Our Gunma sources clue us in on a local favorite.

Kobe beef. Osaka takoyaki. Sendai beef tongue (sometimes from a vending machine). Japan’s biggest cities all have foods they’re famous for, but regional foodie pride exists in the less glamorous, more rural parts of Japan too, and that’s what we’re going looking for today.

Gunma Prefecture’s primary claims to fame are its onsen hot spring baths, but when we asked some of our local sources for a food that would delight our taste buds in a Gunma way, the name Torihei kept coming up. Torihei is a Gunma-based chain of bento boxed lunch shops/restaurants, and though we’d never heard of it before, our Gunma friends assured us that everyone in the prefecture knows Torihei, and they pretty much all love it too.

▼ Entrance to Torihei (登利平)

The vast majority of Torihei’s branches are in Gunma, but there are four in Saitama and exactly one in Tochigi, which is the one we stopped by. Some branches have eat-in seating sections, but the one we visited, in Ashikaga City, is takeout-only.

Torihei offers a variety of bento, most with chicken or unagi (freshwater eel). Everything looked good, but our sources particularly recommended the Torimeshi Bento and Tori Sauce Katsu Bento.

▼ Tori Sauce Katsu Bento (bottom left) and Torimeshi Bento (bottom right)

This presented a bit of a problem, since we wanted to eventually try both, but weren’t sure when the next time we’d be back in Gunma was going to be. So we did the only sensible thing and ordered two bento for lunch that day, which we ate in a nearby park.

Let’s start with the Torimeshi Bento, Torihei’s biggest seller, which costs 780 yen (US$5.40) and comes in this stylish old-school wrapping.

“Torimeshi” means “chicken and rice,” and as soon as we took the lid off the box we saw mouthwatering strips of chicken breast, gently glistening with Torihei’s special teriyaki-style glaze that captures the hearts of fans.

The meat is thinly sliced, but tender, juice, and delicious. The soy-based sauce has a mix of sweet, salty, and spicy notes that build in strength with each consecutive bite. It’s not a flashy flavor, but immensely enjoyable, somehow filling us with a comforting sense of nostalgia despite this being our first time to ever eat Torihei’s torimeshi.

Nest up, the 930-yen Tori Sauce Katsu Bento.

Once again, “tori” means chicken, and “katsu” here means “cutlet,” of the fried variety.

This is the one to go for if you’re after a bold flavor, as the sauce has a bit more of a spicy element to it, and the breading lets more of that flavor soak in thanks to the added surface area. Since torihei had made our bento to order, the chicken cutlets were still warm and crisp, and alternating bites of meat and rice was a pattern we could have happily kept up forever.

So far, Saitama Prefecture is as far south as Torihei has made it, so there aren’t any branches in Tokyo yet. For now, though, we’ve got a new place to add to our eating itinerary every time we’re in or near Gunma.

Restaurant information
Torihei (Ashikaga branch) / 登利平(足利店)
Address: Tochigi-ken, Ashikaga-shi, Yobecho 290-2

Photos ©SoraNews24
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