Kids Web Japan

What Is Bento?

Bento Feature a Rich Variety of Rice and Side Dish Combinations

The word "bento" means a Japanese-style of serving a meal and a special container that people put their food in so they can carry it around with them when they need to eat outside of their homes, such as when they go to school or work, go on field trips, or go out to do some springtime flower-viewing. Also, bento are frequently bought at convenience stores and supermarkets and then brought home to eat, but restaurants sometimes serve their meals in a bento-style, placing the food inside bento boxes.

Half of a typical bento consists of rice, and the other half consists of several side dishes. This format allows for infinite variations. Perhaps the most common side dish ingredient used in bento are eggs. Eggs used in bento are cooked in many different ways: tamagoyaki (omelet strips or squares typically cooked with salt and sugar), sunny-side-up eggs, scrambled eggs, omelets with many different kinds of filling, and even boiled eggs. Another perennial bento favorite is sausage. Bento preparers sometimes make little cuts in the sausage to make them look like octopuses or other shapes to help make the meal more fun.

Bento also feature many other side dishes, such as grilled fish, fried foods of various kinds, and vegetables that have been steamed, boiled, or cooked in a variety of different ways. The bento may also include a dessert such as apples or tangerines.

A Bento Featuring Tamagoyaki

Preparing and Packing Bento

One long-standing staple of bento is umeboshi, or salted, dried plums. This traditional food, believed to prevent rice from going bad, may be placed inside a rice ball or on top of rice.

The person who makes a bento often prepares the bento while cooking the regular meals, considering which dishes would not go bad so quickly and sets a portion of these aside for the following day's bento.

There are also many frozen foods meant specifically for bento. Nowadays there are even frozen foods that are designed so that, even if they are put in a bento frozen, they will be thawed and ready-to-eat by lunchtime. These are very popular since they help reduce the time needed to prepare bento.

Japanese people attach great importance to the appearance of their food. Part of the fun of making a bento is creating a visually appealing arrangement that will whet the appetite.

Tricks for Cooking and Packing Bento (1)
Keeping Taste and Color from Changing Even After Cooling

Because bento are usually eaten some time after they have been prepared, cooked foods must be well done to prevent changes in the flavor or color. Items that go bad easily are not used, and excess liquid is eliminated before placing the food in a bento box.

Asparagus and carrots wrapped in meat so that excess liquid is eliminated.

Tricks for Cooking and Packing Bento (2)
Making Bento Look Tasty is Key

Another important consideration in packing bento is visual presentation. To ensure that the food will make a good overall impression when the eater opens the lid, the preparer should choose an attractively colored assortment of foods and arrange them in a way that looks appetizing.

Boiled broccoli and cauliflower that help making a bento colorful

Tricks for Cooking and Packing Bento (3)
Keep the Rice to Side-dish Ratio 1:1

A well-balanced bento consists of rice and side dishes in a 1:1 ratio. The ratio of fish or meat dishes to vegetables should be 1:2.

Parents use a lot of little tricks in packing bento, and imagine the overjoyed faces of their children opening the bento lids.