Battle of the Bentos I: Asagaya

The intention and spirit of this site is to bring the best bits and hidden gems of Koenji and Asagaya to the English-reading world. To write about the events and establishments that illuminate its culture and character, especially by featuring the unique, the secret and the exceptional.

And to give some ideas about where to shop and eat. Therefore, while a post including national (or global) supermarket chains may seem out of place, it is not outside this ethos. And if you are visiting Koenjagaya for something other than eating– such as Anime Street, Totoro’s house, a punk show or a jazz club–you might not have a lot of time (or money) to spend on grub. So, this is the first of two Battle of the Bentos (the second will focus on Koenji).

If you know more than three things about daily living in Japan, the bento is likely to be one of them. And in case you are unaware, the bento is the ubiquitous boxed meal that is perhaps the nation’s most common choice for lunch. There are bento shops everywhere, but they are usually easier to spot in commercial areas–at lunchtime–places with a high level of foot traffic and hungry office workers nearby. Many restaurants will also offer bentos as take-out during the lunch hour in the hopes of attracting customers for dinner time. You can typically find a full, satisfying meal ranging anywhere from 400-1,000 yen (or higher if you’re looking for steak or something special).

Around the Station

Seiyu (Walmart), on Nakasugi Dori across from Asagaya Station, has a large and affordable selection of mediocre quality. Connected to the west side of Asagaya Station, step back in time at Asagaya Shopping Center Daiyagai (ie: “Diamond Street), a fun little mall that looks like it’s remained unchanged since 1979. There are small, independent bento shops on the first floor as well as in the supermarket at the end. Just outside the main ticket gate, on the station’s east side is Dila (ディラ), where you can pick up “foreign food” bentos with items such as sausage, lasagna, olives and mashed potatoes. Both Daiyagai and Dila are owned by JR but have independent shops as tenants.

Just outside the Asagaya Station’s North Exit is the aptly named “Asagaya North Exit Station Front Building” (阿佐谷北口駅前ビル). In its basement is “Ito Yokado Food Hall”, Ito Yokado referring to original name of the general merchandise store now known as Seven & I Holdings, the fifth largest retailer in the world. So if you’re going to pay a giant corporation rather than a local business, they’re probably your best option. They’ve got what the Japanese refer to as “cospa” (cosupa, コスパ), short for “cost performance”. It should be noted that among the bentos they have sandwiches, particularly pastrami on whole wheat. Pastrami. On whole wheat. In Japan.

Bentos
Ito-Yokado Bentos
A rare pastrami on wheat
A rare pastrami on wheat

Pearl Shotengai

With bentos being so popular there are of course national chains offering the boxed meal–some have it as a takeout option of their sit-down menu while others only offer bentos . Entering Asagaya Pearl Shotengai from its northern end, after a few minutes walk, the first such shop you’ll find is Manten-don, specializing in tempura don (tempura rice bowls). There you can dine in or grab a box of reasonable quality for as little as 390 yen. They are (surprise surprise) owned by the aforementioned Seven & I Holdings. A couple minutes further on your left is Origin Bento. They’re takeout only and have ready-made, made-to-order and make-your-own options, so you can spend as much or as little as you like. They have numerous shops throughout 10 prefectures and are owned by Asia’s largest retailer, AEON Co., Ltd.

 

Two national bento chains
Two national bento chains

Right next door to Origin Bento is the healthiest selection you’ll find. F&F is an small grocer chain with 10 locations throughout Tokyo and Kanagawa specializing in organic goods. They’ve got a limited selection of excellent bentos for 600-900 yen.

Of marginally better quality but slightly higher price and smaller selection than Seiyu is another supermarket, Peacock, at the south end of Pearl Shotengai. Peacock is, of course, owned by Aeon.

That said, if you can pop into one of the local shops or restaurants, all the better. You can find lunch deals for the same as (or even less than) some bentos.

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