Dishin’: Maruta Shoten and the Battle Bento

A sakana ichiba (fish market) at Shibuya station is our favorite Tokyo battleground. Close to closing time, customers hover around the refrigerator cases, scouting out the sushi and sashimi assortments–especially the packages of maguro, mutsu, and more. Then, at about 7:45, the man with the marker does the “makete” (discounting) action, slashing prices on fish that must fly off the shelves. We jostle for position, reaching for the best boxes of uni and chunks of chu-toro that sometimes drop from a few thousand yen to a few hundred yen. It’s a fight for a feast!

Here in Seattle, there’s a similar situation at Maruta Shoten, the little Japanese grocery store that could, in Georgetown just off I-5.

At 5pm, one of the workers flips the “50% Off” sign and, in friendlier fashion, shoppers grab at the goods on the bottom shelf of the to-go section of the store. “Oh, someone got the last sushi tray!” an exasperated elder exclaims. “What is this?” a noodle neophyte asks, staring at a bowl of yakisoba. “I guess I’ll get the Chinese combo,” another adds.

As for us, we like the bento boxes. They remind us of the compartmentalized TV dinners of childhood, albeit with completely different tastes (without the apple pie portion). For only three bucks, we can enjoy some tasty fish, pickles, potato salad, and vegetables. The rice is starting to dry out (which is why we usually pass on the sushi)—but at this price, who’s complaining? Grab and go; you’ve scored at Battle Bento.

Originally posted at Seattlest (where “we” = me) on March 17, 2008.

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