Before I upload the recipes for the bento boxes, I wanted to do a quick thing on the Basics of Bento Boxes! Not just for general interest, but also for safety and a better understanding of what Bento truly is!
Different Kinds of Bento
Makunouchi (formal): what you would get if you ordered a bento at a restaurant. Served in a lacquered box without a lid. The food is fresh and hot. Looks something like this…
Kouraku (picnic): Very large and shared by groups of people. The food is fresh and eaten shortly after arriving to the location. Just like a picnic basket, but Japanese style! Looks something like this…
Ekiben (basic): This would be the Japanese equivalent of a sack lunch. Can be found in train stations. Japanese food regulations are stricter than the U.S.’s so while it make be sketchy to buy sushi at a train station in america, it’s completely normal to do so in Japan…
Charaben/Charaben (art): These are the really pretty ornate ones. Though parents who make bento lunches for their kids try to make them look as good as possible, nobody actually packs these things for lunch. These are hobbies, like painting or drawing. They take hours to assemble, people really only do these for artistic purposes.
Safety and Nutrition
“Real bento” lunches are colorful and pretty, but not crazy works of art. They’re generally very healthy, the photogenic ones with little octopus sausages or tempura aren’t particularly healthy and generally reserved for fresher bentos or special occasions, like the restaurant or the artistic bentos.
If packing a school or work lunch bento, it’s best to wait until the the food is refrigerated or at least room temperature before packaging it. The reason being, it will be sitting around for a long time. Regardless of if you keep it cool after packing it, if you package warm food it will create condensation and make your lunch gross and soggy. (Also if you package warm food, the moisture and heat will create a breeding ground for bacteria. ew) The only time you should pack warm food is if you plan on eating it immediately, like the picnic lunch.
If you are planing on keeping your bento at room-temp on your office desk or in a backpack, you must pack things that will be safe at room temperature. Avoid meat, eggs, fish, mayonnaise, etc. These can spoil at room temp.
However! If you keep your bento cold somehow (office fridge, cooler, icepack) you can pack what ever you want! You must pack the food cold regardless though, you can heat it back up if you want later if a microwave is available. Otherwise I suggest packing food thats good both hot and cold!
The food doesn’t have to be Japanese to go into a bento! Lots of people get hung up on “Oh man, I don’t know how to make that!” Don’t worry, put a sandwich in a bento! Put salad or chips! Put leftovers or pasta! Use cheese and crackers! If it fits, it ships!
You can mix and match and find what works best for you, but a traditional bento is set up like this ^^^
50% carbs (usually rice) 25% protein (tofu, chicken, beef, fish, etc.) 25% plants (fruit and veggies. Salad fits great here)
Choosing a Bento Box
Bento boxes come in various shapes, sizes, colors and prices. The more traditional bento boxes are made of wood and are two tiered, then held together by wrapping with a cloth.
There are more kid friendly bento boxes that close like a tupperware and are one tiered to prevent spills. They’ll sometime have cartoons printed on them!
Some boxes are like true works of art. they’re hand carved and painted with elaborate designs and are usually high in price. Others are simple and mass produced with lower quality products but are very affordable. Honestly, with bento boxes you get what you pay for.
Now for me personally, I don’t always used Bentos, but when I do I use Monbento (ha, see what I did there!). Monbento is an amazing brand! I’m not here to advertise, but really, they’re wonderful! Here’s a link to there site. I really cannot stress enough how much I love the brand. They’re a little bit on the pricey side, but nothing too crazy. They come in a variety of colors and shapes (also sizes!). The design is simplistic, chic and functional. They’re dishwasher safe, microwave safe, airtight (prevents condensation to keep food fresh), and BPA free! (most bento boxes are none of the above because they’re usually made of wood). If you have any questions about them feel free to ask, but seriously they’re awesome!!