Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

In case you don’t follow my other food blog, Just Hungry, I am in Japan for the next 3 months. I’ll be reporting on non-bento stuff over there, but of course I’ll be posting about bento related things here!

I just got here yesterday, so I don’t have much to report yet, but here are some photos of takeout bentos available locally, in the suburban area of Yokohama (a major port city near Tokyo) where my mother and stepfather live. I got these for lunch today at a local small supermarket (Royal Yotsuya).

Takeout bento and onigiri

On the left is a single salmon onigiri (rice ball). On the right is a hamburger with a fried egg, shredded cabbage, a single broccoli spear and tomato slice, all on top of plain white rice. People from Hawai’i or who have been there might recognize this as a loco moco, though the label didn’t say as such. Here it is with the lid off:

Loco moco style bento

It tasted fine - not spectacular or anything, but quite edible. I think the hamburger was made with ground pork. But hey - for 398 yen (about US $4.40), what would you expect? If they sold bentos like that where I live, I would buy it all the time for lunch. The onigiri was okay — I’m sure there are better available. But hey…what a cheap snack!

The other bentos sold at the supermarket ranged from around 300 yen to 700 yen (the most expensive ones were big!) Similar bentos are sold at konbini (convenience stores) and elsewhere. Given that such cheap takeout bentos are available so easily, I really salute the dedicated home bento makers of Japan. Home made bentos are much nicer of course, but still — I’m not sure if I could resist the lure of convenient and so very cheap takeout bentos.

Here is a slightly more expensive lunch - a katsu sando, or tonkatsu (breaded fried pork cutlet) with brown sauce on white bread sandwich. It was 420 yen (price corrected) from a local bakery (which actually seems to be quite famous in the area - see below). It was my stepfather’s lunch but I stole one of the pieces.

Japanese bakery - Katsu Sando

Much nicer than the bentos - juicy meat, still-crispy breading. (I’ll have more about Hige no Panya at a later time I’m sure. I just encountered it by chance on the way to the supermarket, but apparently it is very popular. Here’s their web site. There are a couple more photos of the place in my Japan trip flickr set.)

Now, you can tell me what kind of bento related things you want me to find out while I’m here. I will of course check out the stores that carry bento goods (and take photos as much as I’m allowed to). Anything else I should be on the lookout for?

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

24 comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

I love this series, Maki! It makes me feel like I am living there again. :) When I was there I spoke with quite a few Japanese mom's who expressed frustration at having to hand make bento when they could buy them so inexpensively, however they felt a stigma against it from both their children and their child's schools connected to the belief that bento= a mother's love for her child. Several also spoke about bento building blocks that were available in the freezer section of grocery stores (like pre-portioned, frozen spaghetti, mini hamburgers, potato salad, etc). I looked for them a bit at the market near where I was living in Ontakesan but they didn't seem to carry them. If you find some on your travels, I'd love to see some pictures or what they are like. I can't wait to see more of your trip!

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Wah! I'm so jealous. (I'll get to Japan someday.)

I'd love to know where to find tiny containers! I have a hard time finding them!

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

I'm taking good note of this!! It will help me on my trip :D

have a nice time maki! And i hope you mum gets ok!! >_<

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Hi Maki!
I'm sure that your presence in Japan is doing wonders for your mother's health, I'm so very glad you're able to be there for her.
My question is about what I regard as true Tokyo "street food".
As you know, at lunch time, in all the business districts, little stalls magically appear on the pavements offering bento to city workers. Some of these are related to the restaurant located next to the stall, others to a restaurant on an upper storey in a nearby building, but others don't seem to be connected to anywhere.
How do these temporary bento stalls operate? Are any independent businesses? Are most made somewhere en masse? How do they get the permits to sell on the street? I'd love to know more!
(I have a terrible weakness for the prawn versions of those katsu sandwiches from Maisen...)

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Hi Maki,
I always love to read your posts. I have been following the blog and tweets of Keizo, a guy who is nuts about ramen and his blog is called GORAMEN. He recently moved to Japan from LA to follow his dream of working in a ramenya. He works for an American fellow, Ivan, who runs a ramenya called 'Ivan Ramen', I think. I think it is around the Yokohama region so it may be a place you could visit to taste what look to be awesome bowls of ramen. I wish I was over there myself to taste a bowl as I am nuts over ramen myself.
Best wishes
Andrea from Melbourne, Australia.

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

I hope you have a nice safe trip! The bentos are interesting, and I was wondering if the fast food restaraunts (like mcdonalds) have 'healthier' items on their menus than we do here, or if they offer bento style foods? I've never been to Japan, so I really like the posts of your trip. Thanks for taking the time to keep up with the site while you're away =)

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Hello, Maki!

Thanks for your posts, and I hope you will have a great trip in Japan!!
I would love to see more pictures of the actual food served in Japan, like Bento, sushi, noodle bars, etc... but also what's available in a typical supermarket, or local shop/ bakery. What kind of desserts are served?

Looking forward to seeing more pictures ^^

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Waah *missing Japan* You're so lucky (* - *)

When I was in Tokyo last summer, I ate a LOT of onigiri, because it was so cheap and convenient to carry with me in my purse for a quick snack. I ate two kinds, some without nori to begin with, and some with nori in a plastic wrap on the outside that I could remove instead of wrapping my onigiri with it (I don't like nori at all...).

The one problem was that with the ones with the plastic wrapped nori around them, it was difficult to tell what kind of taste they would have. The pictures were small and unclear, and I couldn't understand the text. If you found this kind of onigiri, could you perhaps figure out what kinds of filling they have?

