Web Japan > NIPPONIA No.29 > Plastic Food to Savor with the Eyes
NIPPONIA No.29 June 15, 2004

Above: The plastic models are removed from the molds, and then painted with an airbrush or ordinary paintbrush. These ones are textured to imitate real slices of bacon.
Right: The models at the front are cooked spaghetti. To the rear, imitation carrots are being cut to serve as a garnishing for another dish. Using a kitchen knife to cut slices from the plastic model gives an authentic touch.

Here are the basic steps for making an imitation omelet stuffed with ketchup-seasoned fried rice.
The client gives the factory a real stuffed omelet. The food goes into a casting box. Then silicon is poured on top, to make the mold.
After the silicon has hardened, the omelet is removed and thrown away.
A liquid plastic is poured into the silicon mold.
The mold and plastic are heated in an oven.
The model is taken out of the mold and colored. A plastic "sauce" is poured on part of the top, and the model is heated again in the oven. Then it is ready for the client.
Not all of the "ingredients" are left whole after they come out of the mold. For example, "tomatoes" may be cut into slices with a knife to garnish a meal, and "lemons" are cut into wedges to highlight a drink. Different factors, including the size of the ingredients and the effect made by cutting, create a wide variety of items, and certain combinations are made to suit the client.
The company's manual details the manufacturing process and helps workers master the techniques quickly. But of course the manual is not everything.
Shimizu Yoichi of the company's manufacturing department says, "A creative worker will do more than just follow instructions. We expect everyone to keep asking themselves, 'How can I make it look just as real and tasty as the real thing?' We work creatively and keep refining the manufacturing process."
Plastic food is generally made only after an order is placed, and the manufacturer is ready to satisfy a wide range of requests. The plastic food is not always made for restaurant show windows—for example, the company has made imitation ice cream for a TV commercial. Real ice cream would turn to mush during the filming, but plastic ice cream keeps looking inviting. As you can see, plastic food has real value.
Restaurants in Japan have their repertoire of plastic food in a display case. For customers, it is a visual menu. They can savor the food with their eyes before sitting down for the meal. This custom is almost unique to Japan, but over the last decade or so it has caught on in Japan's next-door neighbor, the Republic of Korea, and it is now spreading to China as well. Plastic imitation meals are one part of Japan's food culture, and they are starting to whet appetites in other countries, too.

Left: Iwasaki Co., Ltd., has 24 selections of paint for coloring the food models. Each color was designed to match the color of certain standard food items, such as tomato sauce or ramen noodle soup.
Right: Colored gelatin is poured into glasses to make imitation drinks. In the case of beer, clients specify in writing exactly how much head they want on top.
Iwasaki website (in Japanese and Chinese):


   Special Feature*    Wonders of Japan    Living In Japan
   Plastic Food to Savor with the Eyes    Japanese Animals and Culture
   Bon Appetit!    Japan Travelogue    Cover Interview    In Japan Today