Leave any time around Japanese culture, and you’re sure to learn more about what’s in a traditional bento box. This staple in Japan is seen across the country and includes a full meal.
Learn about the history of the bento box and what you can expect to find in one.
Where do bento boxes come from ?
These boxes have been around for centuries, but they haven’t always looked the same. Originally, it was a wooden box with dried rice inside. The person could carry the bento quite easily, then add water and cook the rice for a meal.
As bento boxes developed, people added other foods to accompany the rice. They often transported this food by wrapping it in bamboo leaves and taking it with their bento box to work or school.
In the 1900s, bento boxes evolved with the use of aluminum, which allowed for easy cleaning. The style was an indication of richness and a hint of the quality of the food inside.
What is a bento box ?
Bento boxes come in many sizes and shapes with lots of variations in them, with a divider or compartmentalized. with a rubber band around it to keep the lids in place if you pack your lunch box in a backpack.
While restaurants, bento shops, and even individuals have expanded the bento box from its original design, the traditional bento box is more or less the same as ever. It contains rice or noodles and some kind of fish or meat. There is also cooked vegetables to complement the meal.
In Japan, you can find bento boxes at bento stores as well as convenience stores. Department stores carry them and you can buy them at train stations. It is also possible to buy the boxes and prepare the food at home for yourself, your spouse or your children to take to work or school for lunch.
Make Your Own Bento
The advantage of a bento box is that you can completely customize it. You can keep it simple by putting in a California roll and cooked rice, or you can spice it up a bit by adding sushi and sashimi.
Whatever you decide to add to your bento, it’s a great way to transport a delicious Japanese meal. Plus, they offer an artistic expedition that you can enjoy while eating. In fact, in some families, the mother gets up early to decorate the box before sending her children to school.
The main difference between a bento box and other lunch boxes is the beautiful artwork. Of course, the food inside is traditional Japanese, which also makes it unique. The traditional ratio is four parts rice or noodles to three parts meat and two parts vegetables. You can also add a small dessert if you wish.
While modern bento boxes expanded on this idea, the basic version is still popular with people today. The next time you hear about a bento box or see one, you’ll know where it came from and what sets it apart. And maybe you’ll be inspired to take on the art form yourself.
A Quick Look at Japanese Bento Boxes: Types and Ingredients
Simply put, a “bento” or “bento box” is a Japanese lunch box. What separates it from the ham and soda sandwich many of us carried around in a Spiderman lunchbox in elementary school is the attention to detail and the balance of ingredients. A good bento lunch is carefully designed and should be a complete meal with a variety of tastes, textures and food groups. The meal usually includes rice, meat or marinated fish.
The Japanese are known for their ability to use up even the smallest space, and lunch boxes are no exception – the meal is neatly packed in a small square or rectangular shape, making it easy to carry for toddlers or toddlers. busy office workers. Traditionally, it is the mother who prepares the meal for her children and her husband, although today bento boxes are often purchased in convenience stores and restaurants.
Types of bento
You will find different bento box models, with its own purpose and appropriate setting and below are some of the most common bento box models in Japan.
Prepared by a caterer, these are the two-section bento boxes typically found in convenience stores, supermarkets and department stores. One side of the box contains a rice dish while the other contains small side dishes. This style of bento was originally served in Kabuki theaters as a meal for actors and audience members between acts.
Translating to “lunchbox picnic” in Japanese, these large bentos are made to be shared in small groups. They are especially common during hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season in late March and early April. Like many traditional Japanese dishes, the items included in the lunch box are deliberately chosen to reflect the season in which it was prepared. Onigiri (triangular rice balls) and maki-zushi rolls are standard dishes in a koraku bento.
Literally, “circle of the sun”, hinomaru refers to the Japanese flag and the symbol of Japan. Like the flag, this meal is elegant in its simplicity, the base being white rice topped with a single red umeboshi (pickled plum) to represent the sun, with a side dish of meat or fish. Along with keeping things patriotic, the plum also acts as a natural preservative to keep the meal fresh.
You know you did something wrong if you get one. The “revenge lunch box” is a passive but effective way for a wife to give her husband a very unpleasant surprise during his lunch break. Upon opening the lunch box, he may find an embarrassing design, a box filled with nothing but corn or a meal that is entirely inedible, such as uncooked rice or a raw egg.
Bento Aisa, or “bento made by loving wives,” is exactly what it sounds like. In addition to preparing lunches for the children, the mother of the family prepares this special lunch for her husband to be taken to work. Similarly, young female couples sometimes prepare a handmade bento for their significant other during hanami season.
A combination of Eki (station) and bento, these high-quality lunch boxes are sold at major stations, including on the platform and on the train. Ekiben is a complete meal served in a plastic, wooden or ceramic box with a set of disposable chopsticks. Lunch box ingredients generally reflect regional staples, with some resorts being nationally recognized for the quality of their bento boxes. Similar styles of rail meals have also become popular in other East Asian countries, especially Taiwan.
Usually designed for children, kyaraben (character bento) are lunch boxes in which rice and other bento box foods are shaped and designed to look like popular characters from anime, manga, or video games. Besides adding a bit of color to the standard lunch box, the cute characters also help encourage kids to eat foods they don’t particularly like. Besides famous people, kyarabens can also include animals or natural scenery to reflect the season or holiday.
Types of bento lunch box containers
Convenience store bentos are typically made from disposable plastics, but reusable containers are made from a variety of materials with a wide range of quality and price. Standard bento containers are made from aluminum, plastic, glass, stainless steel or silicon and most importantly airtight and will generally last a while if properly cared for. More expensive options include thermal and insulated materials to keep food warm, bamboo, lacquered wood and melamine. The most elegant wooden vessels are sometimes kept as heirlooms. For the baby meal these boxes are also perfect.
You will also find customizable ones, with cutlery (chopsticks, spoons, forks and knives) all kinds of high quality boxes with insulated mug, water bottle, bag to store it
They can be washed perfectly by hand or in the dishwasher and can easily be microwaved. These boxes can be stored in the fridge because they are made of a very resistant material.
popular bento box food
Rice – This is the base ingredient of almost all bentos, one without it would be like a sandwich without bread. Rice can be prepared in many ways, such as hakumai (standard white rice), genmai (brown rice), sekihan (rice cooked with red beans), zakkokumai rice (rice with mixed grains), noriben ( rice covered with a sheet of nori seaweed) and wakame gohan (rice mixed with seaweed) or fried noodles
You can also add fresh cherry tomatoes, raw vegetables (radish, green salad), steamed or non-steamed vegetables (spinach, split peas, peppers, cabbage, carrots, tomato), fish (slices of smoked salmon, shrimp , cod fillet, tuna), meat (duck breast, lamb, poultry, beef skewers, pork, ham)
You can also put broth, soups, miso soup in it. Or even add a touch of sweetness with a dessert with fresh products, compote, a piece of pie, yogurt, fresh fruit (cherries, apples, lemon, lychee).
You can decorate to make a complete meal of cheese (mozzarella, parmesan…) without forgetting your piece of bread.
Bento boxes are an inexpensive and filling traditional Japanese meal, whether you’re a foodie, an adventure traveler, or just on a business trip, bento boxes are a great option for anyone looking for an authentic local experience.
If you are looking for beautiful bento boxes, you will find everything you need in our shop. Choosing a bento box means eating healthier because you control the content of your meals and you favor “homemade”. It is also doing something for the environment by limiting disposable containers and packaging and also avoiding waste.