Bento tidbits from Japan: Beautiful takeout bentos in Kamakura
Regular readers of JustBento may know that I like to report on takeout bentos in Japan and elsewhere, wherever my travels take me. Takeout bentos differ from homemade bentos, but there's plenty to learn from them too in terms of presentation, flavor and ingredient combinations, and so on, especially in Japan, where bentos are sold everywhere.
Previously I've shown you the bentos available at a local supermarket, from 7-11 (a konbini or convenience store), and an ekiben or 'station bento'/department food hall bento from a famous Yokohama vendor. The ones I'm showing you today are even higher up the bento scale in terms of taste, presentation and price. We bought them in the ancient historic city of Kamakura, which is just a short train ride away from Yokohama (and is about an hour away from central Tokyo), but they are actually made in the nearby town of Hayama, by a famous tea shop/cafe called Hikagejaya or Hikage Chaya (Japanese only website). We were in Kamakura for a workshop and were in a bit of a hurry, so we ate these bentos sitting on a bench.
You can tell even before opening them that these are a bit more special than the bentos I've shown previously. They are packaged in disposable bento boxes made from takekawa, the outer husk of large bamboo shoots. The bigger box uses the takekawa in large sheets, and the smaller box is woven with thin strips of it. Both boxes are sewn around the edges with cotton thread. I liked them so much that I brought them home with me. They are really lightweight but quite stable, and of course biodegradeable.
We bought a Hanagoyomi bento (Flower Almanac Bento), which was 2100 yen (about US $27), and a Katsuo Gohan bento (Bonito Rice Bento), 1360 yen (US$17). The bentos change according to the season, so you may not be able to get these exact bentos, but you can see the quality. They may seem quite expensive for takeout bentos, but they are worth every yen. Take a look at the oshinagaki or list of contents for the hanagoyomi bento for example. (Sorry the paper is all scrunched up - I rescued it when it was about to be thrown away!)
It lists 23 different items. I don't even know what some of them are exactly, but there was chestnut rice (kuri gohan), a rice-cracker coated fried shrimp, tamagoyaki of course, simmered satoimo (taro) and satsumaimo (sweet potato), a tiny seafood salad of sorts packed into a sudachi (a type of citrus), a tiny grilled eggplant, and even two bitesized grilled aji (horse mackerel) sushi. It tasted as good as it looks.
The simpler katsuo gohan bento was just as good. The rice was the star here for sure - sweet-salty bonito fish cooked with rice, formed into small cylindrical onigiri. I'll have to figure out how to reproduce that flavor somehow - it was so good. There was also a plain shinmai (new harvest rice) onigiri, which was just as delicious.
You can get bentos like this all over Japan. There's so much else here that is good to eat that it's hard to justify just living off of bentos, but it sure is tempting to contemplate that possibility. Maybe next time when I can finally drag The Guy along with me, we'll do a bento-fest trip around the country. Or...maybe a JustBento reader trip someday? ^_^
Incidentally, I don't have a lot of photos to show of Kamakura since I wasn't there for sightseeing, but I'll try to go back there before I leave Japan. It is well worth a trip if you're in the Tokyo area and are interested in Japanese history.
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