or not?
From weird burgers and DIY snacks to cute bread art, Japanese food culture is highly creative. And this is especially true for Japan’s highly realistic plastic food models. You can find these mouth watering fake foods, called ‘sampuru’ in Japanese, displayed in the windows of restaurants all across Japan. These plastic food models are almost identical replicas of popular dishes, such as sushi, soba, ramen, omelette rice, and so many more. They are so realistic that there is a huge demand for these uniquely Japanese products.
Want to know more? Let’s start with the history of plastic food models.
Most people believe that Gifu born Takozo Iwasaki is the father of the plastic model food industry in Japan. As the legend goes, Takozo Iwasaki made a plastic model of omelette rice in the 1930’s that was so realistic, people couldn’t tell that it was fake.
However, these types of models were began to appear during the 1920s. At that time, restaurants in Tokyo wanted to show what they serve to customers, but were concerned that using real food would attract pests. Takozo Iwasaki then stepped in, and is credited with making the idea popular.
Initially, some people felt the plastic food looked unappetizing. However, the industry began to boom during the 1950s. As the number of tourists in Japan began to increase, Japanese restaurants faced a problem. Often, restaurants had no English menus, and color photography was still pricey. Many Japanese restaurants decided to invest in plastic models, helping to bridge the communication gap between Japanese staff and foreign customers. The idea was a huge success!
Since superior craftsmanship is needed to make these plastic food models highly realistic, ‘sampuru’ are not cheap. Simple models, such as a cup of green tea, can cost about $35.00 USD, while more complicated dishes can cost hundreds of dollars. Of course, the more complicated the item is, the more expensive it becomes.
So how do you make ‘sampuru’?
The key to making a realistic model is the mold. Restaurants freeze the food they want to base the model on, and the model makers create a mold of that exact dish, making a restaurant specific model with highly accurate textures. Next, the molds are filled with PVC and baked at extremely high temperatures to harden them. Finally, the model is airbrushed and painted according to the original sample and plated just like its real life delicious counterpart.
So, did learning about ‘sampuru’ make you hungry? Do you hope to get a ‘sampuru’ for yourself?
You can actually buy mini versions of the models that can be used for a whole range of purposes, from designing your phone case, to even wearing as jewelry. You can collect your dream menu items and impress your friends, or make your own restaurant display.