Bento Box Shop at Toulouse Market Forges Japan-France Connection

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An eye-catching banner at Tchaco Deli in a French market in Toulouse, France, on Sept. 24. “Tchaco,” pronounced “chako,” is the owner Hisako Amano’s nickname.

TOULOUSE, France — This autumn, I was in Toulouse in southwestern France to cover the Rugby World Cup. It was my first business trip overseas and I had passed more than a month in an unfamiliar city when I came across a taste of home at a market that serves as the people’s kitchen.

Cheerful voices calling “Bonjour!” or “Ca va?” rang out across Marche de Saint Cyprien. The long, narrow building that resembles a station platform houses meat, fresh fish, fruit and vegetable and cheese stalls.

As I weaved my way through the bustling crowd, a familiar aroma of yakisoba sauce wafted through the air. It was from Tchaco Deli, a bento box lunch store run by Hisako Amano, 49, a native of Suginami Ward, Tokyo.

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Top: A lineup of standard menu items such as yakisoba fried noodles and deep-fried chicken.
Bottom: Amano, right, buys fresh vegetables for her dishes. Unlike Japanese vegetables, these ones have hard skins, so she says she prepares them carefully before cooking.

Born and raised in the ward’s Ogikubo district, Amano worked for a company in Tokyo before moving to Toulouse, her former husband’s hometown, about 20 years ago.

After raising three children as a housewife, she decided to open her own bento store following her divorce and did so five years ago. She wanted to establish a taste of her home in this place where the only Japanese food known was sushi.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shoppers are curious about the bento boxes, which are unusual in France.

She used the same seasonings as those used in Japan and was particular about fresh ingredients, but her store was deserted day after day. Nevertheless, she kept smiling and opening the store.

Her efforts bore fruit. Customers gradually began to stop by. The shop now attracts many regular customers and has become one of the most popular stores in the market.

The owner of the mutton store across the street welcomes her store as a breath of fresh air.

Boxed lunches from Tokyo are forging a bond between Japan and France in a place far away.