Whenever we go to a Japanese restaurant, the first thing we do is marvel at the fake food in the front window. So real, so fake, so detailed! Restaurants throughout Japan display these plastic food replicas as a sort of menu or in-the-street advertising, but where did this tradition come from and how are these food models made?
Called sampuru, like the English word “sample”, these miniature sculptures are handmade, previously with wax and currently with non-biodegradable polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The dish displays are often made-to-order so that they’ll match the visual style of the restaurant’s real food.
Above, watch this artisan deftly present the sampuru food-making process to some fascinated children in Gujo, Gifu, Japan. You can see him pouring liquid plastic into hot water to make tempura batter and lettuce heads.
2019 update: There’s also a Great Big Story:
Watch more videos about plastic, food, and Japan, including how to make a rolled Japanese omelette, how to make Totoro Steamed Buns, Ocean Confetti: The challenge of micro-plastics, and how to turn banana peels into a biodegradable bioplastic.