What is a Bento [ 弁当]? This is a complex question because in a same time it presents a single-portion takeout, a culinary culture and also a small lunch box extremely common in Japan. But its influence besides Japan is growing up since a couple of year with many people all around the world who replace their tupperware during their lunch break at work by this small box (or big it depends of your will).
The Bento as a single-portion takeout and a culture
All kid in Japan has the pleasure to bring a box at school that his mother has prepared in the morning. It represents the highlight of any school day. Even if the practice of bringing bento to school has almost desapeared after world war 2 and was replaced by uniform food provided for all students and teachers, it has been popular again during the 80’s thanks to the invention of microwave and the proliferation of convenience stores. The bento represents nowadays a great range of meals and more important: a nutritionally balanced and aesthetically pleasing meal. So for that, it is an important satisfaction for mothers who create those bentos for their children.
History of Bento
The origins of the Bento [ 弁当] can be traced to the twelve century during the Kamakura Period [鎌倉時代] (governance of Japan by the Kamakura Shogunate) when people of the country developed the first hoshi-ii [糒](dried rice). At the beginning of Edo Period [江戸時代] (1603 to 1867), bento culture became more refined and the meals were more developed with onigiri 🍙(white rice presented into triangular or cylindrical shapes and filled with tuna, salmon or other salty and sour ingredients). It has been very common in the country since the day schools and companies did not provide lunch during the Meiji period (1868 – 1912). The students and teachers had to carry bentos, as did many employees. Finally, the bento has made its way to other Asian countries bus most in Taiwan in the first half of the 20th century where it is now called Bendong.
The Bento Lunch Box
The first wooden lacquered boxes like today’s were produced during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (between 1568 and 1600). The first ones were in bamboo, wood and the aluminium boxes appeared since the twenty’s century (Taishō period 1912 to 1926). Today, the Bento Lunch box has many forms, sizes or decorations. It exists with one, two or three compartments, presents some Japanese cartoons or is in stainless steel in purpose to keep the food warm.