Japanese bento is a small meal that’s normally packed at home (there are little restaurants that do take-out bento now), and almost always single-serving.
Traditionally, bento consists of rice and either fish or meat (usually chicken), sometimes egg (she does a literal ‘egg roll’ in the video below which looks very tasty), and some pickled or cooked vegetables that function as a small side dish. The bento boxes used range from plastic disposable containers to beautiful hand-crafted lacquerware that
|would qualify as art in and of itself. Even though bento lunches are easily available in lots of places all over Japan–including train stations, department stores, convenience stations, and, of course, bento shops–it is still quite common for Japanese homemakers (usually housewives) to spend considerable|
effort (although not necessarily time, as you’ll see below a very nice bento box can be made in 5 or 10 minutes after some practice) producing an appealing bento lunch for their spouse (usually a salaryman) to take to work with them. Here we go (no, I have no friggin’ clue what’s up with the poodle, the Japanese are just weird but we love them):
Bento can be very elaborately arranged into all sorts of shapes and images (see below), and contests are often held where people compete to make the most aesthetically pleasing and original arrangement. The food is usually designed to look like a particular person (often someone famous), animals or cartoon/anime characters, as well as things such as beautiful plants (bonsai trees) and pretty flowers. This style of elaborate bento is called “kyaraben”, and you can see examples of it illustrated below with Hello Kitty, Calvin and Hobbes, and Super Mario bento boxes:
Additional Resources and Further Reading
JustBento.com: This seems to be the online English-language resource for everything Bento, they’ve got a lovely looking forum, lots of recipes (vegetarian bento, bean bento, all sorts of bento), and info on where to get bento supplies and what-not…
Lunch in a Box: Cute bento. Creative bento. Dude, go there just to check out the rooster sausage bento, seriously: WTF?! (not saying it’s not good…I’m saying it’s weird…then again, I can almost guarantee you I’d eat it).
Kids Web Japan has a very nifty little page set up on Bento specifically for kids here and apparently creative and original bento lunch boxes are very important for when you go to school. They also have a VERY cool application called ‘virtual bento’ where you can design and pack your own bento box (you’ll need Adobe Shockwave installed).