Those of you who follow me on Just Hungry may know that for the past few weeks I’ve been wandering around France and Switzerland, looking for a new place to call home . One leg of those travels took me to Brittany (Bretagne), of which I’ll talk about sometime soon on Just Hungry. From there the plan was to go to Strasbourg, en route back to Zürich to take care of some business. But those plans fell through, so I ended up spending 3 short days in Paris. (If you look at a map, Paris is a good midpoint stopover en route from Brittany to Zürich.)
Yes I know, Paris does not say Japanese Food Mecca to most people. In fact, it really isn’t (I believe that you can get better Japanese food, at least in high end restaurants, in New York or Los Angeles). However, there is a sizeable expat population there, not to mention hordes of Japanese tourists. So there are a fair number of decent Japanese restaurants, not to mention grocery stores and such there. I’ll report on these soon on Just Hungry, but today I’ll like to show you some…Paris bentos!
There is an area around the 1st and 2nd arrondissements (on the Right Bank of the Seine, near the Louvre, Opera and such places), which is a sort of Japantown. Almost every restaurant there pretends to be Japanese. I do say “pretends” to be, since many don’t actually seem to be run by Japanese people. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily bad, but - well, they could be. (We had sushi at a place that was distinctly not Japanese, and were not impressed to put it mildly. On the other hand, we went to a ramen place that was also not Japanese, which was actually not too bad.)
One establishment that is very Japanese is Jujiya (十時や）The name means “Ten o’clock store”, because their store hours are from 10AM to 10PM (except for Sundays, when they close at 9PM). While they have a small grocery store in the back, their main business is bentos and osouzai (お惣菜), or prepared foods. It’s rather like a middling konbini (convenience store) in Japan; for an expat Japanese, it’s a slice of home.
They display a few plastic models of their bentos in the window. Here’s the ebi furai (breaded fried shrimp) bento model. You can also see the prices of some of the other bentos on the small card to the right. Of course, it’s in French and Japanese!
Here are a couple more bento models:
Essentially, you choose the main item - ebi furai, tonkatsu , hambaagu  (Japanese hamburger steak), chicken tsukune  and so on. Then you choose three sides. Together with white rice, the bentos cost around 7 to 10 Euros, and you can eat in or take out. Not a bad deal for Paris really. You can buy your bottle of green tea or can of Calpis there too to round out your meal.
So, how do the real bentos look like? Here’s a tonkatsu bento, with a bean sprout salad, stewed kiriboshi daikon  (dried daikon radish) and potato salad . The tonkatsu meat was a bit overcooked and dry - probably because it wasn’t freshly cooked, but the sides were surprisingly good. (The ladies behind the counter at Jujiya dole out the sides with an ice cream scooper, which I thought was a good idea. They also use little cupcake-divider cups as you can see.)
Here’s a chicken tsukune bento, with stewed hijiki  (no tofu), stewed okara  (called u no hana; I haven’t posted a recipe for this yet, but I will!) and potato salad again. The tsukune were a tad sweet, but not bad at all.
(Note: While the bentos at Jujiya were not bad, their onigiri, priced at 2.20 EUR each, were exceedingly mediocre.)
For my Japanese-origin tummy, rather exhausted from all the pastries and delicious cultured butter and crême fraiche consumed in Brittany, these bentos were a much needed break. If you get a sudden craving for a bento in Paris…well, you know where to go now!
These are places that do warm takeout bentos; there are many restaurants where you can eat in makunouchi bento lunches and such. All seem to be run by Japanese people according to Japanese expat blogs and the like, for what it’s worth.
I’ve posted a report on non-bento mostly Japanese frugal eats over on Just Hungry .