It is not every day that a delivery lunch also looks like a work of art. Inside Gorumando's modern twists on Japanese bento boxes, the home-pickled daikon radish rests next to the bright orange slice of pumpkin, the king salmon lies in a gentle sea-curve beside the greens, and it is all arranged just so — a modern, artistic nod to a traditional bento past.
Chefs Jaimie Lewis (a former Ph.D. student who pays academic attention to Japanese food history) and Jeffrey Ozawa (who is half-Japanese and was raised in New Jersey) hand-craft and deliver each weekday these farm-to-table takes on bento. Their company, Gorumando, is an homage to ekiben boxes — a particular kind of lunch box served in train stations across Japan. Instead of separators, as you would find in ekibens, the food divides itself visually, by form and color, as you would find in a home-cooked bento. Ozawa's Japanese food knowledge (and his boxes' impeccable rice) was honed at home with his father and “the nightly and heavily scrutinized ritual” of rice cooking during his Japanese/English/Irish/German childhood.
Gorumando's classic bento options include: shioyaki-style wild salmon broiled with sea salt (after being marinated overnight in shio-koji, a salty version of Japan's fermented-rice product); kabocha nimono squash made traditionally with dashi (Japanese cooking stock), katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), kombu (giant kelp) and water; and a heap of seasonal greens, which come doused in karashi-miso, a spicy mustard-miso sauce. Atop lies a traditional salt-pickled radish, tsukemono-style, made using the shio-zuke method of salt pickling, and a traditional tamagoyaki, or rolled omelet. Each box is made to order in Gorumando's shared Pasadena kitchen.
A vegetarian option — which comes with avocado or egg per request — is a colorful Japanese salad on a bed of rice. It's Lewis and Ozawa's take on hiyashi chuka, a Japanese cold-ramen dish that's perfect for summer. Substituting the noodles for rice, the dish also adds more vegetables (this week’s batch features red cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, baby lettuce, cherry tomato and Lewis’ homemade pickled ginger).
“You go to Rome and see the aqueducts and this really helped civilization,” Ozawa says. “You go to Japan and you see the bento box and it does the same thing.”
Gorumando delivers to Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank and Northeastern Los Angeles; Mon.-Fri., noon-2 p.m. Gorumando.com.