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First Bite: Goga's Bento Box Lunch

By Nov 4, 2015 Dining
In Hawaii, a bento box full of grilled meat and a scoop of pasta salad is something to smash after a day of surfing. Or after a rough night. Excluding water parks Dino Beach and Playa Maya, there is no surf in Shanghai, and most bento boxes here are high-end sushi affairs at hotels, low-end delivery options, or come homemade by the loving taitais of Gubei. After five years of only serving dinner, Brad Turley's high-end-casual Nor–Cal spot Goga has opened for daily lunch with a 130rmb bento box.

Here's what comes in Goga's box.

Teriyaki Bento

Their Hawaiian / Asian–fusion potpourri of a bento is much simpler than the typical kawaii bento box, and it does look a bit like a 12rmb Chinese university cafeteria tray, but that's the deceiving bit -- these are carefully considered and sourced ingredients. And it's a lot of food. I skipped dinner.

So you get your choice of katsu chicken, katsu pork, teriyaki salmon, teriyaki chicken, kalbi beef rib, or a mixed-meat plate. Aside from the drink, the rest is not up to you. There are greens that taste like greens, some kimchi and other pickled veg, peas with shrimp, lotus roots with long beans, peanuts, and chili, and a bed of rice. The beauty of this is how everything mixes together: a big strip of chicken holding hands with a spoonful of pasta salad; some shrimp riding shotgun in a forkful of kim-chi. The only miss was the lemonade, which, while freshly made, probably needed a bit more sugar. Also, the price could be a bit lower, but Brad doesn't do cheap and this is still far less than dinner at Goga or Hai.

Chicken Katsu Bento

Our waitress seemed genuinely happy. Servers in Shanghai rarely smile like that. Later, Brad came in wearing a big tie-dye shirt to cut up a giant salmon, and talked about how he used to eat bento during his 4-5 year stint in Hawaii. Also mentioned that he sometimes finds the Yueyang Lu ghetto burgers in the bushes in the morning. The farmer who grew those green vegetables came through for a meeting, also smiling. Goga's intimate space feels like a little fishbowl, looking out on the intersection of Dongping and Yueyang. Everyone walking by the widescreen windows looked happy, even the dogs. Simple food with lots of soul can evoke that feeling that all is well in the world.

Goga is open for lunch from 11.30am-2.30pm daily. Lunch sets from 130rmb. They're still sorting out some details, the price may come down a bit, and egg-ier options could appear on the weekend for brunch. There's some other options like lobster rolls, too. Weekends have a few more Hawaiian options, like the classic loco moco.

Notes On Bento: Not all bento boxes are delicately arranged works of art. Bento is just a boxed meal for one, and is often translated as bian dang (便当) in China. There is some debate as to whether any boxed / packaged lunch, like the kind you can buy on the train, is considered he fan(盒饭) or bian dang (便当). Perhaps the biggest difference between these terms is that bian dang involves more ornate arrangement, while a he fan could just be some cheap food served up in a box. Bian dang does sound a bit classier, and in Taiwan, all boxed lunches are called bian dang. As for Hawaii, bento got there thanks to the Japanese immigrants who began arriving in the 19th Century. Of course, the kawaii bento comes from Japanese housewives with, presumably, too much time on their hands.



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