Anmona Handique Mahanta
Apart from the culturally rich traditions and customs complemented with the finest etiquettes of discipline and punctuality, Japan is also wowed for its world-famous Japanese cuisines. And when it comes to Japanese cuisines, the very first thing that may come to your mind is all about Sushi, Sashimi , Tempura (battered and deep-fried fries), and delicious Ramen. But believe me that’s a lot more to explore and know about Japan’s rich culture of food. Today, through this column, I would like to share with you about the Japanese Bento culture that is so uniquely enriching and fascinating.
Now, what is a Japanese Bento? In Japanese, bento means ‘Lunchbox’. These lunchboxes are a single-portion or take out home-packed meals common in Japan (Source-Internet) These are not only just typical lunchboxes filled to refill the stomachs but are decorated with a variety of culinary offerings within attractive lunchboxes. Today, Japanese Bento’s are world famous for its unique representation of the meal sets and for the distinguished variety of food items which can be only found in Japan. And because of their outstanding presentation with colorful characterization, bento meals are the most appealing about this country, especially for tourist.
Chicken set Bento Boxes, with assorted vegetables and noodles and salads (Photo: AHM)
So, what exactly is inside a Bento Box and where it is usually available? Japanese Bento boxes consists of well-balanced meal that contain a well-proportioned amount of, proteins, carbohydrates, assortment of vegetables, meats, fish salads, a variety of Japanese pickles and many such seasonal foods. Rice is the base for any Bento Box, and from this you can say, just like we Assamese love Rice in main courses, Japanese also loves to eat rice. Rice are usually packed in different styles and some comes in different flavors. For instance, It is common to found the rice topped with sesame seeds either white or black sesame. In some you may find the rice cooked with red beans, sea weeds or mixed grains. The best part I like about the Japanese rice is the rice cooked with white or black sesame seeds. Then it is with the composition of vegetables, a Bento box represents the seasonal effects that range from seasons to seasons. Salads again come in a wide variety from pasta salad, common potato salads or lettuce or cold chicken salads sauteed with different delicious dressings. While Japanese pickles are usually served with radish, bamboo shoots, cucumber etc.
When it comes to meat, it is mainly the deep-fried chicken or chicken served with thick gravy with assorted vegetables, then you can get croquettes and pork. Pork are usually cooked with a brown sauce or in some there is fried pork cut in sleek pieces and served with salads. One can also find sweet omelettes in Japanese style which is also very yummy. Fishes available in the Bento boxes are usually grilled Mackerel, salmon and eel and some fish cakes are also available.
Salmon Fish Bento boxes with other fish cakes, pasta and pickles (Photo: AHM)
Recently, we went to an event out here, where we were offered Bento meals. It was utterly delicious, a full-packed nutritious combo in a finely packed box, very eye-catching, healthy, and tempting. So, we had two different meat items- one was pork cooked in shredded bamboo shoots and brown sauce, chicken was sauteed with some seasonal vegetables, rice cooked in black sesame and the entire meal surrounded by cute salad and mixed pickle platters.
Chicken gravy, assorted fried pork, pickles and salads (Photo: AHM)
Bento boxes are ubiquitous and are available in any shape, size, and price. So, one can find Bento boxes in the chain of convenience stores, other Bento selling shops and stores. In Japan, usually in trains it is an etiquette not to eat inside the trains. But while taking a ride in Bullet trains one ca have that wonderful experience of train Bento meal boxes that are carried in train trays and are served to customers. Such meals are just healthy and nutritious and a complete set of a hefty meal.
Pork cooked with brown sauce and bamboo shoots (Photo: AHM)
Much earlier, i.e. in ancient times, Bento’s were packed in natural ways like in Oak leaf, bamboo leaf or bamboo sheathes, and then wooden boxes and bamboo boxes were in use. These tradition of wooden boxes and bamboo boxes are still in vogue which makes the food not only appetizing but also trilling to experience at the first look. However, these bento boxes come with an expiry date, so it is important to always check the date before use. Well! Japanese Bento boxes are the most convenient and exotic and whenever you can fly to Japan after this ghastly pandemic, make sure you try a typical traditional Japanese Bento for the ultimate feel of Japanese culture and their savoring cuisines in one plate.
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