If you have had the chance to travel to Japan you must have certainly noticed a lot of differences or new things between the archipelago of the Land of the Rising Sun and our European countries. Among these new things, bento boxes. You must have noticed or come across Japanese people eating on the go at lunchtime in these small plastic, wooden or stainless steel boxes. They are now part of modern Japanese culture and we are going to look at them in more detail today to find out where they come from.
What is a bento box?
Bento boxes are small boxes intended to temporarily store food in order to eat later in the day. They are therefore widely used by adults at work but also by students and schoolchildren. They are extremely common in Japan and you can therefore easily buy them in stores or commercially. You will find disposable bento boxes already prepared but also beautiful bento boxes intended to be kept which can this time be very nicely decorated.
There is something for all tastes and colors because they have been able to adapt to evolve with their times because, as we will see just after, they are relatively old. We therefore often find in bento boxes rice (around 40%), meat or fish (around 30%), vegetables (around 20%) as well as a dessert to finish (source: Vivre le Japan ).
They therefore have the advantage of not making us get into the habit of eating fast food at lunchtime and of eating in a healthier and more balanced way. They are also very beneficial for the environment because they do not produce waste and ultimately they are able to keep food warm for several hours.
The first bento boxes
When we talk about the word bento box today we often imagine a wooden or plastic lunch box with possibly some floral designs. However, the first bento boxes were far from looking like this. They actually didn't look like much because, in the 12th century, the ancestor of the bento boxes we know today were just dried rice ready to be stored or eaten.
It was not until the 16th century that the first ornamental bento boxes began to be made. They were made of lacquered wood and were used as now to preserve a mixture of foods between starchy foods, proteins, vegetables and dessert.
The evolution of bento boxes over the centuries
After the arrival of wooden bento boxes, they quickly became popular throughout the land of the rising sun. Particularly during the Edo period (1603-1658) where they quickly became an essential part of everyday meals.
Moreover, unlike tokonoma which took a certain time before being accessible to the entire population, bento boxes were not particularly expensive and were quickly used by all residents and this, by all social classes. However, depending on the rank of an inhabitant, the contents of the box could be very different.Over the centuries, bento boxes have evolved through the evolution of artistic trends, tastes, available materials as well as manufacturing methods. They are today very financially accessible and have become popular well beyond the borders of the Japanese archipelago. You will easily find stainless steel or plastic lunch boxes with various colors and patterns.