So this is how I came to have a plastic cup and straw in my refrigerator that is treated like the Holy Grail: I wanted comfort food, specifically Asian comfort food, and I wasn’t picky about whether it was Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, or Thai. In a stunning coincidence, my husband (Captain Carnivore) said he’d driven past a new restaurant called Yum Yum Bento on Grand River Ave., and I did I know anything about it?
I knew only that it existed, that it was pretty new in town, and that it had a patently adorable name. Sarah Spohn had also written about it for ELi’s Spend Locally Series. I was a little skeptical about the ability of one restaurant to do justice to the cuisine of three separate regions of Asia, but I’m an optimist.
For me, a bowl of Katsu is better than homemade macaroni and cheese for smoothing out the jagged edges of a tough day, week, or even the Year of Covid. At its simplest, it’s nothing more than a piece of very crispy, fried protein with sticky rice and a very mild, thick, stew of curry and fork-tender vegetables. This is not health food, and by “vegetables,” I mostly mean potatoes and carrots. At Yum Yum Bento, you can order Katsu as a Bento box, in which case it comes with two sides in addition to rice or just as “Japanese Curry” which comes only with miso soup and rice.
If you chose the Bento version, you can stick to the run-of-the mill pork or chicken, or try your curry sauce with beef or calamari. Options for the non-Bento version included all of the above, plus tempura soft shell crab, veggies, or shrimp. They all sound delicious, but I really yearned for the plainest, simplest, most traditional plate of Japanese nursery food possible, so I went for the chicken. We decided that we should try something from all three cuisines, so the Captain ordered Korean bulgogi and Thai beef fried rice, which came with Chicken tom yum soup. We threw in some tempura shrimp as an appetizer, because you can tell a lot about a restaurant by how well it does tempura batter.
Finally, in a moment of devil-may-care ordering, I added jasmine bubble milk tea. Although there were several fascinating bubble choices, I ordered it without bubbles because I find the large, chewy, tapioca “bubbles” to be very much like fish eyeballs. But we’ll get back to the bubble-less bubble tea.
I am happy to report that Yum Yum Bento really can cook three different cuisines, and they do it well. There were supposed to be four tempura shrimp, but they gave us five, along with a container of sauce. Even after riding home from the restaurant, the tempura was shatteringly thin and crisp – and if you’ve ever had tempura with a heavy, oily, coat of batter like a bad onion ring, you know why this matters. The shrimp was the star, and the batter merely a crisp accent. This is how it should be.
The soups, my miso and the Captain’s chicken tom yum, were both good, but the latter was revelatory. Tom yum is served at pretty much all Thai restaurants in these parts, and it can often be an unremarkable cup of sour broth with a speck of chicken and a little cilantro on top. This version was thicker, and had healthy chunks of both white-meat chicken and mushrooms. We started with our own soups and traded tastes at the half, at which point I commandeered the rest of the Captain’s tom yum and told him Miso was better for him, anyway. (Note: this is absolutely not true.)
The Captain’s bulgogi came bento-style, accompanied by rice, kimchi, and salad. The beef was tender, savory-sweet, and saucy. His Thai fried rice was pronounced “awesome.” It was not spicy as requested, but to be honest, things that strike the Captain as “not spicy” are often plenty heated for those of us born without asbestos lining our digestive system. Also, how hot does fried rice really need to be?
But I digress. The jewel in the crown, the unexpected glory of my Yum Yum Bento experience was that jasmine bubble milk tea (hold the bubbles). I happen to love jasmine tea, but I never sweeten it; it’s more of a multi-sensory experience for me to drink it hot and plain, savoring the jasmine-scented cloud that takes me out of my home office and transports me to a Japanese tea house. This stuff was a whole different experience, starting with the foil seal on the top of the plastic cup which featured a swimming whale along with a line of text that probably said “it would have been better with bubbles” in Kanji.
I punctured the foil with the accompanying sharp-ended straw, and sucked up the slightly thick, very sweet, jasmine milk. I immediately knew it had a gazillion grams of some kind of sugar, but it was so good that I couldn’t stop myself until I’d had two long, rich, pulls. After that, I enshrined the cup in the refrigerator (between my Almond Milk and the Captain’s regular milk) and I allow myself one sip a day, after I carefully stir the tea at the bottom into the creamy stuff. Jasmine may not be your thing, and you may love the chewy little bubbles. However you like it, Yum Yum Bento’s bubble tea is worth adding to your order.
The menu is minimal, but I’m sure the vegetarian diner would be happy with the available options (lots of veggies, lots of tofu). This may not be the best choice for a seriously picky kid, although katsu chicken and rice without the sauce might work. I’m pretty sure a non-picky kid would enjoy a chicken katsu or teriyaki bento, because it’s basically deliciousness with a bunch of tiny things to pick up with chopsticks.
Check out Yum Yum Bento’s latest menu and hours here.