For the uninitiated, bento refers to the Japanese boxed lunch — traditionally, a box with rice, meat, something pickled, and cooked vegetables. We found the real deal at Fujiya Market, located at the corner of University and South Priest drives in Tempe. Best of all, a bento lunch set you back less than $10.
At this little Japanese grocery store, convenience is key. The space includes tables so diners can order and sit down to eat just as easily as they can grab and go. The market employees will even heat your bento for you at the market should your final destination lack a microwave. The market itself is relatively small but filled with a variety of Japanese items, including sake, beer, snacks, and rice.
Fujiya Market had several bento box options when we stopped by the market last Saturday. Fish and pork were both available, but we decided on the teriyaki chicken.
(It's worth mentioning that these lunches may not appeal to picky diners; some of the items in the bento may not be familiar to the American palate. With an open mind, however, we enjoyed most of what came in our bento.)
Kamaboko (fish cake) is what you’ll notice first. It's the white-and-pink half-circle hanging out with the chicken. It has a somewhat rubbery texture and is not at all fishy tasting. These little cakes are made with white fish and are similar to the imitation crab meat at the supermarket. It's the same stuff you usually get in a California sushi roll, and you also may have seen it in ramen.
Next on the bento menu was a steamed piece of broccoli, a generous portion of rice, half a mini-egg roll, and the chicken teriyaki, which was quite good even cold. We wished we had asked the market employees to warm up our bento (next time, we will) but the sauce on the chicken was flavorful and the meat moist.
A small portion of calamari salad appeared along with spaghetti with a side of pickles. The calamari salad was good and the small sample was just enough to get a taste before we moved on to the next dish.
The spaghetti was just that: spaghetti. Nothing very interesting, but it was fun to have a taste of noodles with all of the salty and fishy foods going on. We loved the salty pickles, tsukemono, which offered a bright green color and deep flavor.
In the last tray, you’ll find some nishime, or simmered Japanese vegetables, which included lotus root, water chestnut, carrots, and edamame. The konjac gel, or konnyaku, was the most interesting and maybe the most disturbing thing in our bento. Konjac doesn’t really have any flavor, so it was more about the texture, which we compared to eating rubber.
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Bento boxes at Fujiya Market, located at 1335 W University Drive in Tempe, cost $6.49. For more information check the Fujiya Market website.