Now, there are stereotypical Japanese foods that are popular in America like sushi, ramen, and tofu. But one of the most common and important food cultures are bento boxes.
However, a bento box may not be what you picture.
Bentos can be hot or cold. They’r a balanced meal of protein, carbs, and vegetables. From little preschoolers to the elderly, everyone brings or buys bentos to school and work. Mothers actually become obsessed with making the most kawaii, or cute, bentos for their children and husbands. They make smiley faces of rice, sausages into octopuses, and carrots into flowers: it’s truly an art. Search bento on google and you’ll see what I mean. It almost becomes a competition of whose mother has the best creative bento of the day.
As children, there’s an unspoken rule to eat everything in your bento box. There are even cookbooks published to aid mothers on their journey to perfection. In a way, by making the vegetables look like animals, the children are more likely to eat them and come into contact with other flavors and textures.
Bentos have evolved over time and supermarkets and convenient stores offer a plethora of choices. In Japan bentos have specific names depending on where you buy them. If you buy them at the airport, they’re called kuuben. (taken from Kuukou, or airport). If you buy them at the train station, they’re called ekiben (taken from eki, train station). Interesting, huh? At the airport, my dad and I picked up two kuuben, where I literally circled the small store at least three times just to decide what to get. They had an endless list of choices, it was impossible to choose just one. I ended up with the “autumn special” bento with grilled salmon, japanese omelette, chicken meatballs, stewed vegetables and more! One of the important aspects of any bento box is that it’s colorful. Mine had colors of the season, red and orange. I truly believe that you eat with your eyes first and that color brings food to life.
Megumi Sasada is the BGSK Ambassador in charge of the Small Kitchen College Facebook Page. She’s a junior at Colby College in Maine and an avid food-blogging (Every Last Morsel), Food Network-watching, nutrition-conscious acapella singer.