‘Ichiba’ themed food courts go international
With its 10 closely packed storefronts, the Ichiba Japanese Market at Newport Mall in Resorts World Manila, in The Philippines, is a unique dining experience. But in a short time, it may prove the leading edge of a global trend.
The market, which opened in February, has separate stalls serving gyoza (potstickers), tempura, takoyaki (octopus in balls of batter), ramen, donburi (icebowl), sashimi, yakitori and more. Seafood selections include lobsters, crabs, shellfish and a variety of fish. These 10 faux storefronts, however, are really all part of one restaurant.
The goal was to create the atmosphere of browsing in the famous seafood markets of Japan. Specifically, the space combines elements of four markets.
Tokyo’s Tsukiji market is the largest in the world, and is the home of high-value tuna auctions. The outer market restaurants are thus mostly associated with fresh sashimi.
Osaka’s Kuromon Ichiba is a shopping arcade near the Namba subway station packed with approximately 150 shops offering fish, meat and vegetables. The most popular dishes here are blowfish (fugu, also called “globefish” or “pufferfish”), kabayaki-style eel and takoyaki (balls of batter containing octopus). Soft-shelled turtle, though not a common dish in Japan, seems to be featured for the benefit of Chinese visitors, who consider it a delicacy. Chinese turtle farms raise over 91 million soft-shell turtles annually.
At the Sapporo crab market, located near the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market, about 60 stores are closely located in two lines. King crab and hairy crab are specialties here. Snow crab, though also sold, is considered more a specialty of the Sea of Japan coast of the Kansai area.
The Yanagibashi market in the Hakata section of Fukuoka is the second largest in Japan and mentaiko – spicy cod roe – is prominent among the variety on offer.
Not all of the above dishes made it into the Ichiba Japanese Market menu – for example, they take a pass on turtles – but the lively, active, crowded atmosphere is well imitated, aided by a sushi chef and aquaculture manager brought in from Japan.
The number of Chinese and Southeast Asian tourists in Japan has greatly increased in the past few years, due to the elimination of a visa requirement. These tourists flock in droves to Japan’s public markets to buy seafood and to graze the various stalls that offer local specialties. It appears that some would welcome re-creating this atmosphere in their home countries.
The Japanese seafood market-to-table concept was developed by Manila-based ifoods Group Inc., which also runs two other Japanese themed restaurants: Tokyo Café and WAFU. Diners can place orders at several “shops,” simply leaving their table number and settling the bill after the meal.
There is a “fishing and eating adventure” consisting of tanks where diners can catch a fish, buy it and have it cooked to order. Located close to the airport, about 60 percent of Ichiba Japanese Market’s seafood is sourced from Japan. Lobsters and clams are locally sourced.
The Philippines does have its native version of the ichiba, called “dampa.” This word originally meant a traditional hut made from palm leaves and bamboo, analogous to a fish shack in the U.S.A. But nowadays, it means a fish market where customers buy the raw seafood themselves, and then take it to a nearby restaurant to be cooked to order. The dampa located along Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City, fronting Manila Bay, is a typical example.