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Bento in Seattle

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Kanako in her classroom at the Che Shop in Magnolia. She teaches the bento concept, recipes and the tricks of getting all that goodness packed just right. (Photo by Nick Turner)

A little box packed with seasonal and local goodness

By now, you’ve seen the beloved bento featured on the lunch menus of Japanese restaurants. In Japanese, a “bento” is a box filled with a meal you can carry. “Japan’s bento was originally developed to combine the convenience of portability with the aesthetics of Japanese cuisine,” says Kanako Koizumi, who teaches classes on preparing bentos at PCC markets and other places around Seattle. “Japonica rice is still tasty when it’s cold, making it perfect for carrying around.” A rice ball wrapped in bamboo fronds and a traditional Japanese cuisine concept were used to create the plentiful makunouchi bento, which was served at breaks in kabuki performances. The traditional concept paired rice and one soup with three other dishes – Ichijyu Sansai “一汁三菜”.

Lots of non-Japanese attend Kanako’s bento classes. “I think it’s because arranging a lot of items beautifully in a small box is a new concept for Americans,” says Kanako. “I see many young Japanese American moms at my classes. They want to recreate the taste of their grandma’s dishes and have their kids try.” Kanako explains that bento is filled with homemade delicacies, whose recipes are taught by mother to daughter.

Bentos need seasonality and locality. Local autumn specialties such as pumpkin and eggplant are easy to find in Washington. “As winter approaches, we’ll find daikon radish and Napa cabbage in Seattle, all grown in Washington,” Kanako says. It can be fun trying to put together the necessities of a Japanese meal with the seasonal and local offerings in Seattle.


Bento by Local Chefs

Uwajimaya Seattle Store

600 5th Ave. S., Seattle | 206-624-6248 | www.uwajimaya.com

The Chef Kenzo corner features souzai dishes and bento on Tuesday through Thursday from 11am to 3pm, and on Friday and Saturday from 11am to 5pm. You can choose from two to four different daily bentos.

Chef Kenzo Kyogo has a half century of experience in the kitchen, starting with a high-end downtown Tokyo restaurant, then moving to Bush Garden and other Seattle restaurants and now as the man behind the dishes and bentos at Uwajimaya. His deep-fried dishes are popular, especially his croquette and shrimp and vegetable tempura. His newest dishes include seasonal specialties such as sablefish collar kasuzuke, spicy fish sausage and matsutake rice.

 

I Love Sozai – at I Love Sushi on Lake Bellevue

23 Lake Bellevue Dr., Bellevue | 425-455-9090 | www.ilovesouzai.com

The kabuki bento includes three types of handmade rice balls: rice and mustard greens, chirashi sushi tamago scrambled egg and salmon rice. Arranged around them are seasonal vegetable dishes such as pumpkin, satsuma sweet potato and eggplant, creating a treasure trove of a meal!

The popular Bellevue sushi restaurant I Love Sushi has started selling souzai, or ready-made side dishes. Juro Oki’s fall menu includes satsuma sweet potato, chestnuts, pumpkin seed salad and simmered eggplant. It makes for a bento or a prepared dish designed by a pro.

 

Kozmo Kitchen

206-349-5680 | www.kozmokitchen.com

The mackerel tatsuta-age bento features satsuma sweet potato, eggplant, lotus root and other seasonal delicacies.

This is a bento service run by cooking instructor Kanako Koizumi. “I want the tastes of Japanese family meals to be more widely known in Seattle,” she says. Kanako used to work in IT. Her homemade bentos were very popular with her co-workers, so she decided to turn that into a business. She started deliveries of seasonal bentos to offices, parties and events in October. Contact Kanako for more information: info@kozmokitchen.com.

 

Maruta Shoten

1024 S. Bailey St., Seattle | 206-767-5002 | www.marutashoten.com

Matsutake rice is offered in autumn. The futomaki and inari sushi, with its combination of shiitake mushrooms, carrots and rice wrapped in tofu, are classic Japanese comfort foods.

The souzai dishes prepared here like the crunchy kinpira and the richly flavorful simmered pumpkin taste just like they did years ago. The daily dishes are sold at half price after 5pm. Sweet anko buns are sold on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. And on Tuesdays, the store features the delicious ohagi rice balls.

 

Kai Market by Uwajimaya
400 Fairview Ave. N., #P001, Seattle | 206-957-1060

The poke bar lets you make a poke-don just the way you like it. There are bentos featuring fried chicken, croquettes, salmon, eel and a choice of white or genmai rice.

Cutting Board
5503 Airport Way S, Seattle | 206-767-8075

Four different bentos feature everything from deep-fried shrimp and breaded pork cutlets to stir-fry pork with ginger. There are also sushi and bento-style meals to choose from.

Sen
13104 NE. 70th Pl., Kirkland | 206-552-6524 | Sen Website

Seafood is central here, with fish served grilled, seared, raw and poke style. Bentos are made to order, and the rice balls are substantial. Plenty of dishes popular with children like sausages are available in the kids’ bento.

Hiroshis
2521 15th Ave. S., Seattle | 206-325-5855 | Hiroshis Website

This take-out and deli store features food from catering business Hiroshi’s. You can choose from sushi, katsu-curry on rice and other prepared dishes. The maki-zushi here is also available at Uwajimaya.

Bento-ya Goemon
700 NW. Gilman Blvd., #E-103A, Issaquah | 425-677-7460

This bento specialty shop is open for business in Issaquah. Offerings include traditional makunouchi and shoukadou bentos as well as yaki-niku, ginger stir fry and other meat dishes. The word is spreading about these popular bentos.

WA’S Kitchen
425-533-3604 | Hiro Tawara Website

Chef Hiro Tawara, known for his catering and pop-up events, offers seasonal and locally sourced bentos made to order for 10 or more people.

 

BENTO Recipes

Find Kozmo Kitchen Chef Kanako Koizumi’s Bento Recipes that you can try at home in Seattle