If you have ever been to a Japanese restaurant, especially for the lunch menu, you have probably seen the bento box option. Not sure what that is? It’s basically a traditional single serving Japanese meal. It’s sectioned off so that each part of the meal is separated in its own compartment. California culinary trends are typically the most cutting edge and well noted – the bento box trend has been spreading quickly and with the wonderful assortment of fresh fish available for sushi in California, those near the ocean get the best of it all! The history of the bento box is something that dates back much further than the comparably “new” trend of preparing this Japanese traditional meal in American culture.
The Bento Box Tradition
The traditional bento box usually had a section for fish (or meat), rice and pickled vegetables. The earliest uses of these perfectly portioned boxes can be traced all the way back to the Kamkura Period, which ended in 1333. The bento box was widely used then for serving food at festivals and parties. It was later used for packing meals for traveling in Japan. The more elaborate uses for these boxes included the crafting of special boxes to be used for Buddhist and other important ceremonies and celebrations, transitioning it from simply functional to more of a culinary art.
The traditional bamboo box was replaced with aluminum material in the early 1900s. These new bento boxes were not only welcomed for their aesthetics, but for their functionality as well. Unlike bamboo, aluminum was much easier to wash and reuse. Aluminum bento boxes were also viewed as a symbol of those of a higher income status at first, but later became more common place
The Bento Box in America
Today, if you study Japanese cuisine as a culinary arts school student, you are bound to learn even more about the function, fashion and fantastically popular bento box trend. What has now become a novelty item was once a way of life.
Bento boxes are no longer simply bamboo or aluminum, they are made of plastics, wood and other materials. While those served in restaurants typically are part of a Japanese menu, many adaptations have been made. Plastic bento boxes can be purchased for mothers to pack their children’s lunch in without having all the different side dished mixing into one. For items like these, the true tradition and ceremony of the bento box seems far removed, but from a functional standpoint, the main idea remains the same – enjoy a variety of things for lunch, but keep them separated so that the ingredients retain their own flavors.
If you feel like making your own bento box, be creative, there is really no wrong way to do it! You can purchase your own box and add a bit of rice, cooked or raw fish and try adding pickled ginger! Traditionally ginger is served with Japanese food to clean the pallet between dishes. Give it a try and see what you think. If you are a seasoned food enthusiast, try putting your own touch on this trend. There is no wrong way to bento!
If you live in the California area and are interested in attending culinary arts school, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Sacramento is a great way to take your passion even further!
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