Yoshi Bento is a company in The Hague, maybe not very known for us, but they are for the Japanese citizens in the city. I met Jun Yoshizaki and his wife Nanae for the first time at the convention GamepitCon and saw their booth with delicous food. And I wasn’t surprise to see them complety sell out! Because of our meeting I asked them if they were interested in an interview to make the company more known. They said “YES!”.
AVO Blog: Can you introduce yourself and Yoshi Bento?
Yoshizaki: I was working in the kitchen for 19 years in Japan before I came to the Netherlands. Here in Den Haag, I’ve worked in Restaurant Shirasagi, Restaurant Mochi and Jazzbodega Est Est Est for 5 years in total after which I decided to open our own food business. In Japan there isn’t one restaurant that serves bad quality food, even if you only have to pay 5 euro for your dinner. Unfortunately that’s different here. Also, contrary to what people might think, we Japanese don’t eat sushi everyday. We actually have many kinds of European foods we prepare in a “Japanese way” in our daily meals. This is why I wanted to introduce Japanese daily food with good quality and a good price right here, in Den Haag. As my family name is Yoshizaki, which means “lucky cape”, and “Bento” means ‘meal box’ in Japanese, we settled for the name “Yoshi Bento” or “lucky meal box”.
AVO Blog: At what age and in what way did you begin your journey into cooking?
Yoshizaki: I started my journey at the age of 16 when I was still in high school. I started my career in the kitchen of Restaurant “Top dog” in Tokyo, Shibuya which serves Japanese style European food. After that, I worked at Monsoon cafe, a Thai-Vietnamese restaurant, Shinjuku Days, an Italian restaurant, the restaurant of the Sierra Resort hotel in Hakuba which served French cuisine, the Chinese-Mexican-Italian-all fusion restaurant bar Sticky Fingers, Genka-ya, which is a Japanese BBQ restaurant and the traditional Japanese restaurant Kakurebo. On top of this I attended cooking school in Lucca, Toscana, 10 years ago. So Actually I can make many kind of food!
AVO Blog: Is there a bento/sushi master that you look up to? Or a favorite chef?
Yoshizaki: I’m not sure about sushi, because that needs a very long time to learn. The most simple thing is the most difficult too. And about Bento, maybe my master is my mom, because I took my Bento to school everyday when I was in Jr. high school. About Italian cooking, my master is Jeanluca Pardini. He is one of the 32 best chefs in Italy! If I think about it, I actually have many masters in many ways of cooking.
AVO Blog: How did you get the idea to start Yoshi Bento?
Yoshizaki: There is some kind of “Japanese food” movement going on in France, the UK, the States and so on. Ramen and bento are becoming hugely famous in the world, which is why I decided to bring these to Den Haag.
AVO Blog: Does your kitchen originate from a specific region in Japan?
Yoshizaki: Actually my food doesn’t have a specific region en even dishes from certain places are actually fusion sometimes. For our bentos this means you can taste many kinds of flavours from all around Japan AND the world in just one box!
AVO Blog: How do you start your day at Yoshi Bento? Is there a particular dish you start with?
Yoshizaki: First, we wash and steam the rice after which we boil the dashi, which is Japanese soup stock. Meanwhile we cut and steam the vegetables for the salad.
AVO Blog: Are there tastes or recipes that you had to change for the Dutch costumers?
Yoshizaki: I haven’t changed anything and thus hope this means Dutch people like the Japanese taste.
AVO Blog: Which dish or bento is the most popular and which one should people try out more often?
Yoshizaki: Karaage Bento and Beef Steak Bento are the most popular. Our Karaage, or crispy chicken, is with Tar-tar sauce while we prepare the steak with sweet onion sauce. Both are very popular combination in Japan, so if you haven’t tried them yet, please do!
AVO Blog: You have also been selling food at conventions with the first time being at Gamepitcon at the beginning of 2015. What was the experience like?
Yoshizaki: I was very fun! We like manga very very much – I mean, I have around 5000 manga on my computer – so I was very happy to be able to join the “Otaku”-culture here in the Netherlands! We were complete sold out at the end and had tons of fun.
AVO Blog: How did people at conventions react on your food? Which dish was the most popular?
Yoshizaki: As I mentioned, everything was sold out, so I hope people like it. Our Onigiri -or rice ball- with salmon and Onigiri with tuna-mayo were most popular.
AVO Blog: What inspires you to do this work, what gets you excited?
Yoshizaki: The smile on people’s faces and returning customers. Privately I like good music and going to nice parties.
AVO Blog: What would you like to achieve with Yoshi Bento? Where do you see your business in five years?
Yoshizaki: If everyone around my business is happy, it means we’re successful. So I hope all our customers are happy and will be in the future! Furthermore, we’d really like to open our own restaurant in 2-3 years.
AVO Blog: Do you have a message for our readers?
Yoshizaki: Hello everybody! We, Yoshi Bentio, are a bento shop in Den Haag and would like to introduce you to “Daily” Japanese food. Sushi, Tempura and Yakitori are nice, but we Japanese have lots more good food! So please try our dishes. We hope you enjoy them! Thank you!
I want to thank Jun Yoshizaki and his wife Nanae for the time for this interview, but also the time that I could make pictures while they were working hard on their business! And I want to thank Elodie Adam (Spitch) for the editing of the interview including translating this interview into Dutch.