Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bento Boxes

Long time readers of this blog (if any) will remember that a few years ago I resolved to start bringing my lunch to work every day, and I did. It is probably my most successful New Year's resolution.
But, it's not the best looking thing I do. It's usually a random selection of Tupperware, plastic bags, etc. and on occasion, the plastic-wrapped paper plate. It was just so. . . ugly. I know this comes under what Louis CK would call "White People Problems", but it bothered me.
So I was looking at lunch boxes, and most of them were either:
  • Tupperware in a neoprene bag (what I was doing already, just with a better bag)
  • Designed for children (cartoon characters anyone?)
  • Huge (seriously, some of them were bigger than my purse - and I don't carry a small purse)
 And then I stumbled on bento boxes.

Bento are Japanese lunchboxes. They come in a wide variety, from fancy triple-layered lacquer ware, the open kind used in restaurants, to simple bamboo containers. I bought a basic two layer box, with a fetching design of a lucky cat on top. (I can always use more luck.)
At first I was concerned about the size. Put together, my bento is about the size of a Coke can. But once you figure out how to properly pack it (no empty space) it holds a lot of food.

Chicken, carrot kinpira, and sliced veggies. On the left you can see the edge of the orange I brought for dessert.
Sliced lamb, radishes and cherry tomatoes, with a side of cabbage salad.
Bento are not meant to be heated, so even though the boxes are plastic, they are not really microwave safe. If you must have a hot lunch, bento are not for you. (Though some companies are starting to make microwave safe bento, so keep your eyes open)

Don't bring anything too liquid. There is an inner lid, but it's not a tight seal. I found this out the hard way with marinated artichokes. You have been warned.

Because bento are packed from corner to corner, different foods will touch each other. I've been working with this by packing together foods that complement each other (olives packed with sliced beef, for instance) but if you really must have separation, there are mini-containers. I have also heard of people using lettuce leaves as dividers.

It's particularly good for portion control. High calorie foods go in the top (smaller) section, and low calorie foods the bottom.  And I haven't been hungry at all. If you are looking for something to enforce portion control that doesn't look institutional, this is a great way to do it.
It's also upped my creativity with lunch, because it's often easier to be creative when you have a few restrictions (aka guidelines) than when you have a completely blank slate. Also, it's made me think of leftovers in a whole new light. (Only two tablespoons left? That will go great in tomorrow's lunch!)
Have I mentioned they're pretty? I look forward to unpacking my bento, even though I already know what's in it. It looks so much more appetizing than random Tupperware. And that makes lunch just that little bit more enjoyable. 


If you are in Houston and interested in Japanese culture this weekend is the Japan Festival in Hermann Park!

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