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Although the language barrier can make traveling or living in Japan tough at times, dining out is a snap. There are plenty of conveyer belt sushi restaurants where you just grab what you want as the plates go by, and at many ramen and beef bowl restaurants you simply buy a meal ticket out of a vending machine, then pass it off to the cook.

Even when technology isn’t there to save you, ordering is still easy, thanks to the numerous Japanese restaurants that display wax models of their menu items, allowing you to bring the wait staff to the display window and point and what you want. There’s a whole industry devoted to replicating food, and we recently tried our hand at making a wax creation of our own.

When restaurateurs need to buy wax models, they head to Kappanashi, Tokyo’s culinary supply district. Among the stores selling razor-sharp sashimi knives and the dozens of different types of plates and bowls used in preparing a full-course Japanese meal, you’ll find the showroom of Ganso Samples, which is where we went for our lesson in wax food model making.

We were tagging along with a member of the Shiri 100 Project, a group offering opportunities for people to learn about and try unique, traditional Japanese experiences such as grabbing freshwater eels with your bare hands (a must-have skill for chefs who specialize in the delicacy) or preparing rice the old-fashioned way, with a fire instead of an electric rice cooker.

When we arrived, we found out we were in for a special treat. For that day only, the branch’s manager himself, Katsuyoshi Yamashita, would be teaching the lesson. Since we obviously don’t have his level of familiarity with the techniques used in replicating food in wax form, he told us we’d be making a model of shrimp and vegetable tempura, with a garnish of lettuce, which should be relatively easy even for first-timers like us.

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We started with the tempura. The models of the shrimp and vegetables were already made, so we’d be doing the final step of making them appear fried in the delicious, crispy coating.

First, we were given a paper cup filled with melted wax, which we added, slowly but steadily, into a vat of hot water. As we did, it spread out on the surface, taking on the appearance of tempura batter.

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Once we had a sizeable enough patch, we placed a single piece of our vegetables on top, then gave it a twist to coat it with the wax all around. We repeated the process for our shrimp, and just like that, we had some model tempura that was indistinguishable from the real thing.

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We were feeling pretty proud of ourselves, and our friend from Shiri 100 displayed a similar knack for making wax tempura. But while real tempura is tricky to get just right, as far as food modeling goes, we had more trouble with our lettuce.

The first step of the process was more or less the same as with the tempura, as we spread white wax onto the surface of the boiling water. Next, we placed a layer of green wax on top of that, submerged the whole thing to stretch it out, and finally rolled it give it a proper scrunched up shape.

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That last step is where things got difficult for us, as you can see by comparing the lettuce made by the amateurs (ours is on the right) with the model made by Yamashita (on the left).

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But while our lettuce may not be realistic enough to fool anyone into pouring dressing over it, it’s close enough to the genuine article that we’d like to give making it one more shot.

After we go through the other 99 activities on Shiri 100’s list, that is.

Photos: RocketNews24
Related: Shiri 100, Shiri 100 Facebook, Ganso Samples
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