A traditional Japanese bento box is one of the many amazing parts of Japanese food culture. Not only are they affordable and healthy, but they are also widely accessible and excellent for people on the move. Keep reading to learn more about what goes into a bento box, how to make bento, and why we love them.
What are bento boxes?
A traditional Japanese bento box is a type of ‘ekiben’. ‘Ekiben’ – deriving from the words ‘eki’ (railway station) and ‘bento’ (boxed lunch), refers to a box of food made for eating on the go. Bento boxes can be filled with all sorts of ingredients and often are packed with local specialities, which can differ all across Japan. In Tokyo and other major cities, you can find many varieties of bento boxes in major shinkansen stations.
When should I eat a bento box?
It’s totally up to you when you would prefer to eat your traditional Japanese bento box; however, many people prefer to eat their bento at lunchtime. Due to its convenience and the fact that they are designed to be eaten on the go, bento boxes make for a delicious and quick lunch. They are widely available all over Japan, making them an excellent choice for a takeaway work lunch or a school snack.
Bento boxes don’t always have to be prepared by restaurants. Many loving parents make bento boxes for their children to take to school with them, and partners prepare bento boxes for their loved ones to take to work. When visiting Japan, many tourists will enjoy buying a traditional Japanese bento box and eating it on a long train journey.
What goes into a bento box?
In a traditional Japanese bento box, these are the most popular fillings:
Used as the main source of protein, you can usually find meat in the form of karaage, meatballs or katsu. Fish is popular also. You can often find shrimp fritters (tenmusu), crab or roe.
These can be pickled or pre-cooked. Edamame, bean sprouts, green onions, carrots and mini tomatoes are popular vegetable choices due to their ability to complement lots of other foods.
Tamagoyaki is a popular ingredient in traditional Japanese bento boxes. This type of Japanese omelette gets folded multiple times to create a filling and delicious snack.
Rice can be used in many different forms in Japanese cooking. For example, you might find rice in the form of fried rice, steamed rice or sushi. Try this recipe
for rice balls.
How to make bento
Making bento might seem intimidating; however, it is easier than you think due to its customising element! We recommend using pre-cooked ingredients from previous dinners to reduce food waste and keep costs down. Make sure that you include fresh fruit and vegetables for maximum flavour.
We like to make our bento on the day we are planning to eat it so that each food element retains its optimum texture and flavour, however, we understand that sometimes time is of the essence. Ensure that all hot foods have cooled down before putting a lid on the bento box and keep in the fridge overnight.
Now onto what goes into a bento box…
- Consider the food groups when making your bento box.
Make sure that your bento box is filled with mostly vegetables, a good source of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates, and some fruit for dessert. For advice on proportions of food groups, check out this informative diagram
- Add colours.
You want your lunch not only to taste delicious but also look delicious! Include vibrantly coloured fruits and vegetables and colourful seasonings such as furikake.
- Pack foods properly and tightly.
Try using silicone dividers or muffin cases to separate your foods and keep loose foods together. If you pack your bento tightly, food is less likely to move around and ruin your creation.
How can I modernise my traditional Japanese bento box?
If you are packing for a fussy eater or want to add some fun to your children’s traditional Japanese bento box, you might wonder how to make the bento box fillings look more exciting.
- Use rice shapers.
Rice shapers allow you to mould the rice into certain shapes, such as cartoon characters. Imagine how happy your child will be seeing Mickey Mouse in their lunch box!
- Decorative vegetables.
Take time when preparing vegetables to make them appear more appealing. Cut cucumber rounds into stars, or draw a picture using seaweed on top of the rice.
- Mix it up!
You don’t have to use just Japanese food. If you pack sandwiches, why not cut out little smiley faces into the bread? How to make a bento box is totally up to you and your food preferences.
What are the benefits of a bento box?
Bento boxes are jam-packed with nutritious ingredients such as healthy carbs, filling fats, proteins and vegetables. Some bento even have fruit in them. Because bento is limited to the amount of space available, it’s a great way to watch your portion sizes. So why not see how much you can fit into our favourite bento box?
Bento boxes are also more economical due to them being made at home. Making food at home reduces the amount of money you have to spend eating out. If you have to buy food when out and about, a bento box is a full and filling entire meal, reducing the need for you to buy snacks or extras.
Most importantly, traditional Japanese bento boxes are eco-friendly. They are reusable, reduce the amount of plastic used and result in no waste.
As you can imagine, the list of what can go into a bento box is endless, and you can have so much fun with creating your own. What would you put in your bento? Would you make a traditional Japanese bento box, or would you modernise it? For ideas on sweet treats to put in your bento, then check out our Popular Japanese Sweets and Treats
blog for lots of inspiration. For more information about our products, please contact
our lovely team today.