This week, a major food and drink expo was held in Tokyo’s Odaiba area called The World Food and Beverage Great Expo 2013. It’s actually a combination of six different events, including a dessert and wine fair. With hundreds of exhibitors from Japan and abroad showing off their latest and tastiest concoctions, we decided to check it out and see how many free samples we could gobble up. Here’s what we learned.
For me, the foods fell into three categories: foods I was familiar with as a Westerner, foods I was familiar with from living in Japan, and foods I did not even realize you could eat.
From candied lemon rinds (above) to pureed cherry leaves (below), many things that would normally have been tossed in the trash were made into surprisingly tasty nibbles.
Other surprises where ways of processing foods that wouldn’t have occurred to me before, like fish jerky, noodles made from seaweed, or dry-cured chicken. The noodles in particular could be very popular for dieters, as they have just six calories per 100g serving. They don’t have much of a flavor on their own, but were nice with some salad dressing. And the dry-cured chicken, which is made by taking a raw chicken breast, soaking it in brine and then smoking it, tastes a bit like a thick, soft prosciutto.
2. Japanese really love desserts
A huge portion of the expo floor was given over to dessert exhibitors and absolutely everything looked delicious. There were a few overseas booths, like Swiss chocolatier Laderach who very kindly let me work my way through their line of artisanal truffles, but most of the exhibitors were domestic.
Classics like kakigori (shaved ice), yokan (firm blocks of red bean paste and seaweed gelatin) and anmitsu (seaweed gelatin cubes with syrup and other toppings) all made several appearances.
A build your own anmitsu bar! I went with brown sugar syrup, adzuki beans and a matcha-flavored mochi ball.
This is not to say that all the sweets were Japanese, though! Like the Samurai Pudding above, many companies were taking a Western dessert and giving it a bit of an Asian touch. Sakura and matcha flavored cakes featured heavily, as did exquisitely designed tarts.
3. Fake food is a cruel, deceptive art.
Think the foods above look tasty? Yeah, me too. Too bad they were all fake!
Visitors to Japan know restaurants often display their offerings in plastic or wax form, so there’s a whole industry built around creating this faux food. I can’t deny its usefulness, particularly when you can’t read a menu, but at FABEX, it was an all too common experience to spot some delectable looking morsel across the aisle and dart over for a taste, only to be disappointed when it turns out to be inedible.
4. Cartoon characters can be used to sell anything.
A little Hello Kitty sparkling wine for your toddler? This display certainly caught my eye as I passed. It turns out this is actually part of a range of non-alcoholic wines the company produces, but it’s still something of a shock to see children’s characters on booze-shaped bottles.
5. The Japanese really love a good robot.
Not only food and beverage makers, but also the companies that serve them attend the expo. You could find booths exhibiting cutlery, packaging, glassware and any number of other restaurant must-haves, but the most popular booths by far were selling robots and other nifty machines.
The Sushi Robots from Suzumo were particularly popular. Here’s a video of one prepping rice for nigiri.
And, of course, the ever popular hot rice dispenser.
But the most important lesson I learned by far is this:
6. FABEX is a great place to stuff your face and get drunk!
Between the endless free samples and the very heavy pours in the wine and liquor section, the hours just flew by and I headed home a very full, tipsy and happy girl. I’ll be back next year, FABEX, in my loosest pants and with my biggest purse.
Some other random pictures for your enjoyment.
This is a Jacob’s Creek wine only available in Japan. It was developed with sushi chef from Ginza to pair well with sushi and sashimi.
Did you know sangria comes in a bottle? And is actually really good? This was just one of the offerings from organic wine producers EHD Delgado.