The origin of the bentō (as we know it today) can be traced back to the Kamakura period (1185 to 1333), when hoshi-ii (dried rice) was discovered. In the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568 to 1600) wooden boxes in which this rice and other food could be carried were introduced. During the Edo period 1603 to 1867) the bent culture was further expanded. In the Meiji period the first ekibentō (literally "train station bento") was sold. After WW2, bento slowly lost its popularity for lunch, until the microwave was introduced in the 1980s.
Bento is a meal common in Japan. You can buy them in many shops, but many people make them at home and take them to school/work. A traditional bento usually consists of rice, fish/meat and vegetables. In Japan it is very normal to spend a lot of time in the bento's. Many parents have a very strong competition among themselves to give their child the best bento to school.
Although a bento is originally Japanese, everything can be put in the container, ranging from traditional Japanese dishes, to pasta and bread or traditional Dutch things such as poffertjes. In general, a bento:
- must be well packed;
- should contain especially healthy ingredients;
- contains 3 parts of carbohydrates (such as rice/pasta/bread, etc.);
- 1 part protein, such as tofu, egg or meat(s);
- 2 parts vegetable or fruit. (whereby the fruit is seen as a snack.)
Did you know that you even have different types of bento?
- Shōkadō bentō (松花堂弁当) is a traditional bento in a black lacquered Japanese bento box.
- Noriben (海苔弁) is the simplest bento, with nori, soy sauce and rice.
- Kyaraben or charaben (キャラ弁) is a shortened form of character bento (キャラクター弁当, kyarakuta bento). It is a style that is widely used for children. The food resembles people, popular TV characters (Pokémon for example), animals and plants. This style used to be used to help kids eat better, but today it has big competitions in it.
- Tori bento: consists of pieces of chicken with rice and sauce.