The beloved bento! A nutritious and delicious short-cut when you are really running short on time to prepare a fully balanced meal to take on the go. Bento boxes are very easily available in Japanese grocery stores and Japanese convenience stores, but not so much elsewhere in the world.
Bentos are normally planned and made well in advance to save time and are preferably eaten within 5 hours from their preparation. This also means that bentos need to be more or less devoid of moisture, and therefore fresh fruits and some vegetables should typically be avoided as they may contain excess moisture that could create a soggy mess or spoil easily.
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Perhaps the most interesting part about bento meals is that although they are fast and easy, they support a totally balanced diet. Japanese cuisine generally includes everything required to maintain that balance, including carbohydrates like rice, lean proteins, and even vegetarian, and vegan options.
Since bentos are for everyone, from Kindergarteners to salarymen, a shop will need to offer variety, since different people have different tastes & preferences. These bentos are packed in transparent boxes so that the person buying it can see from outside what is in it. The number of colors that you see in a bentos box will definitely allure you to taste one immediately! They typically offer a lot of variation. Also, the rice base can be combined with various proteins and vegetables to create a wonderful color assortment.
Preparing a bento depends on the ingredients, but there are some essential things which are available with almost every bento meal. These include:
Rice is the most important part of any bento, since it makes upto 50% of the meal. Rice balls, known as onigiri, are ideal for a bento lunch box. Rice can be made in variety of ways, like:
- White Rice ,or hakumai
- Brown rice, or genmai
- Rice with red beans, or sekihan
- Rice with seaweed, or Noriben
Vegetables for Bentos
There are lots of vegetable options which can be added to the bento. Some of the more common vegetables that go well with almost every bento are: carrots, peas, edamame, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, pumpkin, and capsicum.
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Non Vegetarian Options for Bentos
- Eggs: Eggs are pretty common in Bento meals! Eggs can be added in different forms to change things up. There are a variety of egg dishes that you see inside a bento, from soft boiled, to tamagoyaki and many more.
- Meat: Just like eggs, meat can also be used in creating a variety of bentos. All types of meat from pork, beef, ham and chicken can be easily used for bentos.
- Seafood: With Japan being a country surrounded by water, you get to eat a wide range of seafood in the country. Tuna, salmon, squid, anchovies and shrimp or common examples - but really, you can name any type of seafood and it will pair well with the Bento.
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Vegan Bento Options
Bentos in Japan offer a wide variety of food for vegans too. From tofu, kidney beans, chickpeas, along with assorted options of nuts, avocado, corn etc can be found in the stores or made at home.
Soy Sauce, one of the most used sauces in the bento meal. Though other sauces like teriyaki, barbeque sauce can also be used to bring in variation and offer different flavors.
Several types of oil depending on the availability and preferences can be used here. Olive oil is very useful and a healthy option too. Though other oils like Sunflower and Canola oil can also be used in different dishes. Sesame oil is one of the more frequently used oils for bentos.
Nori is an edible seaweed, green in color. It is often added to different types of onigiri. Nori is not limited to onigiri though, Nori is added to bentos as well. It is often used as a Sushi wrap too.