Bentos are a great way to sample the best restaurants in Japan

I am not quite sure what to make of the Michelin Red Guides for areas other than Europe. I think they still remain relevant and important for sussing out the best restaurants and hotels in France and elsewhere on the continent, but for other areas? In any case, they do manage to get a lot of PR whenever they produce a new yearly guide. For the 5th year in a row Tokyo has more 3-star restaurants than Paris and Japan has more 3-stars than France. The latter is pretty remarkable considering that the France guide covers every nook and cranny of the country, while the Japan guides only cover two regions, albeit the most populated ones (the Kansai area, mainly Osaka and Kyoto, and the Tokyo metropolitan area of Tokyo, Yokohama, and the Shonan area).

So what do Michelin stars have to do with bentos? If you are looking to sample the wares of some of those fine starred restaurants relatively inexpensively, look for the bentos that they sell - usually in the food halls of the top department stores in their respective areas. In the following Japanese news report, one of my favorite restaurants, Hikagejaya or Hikage Chaya, which is located in Hayama, a town near Kamakura and Shonan, (about 30 minutes by train from Yokohama) is featured from around the 0:40 mark. They have one Michelin star. (By the way, the bento in the video is a shokado-type bento that is meant to be eaten in-house, not taken out.)

A multicourse dinner at Hikagejaya is not cheap, but you can get a taste of their food by ordering a bento. They sell their bentos in Kamakura, as well as the food halls of the Yokohama Takashimaya department store on occasion.

I’ve featured one of Hikagejaya’s bentos here before. Here’s another one from early June.

The bento is in a dried bamboo-leaf box again - traditional and eco-friendly - and covered with a blue-green washi paper, very appropriate for the season. (June is the rainy season in Japan.)

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Open up the box…and it’s full of seasonal tidbits. The marinated young ginger shoot dominates, and there’s also young sweet carrot, baby eggplant, and early edamame. You may notice the stem of a young green bamboo leaf sticking out in the middle…

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…that is a little packet, that contains…

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…a perfectly formed temarizushi, made with marinated white fish (I forgot to note down the kind of fish, sorry!).

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One more detail: every bento has to have a piece of tamagoyaki, and theirs is branded with their name in hiragana, saying higage. Note that the brand is on the cut side, so the chef has to slice the tamagoyaki and carefully brand each piece precisely. Wonderful.

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The prices for Hikagejaya’s bentos range from around 2500 yen to 3500 yen - not cheap, but much more affordable than going to their restaurant. (Some fine-dining restaurant bentos are way more expensive, especially in Kyoto - but still cheaper than dining in!) As I’ve mentioned, many other restaurants sell bento lunches at local department stores (not necessarily from the restaurant premises themselves, though a few do). So, next time you’re in Japan, keep an eye out for high-class bentos from top restaurants!

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.

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Re: Bentos are a great way to sample the best restaurants ...

Inspiring and beautiful! That packet with the temarizushi was perfect. I'm impressed =)

Re: Bentos are a great way to sample the best restaurants ...

That is one beautiful looking bento, from the washi paper to the perfectly formed temarizushi...now I have to leave the computer to find a snack! I'm visiting a friend in Okinawa for the first time and was pleased to compare food made here with food I made from your recipes. I've been thinking of you and hoping you're feeling better. I love looking at your photos and reading the posts on your blogs. Take care, Maki! I admire you, lady!

Love your blog!

What a beautiful bento box!

I discovered Just Bento and Just Hungry three weeks ago, and since then bento has taken over my life. As a Taiwanese, I grew up with a lot of Japanese-influenced food and so it was very comforting (often nostalgic!) for me to find all these recipes on your blog. I'm so pleased that I can now make the food that I love in my own kitchen in London! Browsing on Just Bento (literally on a daily basis!) really brightens up my day.

It was such a shock that practically as I discovered your site, you were going through such a difficult time both health-wise and with your father passing away. I pray with all my heart that you get better and that your 2012 will be a peaceful and healthy one. It’s good to see that you’re posting again. I totally understand how it helps. For my part, I will be hanging on your every word!

All my warmest wishes,

Yen-pei

Re: Bentos are a great way to sample the best restaurants ...

That's a sweet idea!!

By the way, I just ordered your book from amazon.com after, reading the great reviews of it!!

Also, I was wondering if you could write about Japan's bullet train's bento's. I was reading a manga about it at this site --> http://www.jmanga.com/ekiben-hitoritabi .

Re: Bentos are a great way to sample the best restaurants ...

Hi Gabby, I wrote a bit about ekiben (train station bentos) a while back: here's the article.

Re: Bentos are a great way to sample the best restaurants ...

This BBC video magazine shows that Japanese 'moms' are as inventive as the professional!

The kids are unbelievable cute as well.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16069217

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