wednesday, december 5, 2007

so, i am trying to understand this "new" craze known as bento box lunches. bento is actually not all that new--it's part of the historical culture of japan (i believe)--and the craze itself started in the 80's, but i'm only just becoming aware of it. on the one hand, it sounds interesting; on the other, i not am not sure i get how a bento lunch out of the box is any different than any other lunch out of a box, and it sounds like more work to boot! one of the friends who mentioned it to me for the first time (i had heard the name bento box before she mentioned the lunch, i just never was all that curious until she mentioned it as a lunch option) has noted that it does help with portion control, which goes back to one of the issues we're having with the way we eat in this house. but beyond that...well...i'm not sure i get it.

so, according to wikipedia, a traditional bento has rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables in a a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal that is arranged in a partitioned container. you don't need an actual bento box to make a bento lunch, but, from the looks of things, it would help since they keep the different servings separate and the partitions would probably help with the portions. my friend also tells me that bento follows the 5 color rule: you should have 5 different colors represented in the food you put in the bento. which actually makes some of the bentos i've seen while looking around quite pretty. and what i'm getting from the wiki article is that it's the container that makes a bento what it is.

which takes me back to my original question: what is the difference between a bento eaten outside of a box and a regular lunch on a plate? i mean, seriously, i'd like to try to make some honey rice balls, but what makes a honey rice ball part of a bento meal versus part of a plain, old lunch? and my friend says you can make bento out of leftovers. great! but how is leftovers in a bento any different than leftovers otherwise?

yes, i really do suspect i'm missing the point, but i'd like to understand what this is all about before i go trying to find yet more time for yet another "cool thing". if all it is is making the food pretty, well, i really don't have that kind of time. but if there is something significant that i'm missing, i really want to know. i mean, on one of the pages i read, the person bought a bento box and put her leftover dinner in it and it was somehow better than her regular lunch. she doesn't say why though and i wonder what it is about doing a bento lunch that makes leftover chicken have more pizzazz than being on a plate.

another site advertises them as laptop lunches--the americanization of bento lunches, and claims they help families "nutritious, environment-friendly lunches". another site says "perfect for those parents who want their kids to have a sensible, nutritious lunch that represents a diversity of food groups". you mean, you can't do that without a bento style container? i'm not trying to be snarky here, i just don't get the fad. and i'd like to get it, really! i did like the site's boxes with the container inserts. each container held its own food. but when i was working and would take lunches with me, we often put things in a tupperware container then inside my insulated lunch bag. how is this different from bento in any way other than appearances? and how does this all help me at home where i don't NEED a container or lunch box to eat out of? so far it's just sounding like another thing for people to buy, only made to sound cooler.

the only other thing i can think of is that the bento lunch makes you think about the food you're putting into your box. bento lunches are supposed to be appealing to the eye (which is the point according to this how to page), which means you pay attention to presentation, which means you're aware of the food you're putting into your lunch instead of just throwing in any old sandwich. but i'm not sure how this makes a bento lunch have some pizzazz that a regular on the plate lunch does not. now the how to page does include the ideas of what portion of your lunch each food should make up, but it still seems to me a fancy way of making a plain old lunch.

yes, my denseness factor is high here.

maybe i'm trying to over think it. one comment on a bento article says "Bento is a great reminder to slow down and appreciate simple arts like preparing food and making a "take-away" experience into something more memorable." maybe, just maybe, some of my husband's cynicism has rubbed off on me. i can't see him going for a bento lunch just because it's made pretty in a divided lunch box...and this guy wants to be a chef. i'm almost certain he'd see it as nothing more than another way for companies to earn money, since the serving containers seem to be a big part of the deal. of course, he and i aren't big sushi eaters either. i'm not particularly interested in raw fish (although, yes, i'm aware sushi is more than that) and i've only seen him eat sushi once. he seemed to like it, but wasn't bowled over by it. i understand that sushi isn't a required component of bento, but it does seem to be a big part of the tradition.

i don't know. i guess i'll have to keep looking around and keep talking to the friends i've run into recently who seem to be into the whole bento thing. maybe one day i'll get the fascination. in the meantime, if i have the time to make pretty lunches that are healthy, from leftovers or specific bento lunch recipes, i suspect i'll enjoy them just as much on a plate as i would from a box. it's just the plate means they aren't bento any more for some reason. maybe presentation does help you enjoy your lunch more. i never really thought about it much. i like to eat at restaurants not so much because of presentation but because we all get to sit and relax and eat. no one has to stress out in the kitchen.

if i ever get an appropriately partitioned box, i might try to make a bento lunch. until then, i'll just keep trying to eat as healthy as i can whether it's called bento or not.

oh, and i am going to try those rice balls one of these days.

word of the moment: accension

the act of kindlingor setting on fire, or the state of being kindled; inflammation; ignition

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