Bento (弁当) comes in endless varieties: some more traditional than some, whereas others take on a fusion theme combining dishes from multiple regions, countries or continents. Within the last decade or so, Bento may have been introduced outside of Japan via popular restaurant chains including ‘Wasabi’ & ‘itsu’.
Undeniably, Anime and Japanese Dramas have additionally contributed to the knowledge of such cuisine; hence the demand for the provision of more Japanese restaurants and the importation of authentic ingredients used in Japanese dishes in general. Something about the precisely, delicately prepared Bento has pleased and attracted the likes of anyone in seek of an atheistic lifestyle as well as gourmet chefs.
So, when did Bento surface? – As much as some of us associate Bento with modern day convenience stores and supermarkets, Bento initially derives from approximately the 11 hundreds (during the Kamakura period); but was moreso intergrated into their culture somewhere over the course of the 13th Century.
The Edo period (1603-1867) brought on the development of Bento even further. As the word “Bento” basically traces back to the definition of “convenient/convenience”, the Edo period made Bento more accessible and portable by wrapping the individual dishes in disposable Bamboo leaves; bundling them into one package (a woven bamboo box was a commonly used container). It is documented that in the following period: the Meiji period (1868-1912), the first train station Bento was sold. From this time, school children would often rely on homemade Bento as children didn’t have the privilege of meals prepared on school campus.
The brief, yet widely known Taisho period (1912-1926) popularised luxury Bento boxes: by that I mean the containers themselves. Most likely a status/class symbol, boxes around this time were typically silver, which as you may have already assumed caused a social issue and somewhat of a ranking order among students. Once WWII came into force, Bento’s favourably and attainability declined until the 80’s thanking to the invention of microwaves and microwavable plastics a little later on.
What foods are typical of Bento? – Basic, or traditional Bento boxes in Japan and Korea consist of a decently sized portions of steamed white rice, pickled vegetables and either pork or beef which has been marinated in some way. Halved, soft boiled eggs are also common. The main feature of any Bento box is it’s sections. The sectioned tray/box allows the consumer to eat a little bit of 4-6 different foods within one meal: the meal being perfectly one portion. In a sense the rice and meat are the main ingredients to the dish, with the smaller servings acting as side dishes alike a conventional meal in most East Asian countries: the only acception in similarity being that you don’t need to wash any cooking equipment/utensils, china or cutlery.
Back to present time, Japanese Bento takes on many forms: Yakisoba and Yakiudon based Bento as a substitute for rice, carbonara spaghetti with grilled chicken, Omurice and hamburg steak with seasonal vegetables are a few to mention.
South Korea on the other hand offer perhaps less healthy options, but are more creative in terms of flavour combinations. GS25, 7eleven and CU are the ‘go to’ for Bento. There are other convenience stores, however they don’t produce Bento to the same standard as the other said shops. Korean Bento: 도시락 (“Dosirak” meaning ‘lunch box’) can include fried chicken, european sausages, Spam fritters, coleslaw, corn salad, kimchi, Japanese-style egg rolls, pasta, gherkins and other pickles (even sourkraut), fries/potatoes wedges etc.
💬 Have you ever tried Bento?
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