Japanese people often prepare a bento box for their relatives to bring to work or school because it is compact, fast, and easy to carry. In the same way, lunch boxes for hanami (flower-viewing) festival are called hanami bento. Let’s find out what makes hanami bento so unique!
Hanami bento, just like other kinds of bento boxes, represents the culinary art of the Japanese. Although these bento boxes may look simple, they combine a balanced arrangement of ingredients and presentation.
According to traditional concepts, having five cooking methods in a bento box is ideal. These methods are raw, simmering, frying, and grilling. Bento makers must achieve five flavors for the perfect balance of taste: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Finally, people enjoy their bento box with the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
A standard lunch box must traditionally contain nutritional elements such as starch, fiber, and protein. In particular, the arrangement should follow the 4:3:2:1 ratio (four parts of rice, three parts of meat, two parts of vegetables, and 1 part of dessert).
Because people share hanami bento between family and friends, you can fill it up with many things depending on each person’s preferences. However, it still follows some of the traditional elements of a typical bento.
Moreover, as its name says, it is a must to have cherry blossoms as one of the ingredients in a hanami lunch box. Every dish has beautiful decorations to reflect the spring season.
Fried and grilled dishes are an essential part of the hanami bento. These fried dishes range from typical Japanese fried dishes such as karaage (Japanese fried chicken), takoyaki (grilled octopus balls), and tempura. Since these fried dishes can take time to prepare, most people will get them from the supermarkets.
Japanese people often prepare vegetable dishes such as salads and tsukemono (Japanese pickles) to accompany the salty dishes. Some popular Japanese salads are kinpira gobo (burdock root and carrot), shori-ae (mashed tofu and blanched vegetables), potato salad, seaweed, and lotus root salad.
Salted cherry blossom pickles would make an exceptional addition among those commonly seen salads. Foragers pick the yaezakura cherry blossoms after blooming.
Afterward, they wash, dry, and sprinkle them with salt before soaking them in plum vinegar. After letting them sit for a few days and dry out, the cherry blossom pickle is ready.
Onigiri is a simple, convenient meal ideal for a day spent outdoors. It uses steamed rice, forming it into a triangular or circular shape and wrapping it in seaweed. Varieties of onigiri are customizable, often featuring tuna, salmon, dried bonito flakes, or salted plum as fillings.
In the hanami season, sakura onigiri is a special edition of rice ball with cherry blossom pickle as the star ingredient. You can knead the cherry blossom pickle with rice to form a sakura rice ball. These lovely sakura onigiri are the soul of every hanami bento.
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Inarizushi is a variation of sushi, and sakura inarizushi is another dish you can make using cherry blossom pickle. Like other sushi, you must prepare sushi rice – a mixture of rice, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Short-grain Japanese rice is the most suitable type because it absorbs liquid quickly and is easy to mold into shapes.
Afterward, people place the sushi rice inside the aburaage (deep-fried tofu) simmered in mirin, soy sauce, and Japanese dashi soup stock. Lastly, adding sakura pickle on top or mixing it with the sushi rice will be a nice touch to turn this into a cherry blossom-themed dish perfect for the hanami bento.
Maki in Japanese means roll, so makizushi is a sushi roll. It is made by adding a layer of sushi rice on top of nori and filling it in with seafood such as salmon, maguro, tuna, eels, or vegetables, then rolling everything up together. The sushi roll will be cut into bite-sized pieces and dipped in soy sauce to taste.
The cherry blossom festival usually takes place in March and April when it is still cold in Japan. Therefore, Japanese people typically bring hot miso soup to enjoy at hanami parties to keep their bodies warm.
Hot miso soup is usually kept warm in a thermos container and poured into small bowls or cups for everyone in the family to enjoy. For an authentic Japanese culinary experience, miso soup is a must.
Sweets in flower-viewing picnics are usually wagashi – Japanese confectionery. The most popular dessert at hanami parties is sakura mochi – a rice cake with red bean paste wrapped in salted cherry blossom petals.
Depending on the region, sakura mochi has different variations. In Kanto, people use a thin crust as crepe rolled with red bean paste, while in Kansai, it is a thick rice cake wrapped with red bean paste.
Hanami dango is another type of wagashi people eat during a hanami picnic. Hanami dango are sweet dumplings skewered on a bamboo stick. These cute little dumplings are usually in green, white, and pink – the three themed spring colors typically spotted in other types of Japanese food this season.
Hanami would only be complete with a drink to sip while slowly spending time admiring the beauty of nature. It is ideal to have sake and tea, the best two accompaniments to sweets and snacks.
Japanese people have their name for the sake drunk under the cherry blossoms – hanamizake. Sometimes you can add the cherry blossom petals to the cup of sake or tea to make it more aromatic and flavorful.
In addition, Japanese people also like to drink beer and juices. It is easy to find seasonal drinks: sakura flavors or spring fruits such as peach, strawberry, plum juice, and more at convenience stores or supermarkets.
Are you planning to visit Japan this spring? If yes, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy a hanami bento box under the cherry blossom trees in the upcoming season! What kind of food and snacks would you bring to a hanami picnic? Share with us in the comments below!
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