I’m glad the concept of “bento” has made it to the non Japanese speaking world. For those who still wonder what I’m talking about, a bento box is a single portion of a meal (usually lunch) in a container, hence “box”, for easy transport, that contains the elements of a balanced meal. In it, there is usually rice, one or two vegetable dishes, and a protein. You can make it home or easier option: buy it at stores (convenience stores, department stores, bento specialized stores) for between $5 and $12, or at restaurant for $10 and up in Japan or here in America at Japanese grocery stores near you. My local favorite in Los Angeles is Nijiya Market, they often use organic and better ingredients.
I had lunch at BreadBar in Century City the other day and was happy to see Bentoboard on the menu. Instead of a box, though, all the food came on a heavy cheese board. Soup, two sliders, a cob salad and bread pudding for dessert for $17. Looked very cute, and was VERY filling. Every woman would order it, if this menu was found in the business district in Japan, but with one notable exception–the portion would be probably half the size, while the price, of course, stays the same.Typically, Japanese bento are either washoku, Japanese style with grilled fish, tempura, and cooked root vegetable, or Japanese interpretation of “western” food, youshoku style, with hamburg (similar to salisbury steak) with demi glace sauce, pasta, egg, potato. Either way, bento usually come with white rice. We also eat sandwiches (no crust) as bento.When mothers ask children what they want in their bento, Japanese children usually request youshoku style. My husband doesn’t like rice, so when I make a bento box for him, it’s usually some kind of pasta dish which is actually easier to make than a Japanese style bento. With bento, the key is that there should be at least one main protein and a few side dishes–Coming up with a variety each day is hard to keep up with! I’m little relieved I don’t live in Japan anymore. The idea behind the Bento Box is nice. It reflects the wife/mother’s dedication to her husband/child, so there’s also a pride and ego factor reflected in it. I’m not a lazy person, but if I was expected to make these kind of bento lunches everyday, I would be overwhelmed. But making a big batch of pasta, and dividing it into a few Tupperware containers is something I can handle!