Photo by Raphaël Labbé

Maybe one of the first thing I learned about Japan was Bento. I really don't remember how I get interested in it. But I ended up writing my first article to Hanabi Magazine about Bento. Bento is really important part of the Japanese food culture. If I say it helps people to eat a balanced healthy meal, probably I won't be mistaken. It's basically what a lunch box is called in Japan. Well, it's more than a simple lunch box, Turkish people usually call it "sefer tası" and I am not sure how to translate it properly in English anyway. But you can imagine and get it as you see already in the photos I share. Bento's preparations are more difficult than any another meal. because usually, it doesn't only taste delicious also looks incredibly cute and beautiful. We can see that there are rice or pasta as carbohydrate, meat, fish, sausage or egg as protein, veggies which are cooked in steam or are pickled used in these Bento. Also let's not forget that there are fresh fruits in it, too.

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History of Bento

Bento's ancestor is "packed lunch" which was first made in the 5th century. In the old times, falconer(people who train and look after falcons) used to put their lunch in food sacks.( we learn this from one of the oldest historical record, NIHON SHOKI.) And people used to carry dried rice with them on the voyage.( and we learn this information from ISE MONOGATARI, 10th-century story collection which is written in a poetic way.) It's said that the word "Bento" comes from feeding a huge amount of people in the 16th century by Army Leader ODA NOBUNAGA who feed people in his castle.
 In Edo Period, Bento becomes an unreplaceable item that accompanies people who go to theaters and tours.
In Meiji Period(1868 – 1912), with the start of the train system in Japan, a special Bento came to life, which is called "ekiben".
Although the most favorite Bento is the one made at home with extra care and cute designs, there is variety of Bento which is made by national Bento chains and Bento shops.

Photo by
Alberto Garcia

Variety of Bento

Bento (we can call it "obento" in a formal way) has nearly 2.000 - 3.000 different kinds. First, we can separate Bento as the ones made at home and the ones you can buy at stores. The most popular ones which are made at home are HINOMARU BENTO ( Japanese Flag Bento) which is made with rice and umeboshi( a fruit belongs to apricot family in Japan) The most popular ones which are sold outside are "ekiben" that contain local tastes and seasonal ingredients and have design difference region by region.( ekiben are both sold at train stations and at the train.)

But in all ekiben kinds, there is one interesting and most famous. it's the one sold in Matsuaka train station. it contains the top-quality beef in Japan. it's called “Matsusaka-gyu Monogatari”. The meat's process is really interesting. When I first read, I thought I have mistaken. Cattles drink beer and their meat massage with shochu. interesting isn't it? well, if someone tastes this, let me know how it is.
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Another sort of Bento is “kyaraben”. Characters from manga and anime are made in these Bento. “Oekakiben” contains flowers, cars, animal designs. These are all very famous Bento kinds.

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Bento Materials
Homemade Bento is carried with a wrapping called furoshiki. My penfriend once sent me a furoshiki from Japan. Even it's a simple and a daily item for them, it was a cute and a valuable gift for me so I haven't used it yet.   
Bento Boxes
Today there are rectangle and oval bento boxes which are made from wood, plastic or aluminum and called Bento-bako

And there are also traditional bento boxes. we can give hangetsu (half-moon shaped)  as an example.

Silicone Containers, Separators, and colorful toothpicks
Because Bento is all about balance, rice and side dishes have 1:1 rate, and between meat and veggies, there is 1:2 rate. And of course not to mix the ingredients, separators are commonly used.

To give shape to the ingredients, patterns are used and to make it easy to pick colorful toothpicks are used.