If you've heard more and more about bento lately, you have come to the right place to learn about it. But what exactly is it? Is it a culinary speciality? Is it a way of eating lunch? Indeed, when we hear the words “bento” and “lunchbox,” our minds immediately go to food and lunch boxes. But did you know that bento is more than just a lunchbox? It's actually a culinary speciality in Japan, and it encompasses many different types of dishes that are served at lunchtime. So, what are the benefits of Bento lunchbox? What are the types of Bento lunch boxes?
WHAT IS BENTO?
Japanese cuisine is famous for its variety and creativity, which can be seen in the different types of bento boxes offered for sale in Japanese grocery stores. The main ingredients are usually vegetables and meat dishes with sauces, but fish and seafood options are also available. Bento boxes can also include side dishes such as pickles or salads.
Bento is a single-serving, packaged meal carried by the eater already assembled and ready to eat. It's like a lunch box but with a lot more specifics and history. Bento (べんとう) is a word that means “lunch” in Japanese. It's a kind of meal that is often served in a box or container made of rice-cracker paper or other ingredients; this container is usually compartmentalized with one or more floors, which allows you to take a quick meal with you to eat it outside. And what is more special about Bento lunch boxes is that there are traditionally packed by hand using decorative chopsticks called nagashi-iri (長しい刃), which have long tips that allow them to be used as baskets for holding food items while being transported between home and work. The most common items included in a bento box include rice balls, meatballs, Miso soup (a soup made with fermented soybeans), sushi (raw fish or seafood prepared with vinegar), cuttlefish balls wrapped with seaweed and cooked rice balls coated with sweetened bean paste. After discovering the Bento Lunch box, you'll want to say goodbye to your Tupperware that turns your meal into mush, abandon your industrial salad in its unique packaging or even stop buying that much too-expensive sandwich in the bakery.
THE HISTORY OF THE BENTO BOX
The Japanese have always had a love affair with food and eating, and this has resulted in some unique traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. One such tradition is the use of a bento box for lunch or dinner. And the history of the bento box is a long one. It all started with the Japanese, whose culture has been around for thousands of years. Indeed, in Japan, the tradition of compartmentalizing your food in a box to easily eat your meal outside dates back to the 12th century. Originally, the bento was composed of rice and dried fish which were later replaced by vinegar rice balls (onigiri). Nowadays, Japanese bento boxes can be made up of all kinds of foods, depending on your tastes and desires.
In ancient times, people would eat their meals out of bowls or plates that were made from wood, stone, or pottery. In addition to serving as containers for their food, these dishes were also used to serve tea or other beverages as well as to keep utensils in place, so they didn’t get lost during meal times. Over time, people began using boxes made from paper instead of wooden ones because they were cheaper and easier to store when not in use. These boxes were usually stacked on top of each other until they were full enough to be carried home by one person; then, they would be taken apart again once they reached their destination so that each person could carry only one box at a time home with them!
In the Edo period, this lunch box was associated with special events such as hanami (picnic under the cherry blossoms) or Hina matsuri (girl's party). In traditional Japanese theatre, kabuki in Japanese, makunouchi bento was eaten during intermissions when the curtain (maku) was down. Japanese bento was usually eaten under a cherry blossom on the occasion of Hanami.
Types of Bento Lunch boxes
There are many types of bento lunch boxes, and each one has its own advantages. The main difference between them is the size of the box and the number of compartments inside. The most common types of bento lunch boxes are:
1. Kyaraben bent
Generally intended for children, the kyaraben bento means "character bento". These are lunch boxes in which the rice and other foods in the bento box are shaped and designed to look like popular anime, manga, or video game characters. Besides adding a bit of colour 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 current season or holiday. You will also find kawaii Bentos in this category of the Japanese lunch boxes.
The term "kyaraben" is derived from Japanese words that mean "character", "characteristic", and "characteristic". The idea behind these character-themed lunch boxes is that they help make a child more interested in eating their lunchtime meal by adding some fun to it!
Kyaraben lunches are not just for kids. Adults can enjoy them too! They make great gifts for friends and family members who love anime and manga.
2. The Ekiben Bento Box
The word Ekiben is a combination of eki (station) and bento. These high-quality lunch boxes are sold at major stations, including on the platform and on trains. The ekiben is a complete meal served in a plastic, wooden, or paper box, accompanied by a set of disposable chopsticks. The lunch box ingredients generally reflect the staples of the region in which you purchase it. Some stations are even recognized nationally for the quality of their bento boxes. Similar meals have become popular in other East Asian countries, especially Taiwan.
