The phrase “fake food” is likely to make you think about food fraud these days. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Unlike this frightening fake beef scare, Japanese replica food is mesmerizingly beautiful.

Japanese restaurant display

Photo: Flickr/Gustavo Veríssimo

These ingenious displays are meant to make your dining choices easier than just looking at endless menu photos.

Still, the one question we always have is: how is your actual meal supposed to live up to the huge expectations raised by these gorgeous displays?

The proper name for it is “shokuhin sample,” which Kotaku tells us means “food sample.” The art of making fake food can be traced back to 1917, but Oddity Central informs us that it wasn’t proudly displayed in glass cases until 1926.

Here are the four steps involved in making a wax cabbage:

japanese cabbage 1

Japanese cabbage 1.5

Japanese cabbage 2

Japanese cabbage 3

Although food replicas used to typically be made from wax, modern methods use liquid plastic poured into silicon molds. Plastic holds up better to changes in temperature than wax, and the color doesn’t tend to fade with time, according to the Seattle Times.

Some wax might still be used for certain things, including hands-on demonstrations like the ones seen in the video above.

Here’s how to make beautiful plastic shrimp tempura.

Japanese tempura shrimp 1

Japanese tempura shrimp 2

Japanese tempura shrimp 3

This level of artistry unsurprisingly commands high prices. According to the Seattle Times, a single fake bowl of tempura soba was 4,500 yen ($42) in 1994. We’re not sure we even want to know what it must cost now.

That might seem really lucrative for the artists who make this stuff, but it’s less of a money-maker than you’d think. Since this fake food basically lasts forever and only needs cleaning once in awhile, restaurants aren’t generally repeat customers unless they add new menu items that need replicas.

In case you’re as fascinated by these as we are, we’ve found a couple more fake food videos to entertain you until you can go eat.

This excerpt from Wim Wenders’ 1985 documentary Tokyo-Ga is truly timeless.

This video from a show called The Making goes beyond cabbages and tempura ebi to show you the intricacies of donburimono, or Japanese bowls.

After watching these, we’re so hungry we could probably eat one of these replicas. Instead, we’ll just have to settle for the real thing.

[via Rocket News 24]