Spend any time around Japanese culture, and you’re sure to find out more about what is in a traditional bento box. This staple in Japan is seen throughout the country and includes a full meal. Learn more about the history of the bento box and what you can expect to find in one.
Where Bento Boxes Came From
These boxes have been around for centuries, but they haven’t always looked the same. Originally, they were a wooden box with dried rice inside. The person could carry the bento quite easily and then add water and cook the rice for a meal.
As bento boxes developed, people added other foods to go along with the rice. They would often carry this food by wrapping it in bamboo leaves and take 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 wealth and a hint of the quality of food inside.
What is in a Bento Box?
Bento boxes take on many sizes and forms. Some variations include:
- A simple bento is known as sake bento, and it contains just a slice of broiled salmon.
- Kyaraben is a bento that is designed specifically for kids. The contents are placed artistically to look like characters from anime or movies.
- Noriben is a simple bento which contains only nori with soy sauce for dipping and it’s placed over cooked rice.
- Hokaben bento contains side dishes along with rice and is found at take-out shops.
While restaurants, bento shops and even individuals have expanded the bento from its original design, the traditional bento box is much the same as ever. It contains either rice or noodles and some kind of meat or fish. It also has cooked vegetables to round out the meal.
In Japan, you can find bento boxes in bento shops as well as convenience stores. Department stores carry them, and you can buy them at railway stations. It’s also possible to buy the boxes and make the food at home for yourself or a spouse or child to take to work or school for lunch.
Make Your Own Bento!
The great thing about a bento box is that you can make it completely your own. You can keep it simple by putting a California roll and some cooked rice in it, or you could spice it up a bit by adding sushi and sashimi.
Whatever you decide to add to your bento, they are a great way to transport a delicious Japanese meal. Plus, they offer an artistic display you can enjoy when it’s time to eat. 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 makes it unique as well. The traditional ratio is four parts rice or noodles to three parts meat and two parts vegetable. You can also add a small dessert if you would like.
While modern bento boxes have 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 they came from and what makes them distinct. And maybe you’ll get inspired to take on the art form yourself.