Art in a Lunchbox: The Beauty of Bento

From left to right: First box contains rice balls wrapped in nori and fresh shizu leaves. Second box contains stir-fried burdock, Japanese fried chicken, hard boiled egg, tomato and fried bitter melon. Website: shizuokagourmet.com.

Whenever I want inspiration re: arranging my brown bag lunches, I look at bento displays on a website called shizuokagourmet.com. Not that my lunch-making will ever reach these visual heights. Still, it’s fun to see.

According to Wikipedia, the bento is “a single-portion take-out or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine.” Bento portions usually consist of a rice dish, some sort of vegetable, and a protein. Japanese homemakers spend a great deal of time and effort in preparing and packing lunches for their families in decorative, even artistic arrangements.

A Japanese family showing off some of Mom’s bento creations.

Bento culture has existed in Japanese culture for eons, but has become popular world-wide in the last couple of decades. For example, you may remember Molly Ringwald’s elegantly packed sushi lunch in 1985’s “The Breakfast Club.”

Nowadays, one can find bento equipment at all sorts of virtual and brick-and-mortar stores. Below is a photo of a meal that I assembled using containers from a website called bentology.com.

Clock-wise from upper left: Spring mix salad greens, leftover fried chicken, sushi rolls.

This arrangement certainly doesn’t compare with the photo at the top of this blog. But it doesn’t have to in order to look appetizing. And when you arrange any type of lunch in an appealing fashion, bento or no bento, your meal will be more satisfying.

I should mention that bentos do not have to have an Asian theme. Take a look at this Mediterranean-themed arrangement I assembled not long ago. It hardly took any time to put together.

Clockwise from upper left: Store-bought stuffed grape leaves, grape tomatoes, pita chips, low-fat cheddar cheese, hummus.

Although there was not a large volume of food in this lunch, the arrangement satisfied the eye as well as the stomach, and I felt more satiated as a result.

In conclusion, you can find out more about bento culture and recipes by looking for books and websites on the subject. You might start with justbento.com, a delightful website with lots of recipes and ideas for lunch. Its creator, Makiko Doi, has also written a book called “The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches to go.” Also, bentology.com is a good place to check out bento-style equipment.

Take a look at the Bento/Lunch Boxes section of shizuokagourmet.com. It’s like looking at artwork at a museum, the meals are that beautiful.

Finally, I would invite you to check out the excellent article on Wikipedia referenced below. It will provide details on the history of bento, as well as great photos of bento meals.

Reference:

“Bento”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  25 October 2019,.  Web.  28 October 2019.

shizuokagourmet.com, Bento/Lunch Boxes

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