PB&J be gone! Well-balanced and tasty with a air for the artistic, Japanese lunches conveniently go above and beyond your usual midday meal.

When the clock strikes noon in the midst of your busy day at work or school, what do you typically grab for lunch? Perhaps you settle for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or last night’s leftovers warmed up in the office microwave, or maybe just a quick hotdog purchased from a nearby street vendor. If you’re feeling like your lunch could use a little “oomph” these days, why not try bento?

Bento or Japanese lunch—the “bento box,” as many of us know it—is a creative take on an all- too-often mundane midday meal. With origins dating back to the Kamakura period of 12th-century Japan, the term “bento” stems from a Chinese slang term meaning “convenient”—and anyone who has had one can attest that bento boxes are not only true to their name but also meticulously organized, beautifully presented and impressively nutritious.

Traditionally consisting of rice, meat or fish and a hearty helping of vegetables, Japanese lunches have diversified over the years. In today’s bento boxes, for example, you might find hard-boiled eggs or soba noodles instead. The lunch box contents have esthetically evolved, too: kyaraben (character bento) and oekakibento (picture bento) are wildly popular among children and adults alike for their artistically arranged ingredients depicting adorable anime characters, plants, animals and famous monuments. And the boxes themselves are not too shabby, either—many bento box vendors sell specially designed commemorative boxes during major holidays or notable events.

These days, whether you’re grabbing lunch in Toronto or Tokyo, bento won’t always come in a box. Japanese lunch extends beyond the boxed meals we know and love to other forms such as curries, soups, rice dishes like katsu-don and grilled meals like teppanyaki. And if you’re really in a hurry, you might grab a palm-sized onigiri, or triangle-shaped rice ball stuffed with treats inside. Whichever form of Japanese lunch you choose, you’re sure to notice an added pep in your step all afternoon.


Try our Toronto lunch picks

Savour something new and nutritious

DSC02891_4cSKingyo Izakaya:Assorted Deluxe Bento $19 + tax

Kingyo’s famous Makunouchi Bento! In Japan, a Makunouchi Bento usually consists of fish, meat, eggs and vegetables along with rice and pickles. With this special lunch, you get eight different dishes (or 10 with apps) that are switched up every few days. It’s no wonder Kingyo calls this bento the “King of Lunch”! Expect anything from karaage to tofu salad to pork kakuni … and so much more.

Kingyo Izakaya

51 Winchester St., Toronto | 647-748-2121 |

www.kingyotoronto.ca

OPEN: Daily 11:30 am–4 pm (last call 3 pm), 5:30 pm–11:30 pm

 

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MeNami: Dondeki $13 + tax

Have you ever tried pork jowls? For those seeking something new in their lunch, these pork cheeks are a delicious option. At MeNami, Dondeki is one of the most popular lunches on the menu. Marinated with teriyaki sauce and oven-baked, the dish (which is leaner than most pork options) comes with sliced cabbage with spicy dressing, steamed rice, pickles and a small bowl of MeNami’s famous udon noodles.

MeNami

5469 Yonge St., North York | 416-229-6191 | www.menami.ca

OPEN: Mon–Sat 11:30 am–2:30 am • Sun 11:30 am–12 am

 

DSC01458_4cSIchiriki Japanese Restaurant: Lunch Special $15 + tax

If you’re having a hard time deciding what to eat, Ichiriki’s lunch special is for you! In this satisfying meal at a satisfying price, you can choose between delicious salmon, chicken, beef or pork over rice. If that’s not enough for you, this meal also comes with three pieces of salmon sashimi and two California roll pieces, an appetizer dish, miso soup and a salad.

Ichiriki Japanese Restaurant

120 Bloor St. E., Toronto | 416-923-2997 | www.ichiriki.ca
OPEN: Mon 11:30 am–2 pm, 5:30 pm–9 pm • Tues 11:30 am–2 pm Wed–Fri 11:30 am–2 pm, 5:30 pm–9 pm • Sat 5:30 pm–9 pm • Sun closed

 

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Funé Japanese Restaurant: Katsu-Don $16 + tax

Located in the heart of Toronto’s theatre district, a pleasant surprise awaits: a warm bowl of deep-fried breaded pork cutlet, Spanish onion and egg stewed in sauce, served over a bed of rice, with an accompaniment of miso soup and salad. If you’re seeking a cosy and hearty lunch break, Funé’s Katsu-Don is a perfect choice.

Funé Japanese Restaurant

100 Simcoe St., Toronto | 416-599-3868 | www.funerestaurant.com
OPEN: Mon–Thurs 11:30 am–2:30 pm, 5 pm–10 pm • Fri 11:30 am–2:30 pm, 5 pm–11:30 pm • Sat 5 pm–11:30 pm • Sun 5 pm–10 pm

 

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Nami Japanese Restaurant: Robata Special B (Fish and Yakitori) $22 + tax

Nami’s Robata Special is perfect for the seafood lover! Nami’s masterful chefs use high-quality catches to prepare you a lunch with your choice of grilled fish. The meal also comes with two yakitori skewers alongside either teriyaki or salt, a small salad, miso soup and a bowl of steamed rice served with Japanese pickles. This lunch will have you loosening your belt!

Nami Japanese Restaurant

55 Adelaide St. E., Toronto | 416-362-7373 | www.namirestaurant.ca
OPEN: Mon–Fri 11:45 am–2 pm, 5:30 pm–10 pm • Sat 5:30 pm–10 pm • Sun closed

 

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Yamato Japanese Restaurant: Sirloin and Shrimp $17 + tax

Teppanyaki is a style of interactive Japanese cooking that sees ingredients seared in front of you on an iron griddle. If you’re on the hunt for a satisfying lunch and a fun experience to go with it, try Yamato’s Sirloin and Shrimp Teppanyaki entrée! It’s prepared right at your table and comes with Japanese clear onion soup, freshly grilled vegetables and steamed rice.

Yamato Japanese Restaurant

24 Bellair St., Toronto | 416-927-0077 | yamatorestaurant.ca
OPEN: Mon–Fri 11:30 am–3 pm, 5 pm–11 pm • Sat–Sun 12 pm–10 pm