The ekiben was originally introduced to Japan from China during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Still, it only became widely popular after World War II when it was introduced as cheap food for soldiers working on railway construction projects. After its introduction to Japan, it quickly caught on with Japanese consumers as well as foreign visitors who saw it as an affordable and healthy alternative to western fast food restaurants or convenience stores that made sandwiches and burgers available 24 hours a day.
3. Bento Makunouchi
Makunouchi Bento is the most popular type of bento box in Japan. It's made of stainless steel and is usually round or square in shape. This type of lunch box is perfect for a quick, easy meal on the go because it has a compact and portable size. The main reason this lunch box is so popular is that you can store small portions of food, making it convenient for people who want to bring their own meals to work or school every day.
Makunouchi Bento Lunch Boxes come in different colours and sizes, so you can find one that best suits your needs. The most popular colours are black and white, but there are also many other colours available as well! If you're looking for something bright or cheerful, consider getting a rainbow-coloured Marukonouchi Bento Lunch Box instead!
The word makunouchi means "little house in the sky" and alludes to the fact that these lunch boxes have a small compartment at the bottom. The Makunouchi bento box is distinguished by its flat, square shape, which makes it easy to carry around—especially when you're on the go. The container is made from a durable material that won't get damaged easily, so it's perfect for taking with you when you travel.
Because of its size, this type of bento box isn't suitable for a large meal; instead, it's best used for snacks or smaller food items. It's also great for storing leftovers or leftovers from last night's dinner!
4. Koraku Bento
Koraku Bento (後楽弁当) is the most common type of bento box and is often used for summer lunches. It is made from a single sheet of paper, and it has a square shape. The paper is folded in half and then placed inside the box. The original Koraku Bento was designed by the Japanese artist Genpei Akasegawa in 1876, but it wasn't until the late 20th century that it became popular in Japan.
Kansha Bento is a more modern take on a traditional bento box, with its round shape and print on one side. It's also made from a single sheet of paper folded into quarters, which helps with compact storage. The print side faces out when you close the lid so all your food will be visible when you open it up again!
5. The Hinomaru Bento Box
The Hinomaru Bento Box is a beautiful example of how a traditional Japanese meal can be made even more special simply by adding just the right touch. This bento's white rice base is topped with a single red umeboshi (pickled plum) to represent the sun and is accompanied by a side dish of meat or fish. The plum also acts as a natural preservative, keeping the food fresh. So, while not exactly the fish and chips of bento, the Hinomaru Bento Box is a beautiful example of how a traditional Japanese meal can be made even more special simply by adding just the right touch. This bento's white rice base is topped with a single red umeboshi (pickled plum) to represent the sun and is accompanied by a side dish of meat or fish. The plum also acts as a natural preservative, keeping the food fresh. If you're looking for an introductory Japanese meal kit that's fun to make, this might be perfect for you!
6. Shikaeshi Bento Box
You know you did something wrong if you have one. The bento shikaeshi means the "lunch box of revenge". This lunch box is a passive but effective way for a wife to surprise her husband during his lunch break. Upon opening the lunch box, he may find an embarrassing drawing, a box filled only with corn, or an entirely inedible meal, such as raw rice and an egg. Be careful; be wise otherwise, it's the Shikaeshi bento waiting for you!
7. Aisai Bento
Aisai bento is a popular meal in Japan that both men and women can prepare. It is also known as "wife's lunch" or "husband's lunch," and it is prepared for a husband who has to take his wife to work.
The idea of preparing bento Aisai (愛妻)was introduced by Japanese mothers who wanted their husbands to have a nutritious and delicious breakfast before they left home. The mother would make the rice, fish cake, eggs, and vegetables into one dish. Then she would wrap this dish in plastic, place it inside an aluminium foil envelope and secure it with hot glue. Finally, she would write her husband's name on the envelope so he would know whom to give the bento to upon returning home after work!
Today, many Japanese couples still prepare this type of bento meal together on special occasions such as Valentine's Day or Mother's Day.
How to choose the proper bento?
The box size may surprise you at first, especially for those who tend to have bigger eyes than stomachs, but it has the advantage of being adapted to your (real) dietary needs for the day and is easily transportable. You can also choose it with one, two or three floors. The advantage of multi-tiered bento boxes is that you can separate the compartments so that only one can be microwaved – your main course – while you enjoy your fresh salad in the second compartment.
