Have you ever heard of Bento boxes? Those small, neatly packed meals served in a compact container. This work of art has been a staple of Japanese cuisine for centuries. But they are more than just a convenient way to carry food; they are a cultural icon that reflects the values and traditions of Japan.
A Small Historical Note On Bento Boxes
Bento boxes have a long history in Japan, with the first recorded preparation dating back to the 12th century. Originally, they were simply food containers used to carry rice and other ingredients to rice fields, forests, and other rural locations. Over time, bento boxes evolved into these elaborate and decorative creations that we know today.
In the Edo period (1603-1868), Bento boxes developed to become popular as a way to pack meals for picnics and excursions. The popularity of these meals led to the creation of the “駅弁, or Ekiben”, meaning the train station Bento, which is still sold today in train stations throughout Japan. These bento boxes are often focused on regional specialties, providing and showcasing the unique flavors and ingredients of different parts of Japan.
Bento Boxes Of Today
Today, bento boxes are a crucial part of Japanese culture, enjoyed by people of all ages. They are still a popular option for picnics but they are mostly and widely used for office lunches and as a quick and convenient meal on the go, they are available quasi-everywhere (supermarkets, convenience stores, local shops …etc).
In recent years, the popularity of Bento boxes has grown beyond Japan, with people around the world contemplating this traditional form of Japanese cuisine. There are now many international variations of the traditional Japanese Bento, incorporating ingredients and flavors from other cultures.
The popularity of Bento boxes reflects their diversity and convenience, as well as their cultural significance. Bento boxes are not just a meal, they are a beautiful reflection of the values and traditions of Japan, showcasing again the country’s emphasis on beauty, balance, and simplicity.
Preparation and Decoration
Here comes the creativity part. Bento boxes are carefully prepared and decorated, reflecting the Japanese emphasis on beauty and balance. Traditionally, they are made with rice, fish, or meat, added to pickled or fresh vegetables. The components are carefully arranged in the box to create an attractive and appetizing meal.
One of the most famous and visually stunning styles of bento boxes is the “キャラ弁, or Kyaraben”, meaning character Bento. These Bento boxes feature food arranged and shaped to resemble all your favorite characters from anime, manga, and other forms of pop culture. They started, and are still popular, with parents packing lunch for their children and are a fun and creative way to encourage kids to eat a balanced meal.
Bento Classic Recipe
Want to prepare a Bento whatever corner of the world you are in? Easy! Here is a classic Bento box recipe that is easy to prepare:
- 2 cups of cooked Japanese sticky rice
- 1 piece of grilled chicken or salmon
- Some steamed vegetables (such as broccoli, green beans, or carrots)
- A variation of Pickles (such as pickled radishes or cucumbers)
- 1 sheets of Nori (dried seaweed)
- Cook the Japanese sticky rice according to the instructions on the package.
- While the rice is cooking, grill the chicken or salmon and steam the vegetables.
- Once the rice is cooked, let it cool for a few minutes and then transfer it to a large bowl.
- Use a rice paddle or a spatula to gently press and shape the rice into a compact form.
- Cut the grilled chicken or salmon into bite-sized pieces.
- Serve the steamed vegetables.
- Arrange the rice, chicken or salmon, steamed vegetables, and pickled vegetables in your Bento box.
- Cut the Nori into thin strips and use them to decorate the top of the rice.
- Here is your Bento box and Itadakimasu!
Note: Feel free to get creative with the ingredients, making and drawing cute characters, also add all your favorite ingredients to make a variety of the recipe.
Japanese people consider bento boxes as more than just a convenient way to carry food; they are a cultural icon that reflects the country’s rich history. From their humble origins as simple food containers to their modern variations, Bento boxes have evolved into a beloved cute part of Japanese cuisine. Whether you want to enjoy them on a picnic or as a quick and convenient meal on the go. Plan to have as many variations of them as possible on your next trip to Japan.
Book your local guide for a Cherry Blossom experience in Tokyo and try a seasonal Sakura bento!
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