Thank you! Have a nice tim in Japan!

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Ana wrote:

If you found this kind of onigiri, could you perhaps figure out what kinds of filling they have?

Here's an article where Maki has described them:
http://justbento.com/handbook/bento-culture/popular-onigiri-fillings-and...

You might like this photo guide of ten of the most popular choices for your next visit:
http://www.tjf.or.jp/eng/content/japaneseculture/28konbini.htm (scroll to the bottom)

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Thank you very much! I think I figured out what the onigiri with pictures of pink stuff on the outside were filled with: Roe!

But I was actually more thinking of a description of the picture on the outside with each kind of filling, so that they could be found without being able to read japanese. I think I was unclear in my last post... n__n;

Hoka Hoka Tei

I loved the take out bentos! I used to go to this place called Hoka Hoka Tei and they'd make this bento dinners and lunches. The menu is constantly changing so once you start to really enjoy something they take it away from you and add something else to the menu. They knew me by name over there! I loved it because they always encouraged me to speak Japanese! The food was just perfect for those nights where you felt super lazy.

I can't wait to see more reminders of Japan!

Re: Hoka Hoka Tei

They became Hotto Motto not too long ago. Slightly different decor, but same fabulous fried stuff.

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Almost loco moco, just needs gravy!

I don't think I could resist the cheap, readily available bento either! We eat out way less on the mainland than we ever did in Hawaii, mostly because all kinds of food we love is everywhere and relatively cheap there but much less so here.

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Hi Maki,

I live in Yokohama, and I'm always wandering about looking for good bento bits. Perhaps you can point me in the right direction of a really good place to get a new bento box. I've checked out Loft, Tokyu Hands etc, but there never quite seems to be enough of a selection - or at least, never quite what I want.

Does such a bento-supply heaven exist?

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Well it depends on what kind of bento box you are looking for...regular plastic, etc. ones are readily available at LOFT etc. (I also heard that Takashimaya in Yokohama is going to have a Kyoto festival in May, and they may have some handmade boxes and stuff then - expensive of course!)

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

The last time I was in Tokyo, I was walking in an ordinary neighborhood and wandered into some kind of bento deli. All the foods were set out in cold displays and you assembled your own bento boxes. Even though I hadn't caught the bento bug yet, I was enthralled with what I saw. I wanted to taste everything!

Is this common in residential areas?

We have something similar in San Francisco called Delica (http://www.delicasf.com/index.html), but their selection is limited. What I tend to do is buy a vegetarian bento to augment a fish dinner for two, then have leftovers for bento the next day.

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Mmmm takes me back to my trip to Japan. I only got a take out Bento once, on my way to the airport so I could eat while waiting for my plain. I think if I were a Japanese mom though I would buy a to-go bento and put it in a box. :P

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

by the way... "loco moco" means "crazy snot" in spanish, lol

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Jiza wrote:

by the way... "loco moco" means "crazy snot" in spanish, lol

Not such a bad association for the Japanese as you might think
http://maki.typepad.com/justhungry/2009/11/the-great-buddhas-nose-snot.h...
In the article, konpeito (with a little fart) candy is mentioned which always makes me stifle a giggle. Seeing inappropriate words in others' languages is the Spaniards' curse.
My apologies to all! I won't mention any more.

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

I recently read an article by Andrew Zimmerman (the Bizarre Foods guy) and he was writing about his favorite markets around the world. Of the three he wrote about, one was about a big food market on the bottom level of a department store in Shibuya called Tokyu Food Show. (Here is the website - http://www.tokyu-dept.co.jp/foodshow/) It is apparently the size of two city blocks! You'll have to go and tell us if it as wonderful as his article and the pictures accompanying it made it seem!

On my first visit to Japan two years ago, my husband and I stayed in the Shinjuku area. Above Shinjiku station and on the bottom level of the Odakyu Department Store, there was this great food market. I would go and get sandwich bentos for about 300¥ a piece for lunch. They also had some beautiful pastries and they were focusing on strawberries since they were in season at that time.

On our second visit, we were heading back to Osaka after a weekend in Tokyo and we got these great Tonkatsu bentos from one of the small food stands that services the Shinkansen lines. My husband is one of the pickiest eaters I have ever come across and he loved it!

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Yes many department stores have great food departments. My mother keeps raving about the one in Takashimaya in Yokohama (and believe me, she is a true foodie) and I still haven't been, but I will. She doesn't like Tokyu department stores that much, but I'll check them out too.

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Thank you for posting these. They really look great and intriguing. We will have to see if we can check them out. Since you are new here we look forward to following your findings. casino online

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Whereabouts near Yokohama? My family is from Ofuna, close to Kamakura.

I hope to go within the next few years, perhaps you will find something in Kamakura and report back. :)

Re: Bento tidbits from Japan: Takeout bentos

Hello!
Im a newbie here and am devouring the whole website as fast as I can!LOVE IT! Just found out that daughter has severe allergy issues...have you ever read what is in the preboxed/bagged stuff? A new asian market opened up near us last november and i am hooked! We are eating all diffrent types of asian(Is this the correct term?dont want to offend)food...korean,thai,chinese,and she adores sushi...now that her illness is under control(18 months of constant sinus infections) she is set on getting rid of the 30 lbs she gained using a steroid type med.My DD LOVES this site as well and is sooo excited to get started! Hope your mum is better and have a great trip!
Regards
A new convert
Niccii

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.