Nowadays, there is a multitude of Japanese bento boxes:
Wooden, plastic, oval, and rectangular, with integrated cutlery. The size and capacity of the bento box must be adapted to your appetite, age, and sports practices, which is why it is important to choose your bento well.
On the internet, there are correspondence tables for choosing the size of bento according to age and height, but these tables are often based on the morphology and eating habits of the Japanese.
You should know that the art of the bento lunch box consists of maximizing the space of its box as much as possible. The Japanese are used to “tamp” their food or to make real Tetris fit a complete meal in their bento. For beginners, choosing a lunch box that is too big or too small is better to avoid frustration.
BENEFITS OF USING BENTO LUNCH BOX
Bento boxes are the perfect solution for people with limited cooking space but want to use their time wisely. They are also great for children and adults alike. And here are the good reasons why you should use a bento box:
1. You Can Cook More than One Meal at a Time
A bento box will allow you to cook more than one meal at a time. You can easily prepare lunch or dinner in one box; then refrigerate it for later. By doing this, you'll save time and money.
2. You Can Eat Healthy Food While Traveling
If you're travelling by plane or train, it's important to pack healthy food that is easy to eat on the go. Bento boxes are perfect for this because they are lightweight and compact, so they won't take up much space in your bag. This means that they're easy to carry around while on the go!
3. It's a great way to keep your food separate and organized
Most kids are leaving dislike foods in their meals, so when they want something to leave, they have to ask their mother first. If they're eating something that I don't want them to eat, it's easier to put it in the bento box instead of having them dig through their looking for the item they want from the plate.
4. It keeps them from overeating one thing in one sitting
Children love having fun with food. And this is especially true when it comes to bento boxes!
Since most children like variety and try new things, a nice meal with many different foods will give them a better chance of staying interested in making healthy choices throughout the day.
It makes it easier for parents to pack lunches rather than to ask them what they want for lunch.
WHAT TO PUT IN YOUR BENTO LUNCH BOX?
In the age of the “packable lunch,” bento boxes are a convenient and healthy way to pack a nutritious lunch for work or school. But what do you put inside? The first thing to consider is your food preferences. Do you like spicy foods? Do you prefer sweet foods? Do you prefer savoury foods? If so, how much of each do you want to keep in your lunch? If you want to separate cold or hot items, use a container with dividers. This will allow you to keep your cold items at the bottom and your warm items at the top. If you don't want to separate cold or hot items and want them all together (and they aren't very big), then place everything in a container and seal it up with plastic wrap. This will prevent any leaks from occurring during transit.
So, we imperatively take up the Japanese principle: many different dishes in small quantities. It's the best way to fill up for lunch while having fun. Here are some suggestions for what you might include in your child's first bento:
Carrots are a staple, but you can vary them up with celery stalks, cucumbers, radishes and even zucchini!
An apple is always good, as well as berries like blueberries and blackberries. Or try bananas cut into chunks.
· Whole grains
Rice is perfect for adding nutrition and texture to your meal. Add sesame or Dry fish if you want something crunchy!
If you are a purist, the typical Japanese dishes are yours: rice balls, small meat or fish skewers, sautéed vegetables, sushi, maki, omelette...
Diced surimi, meatballs, omelette squares, hard-boiled egg, fish fillets in pieces, chicken nuggets, etc.....
Bed of green salad, sprouted seeds, peas, grated carrots, beans (green, red, flat, etc.), tomatoes, broccoli, cucumber...
· For Dessert
Small fruits (red fruit type) or large fruits nicely cut compote, a cake in individual slices, a slice of cake or gingerbread, a pancake cut into small pieces, and dairy? Cheese, of course! It's so easy to cut... and eat! Also, think about white cheese accompanied by fruit.
Finally, we should take care of the decoration inside the bento. We do not hesitate to use small baking papers (used for cakes) to compartmentalize our different dishes. And we vary the colours: the culinary pleasure also passes through the eyes!
HOW TO PREPARE A BENTO?
The great strength of the bento is that its shape and its accessories make it possible to compartmentalize the meal. According to Japanese tradition, it comprises 40% starch (usually rice), 30% protein (meat, fish, or vegetable protein), and 30% vegetables. The authentic Japanese bento, as beautiful as it tastes, uses cutouts and organization in the containers in such a way as to sublimate it.