A miniature wooden boat with small, brightly colored pieces neatly held in tightly rolled up rice and seaweed paper. A comforting bowl of earthy broth with baby enoki mushrooms and bok choy floating amidst a sea of ramen. Both sit in a low-key, minimally designed space in light wood and beige tones, with manga walls and small bits of red in the menu and staff uniform being the only items requiring special attention. . It could be a Japanese restaurant anywhere in the world, but it’s in Ahmedabad. And everything you see, smell, taste, even the sushi, is vegetarian. These colorful toppings are cucumber and yellow pepper. This hearty broth is miso.
Welcome to an alternate reality called Bento B. Or what happens when a ramen lover, Midnight Diner lover, who travels a lot in Japan, finds himself living in Ahmedabad. Amit Gupta, the man behind this space, loves all things Japanese. From the kitchen to the manga on its walls via Kurosawa and Murakami. While running a data analytics company in Ahmedabad, he always wanted to create a small home for Japanese culture in Ahmedabad, a community for other Japanophiles. And the food seemed like an easy way in.
Enter Bento B. Short for Bento Box, the Japanese craft of packing single-serving meals in a neatly structured box with compartments, which reminded Gupta of his own tiffin box dividers growing up. Since living in Ahmedabad, Bento B has taken on a challenge that may not be taken up by any other Japanese restaurant in the world: modifying a cuisine based on fish, seafood and meat for the adapt to this predominantly vegetarian city. Then began 6 months of trials, with the chef, Bachan Singh. When he met Gupta, Singh had already been cooking Japanese cuisine for over two decades. So mastering Japanese foods that were vegetarian or could be prepared with vegetarian variations was a new challenge for him. Use tofu and eggplant instead of meat. Avocado and pickled peppers in sushi instead of sashimi or raw fish. A miso broth to replace meat broths without losing flavor or umami. In fact, for those who dislike seaweed paper because of its fishy smell, he found a variation of soy-based sushi paper without that distinctive smell.
The result is a Japanese restaurant that vegetarians can love! Like the vegetarian Mayur, from the traveling entertainment duo of Rocky and Mayur, during their visit last year. the agadashi tofufried tofu with spring onion and radish, and horenso goma-ae, spinach salad drizzled with sesame sake sauce and miso, were two things the two couldn’t help but rave about.
The main reason for this success is that Gupta and Singh have kept the essence of Japanese cuisine intact. The products used are fresh, the taste is authentic, some sauces and condiments are even imported from Japan. Most importantly, all of these elements together create the crisp bursts of flavor that Japanese cuisine is famous for.
After ten months of bringing authentic Japanese flavors to Ahmedabadis, Bento B’s plan is to go national. Their next outlet will soon be open in Baroda. Jaipur and Pune could be next on the list. Based on feedback from its most loyal clientele, Gupta also plans to set up a food pop in Ahmedabad, with seafood and meat. As they say, never say never!