No, Bento isn’t some weird Japanese yell. Bento is food! It is a meal for one made from fish, rice, and vegetables. So what makes bento special enough that it needs a specific name? Like many things in Japan, bento is an art form. Yeah, you read that right, lunch can be art.
There are many types of bento. Each is named after type of food it is made from or tradition. Shōkadō bentō is bento in a traditional black lacquer box. Kyaraben is bento made to look like anime and manga characters. Oekakiben is bento shaped to look like people, animals, buildings, and other objects.
Bento is pretty old too. It started way back in 1185. Fast food isn’t anything new. At least Japanese fast food is better for ya. The wooden box bento traditionally is placed in is perfect for traveling. That is why bento remains a favorite for mothers. They also compete with each other for the most creative bento. Bento takes a fair bit of time to plan and make. It is an expression of your affection for someone…even if it isn’t the artistic type. Spouses can make special bento for each other, and a bento exchange picnic is a nice date. The main problem with bento is how it looks too nice to eat.
Bento can be cold, as is traditional, or even hot bento stews for the winter months. We Americans may have some problems enjoying bento, however. Our palates are ruined by all the processed, salty foods we eat (not to say the Japanese don’t have the same problem); many of us will find bento with its veggies and rice fairly bland. Luckily, Bento can be made to taste – hot sauce, you name it. Bento may be traditional, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be adapted for your taste. Don’t like onigiri? Pack some buffalo wings. Bento is a balance of taste, convenience, and presentation. Just throwing things into a lunch box isn’t making bento. It takes consideration and a nice arrangement. Lunch should be something to look forward to and enjoy. It is very nice to open your girlfriend/spouse’s bento and see a design made from your favorite foods – all lovingly arranged instead of just chucked in.
We have sandwiches; Japan has bento….Japan wins on this one.