Just as you can order take-out in the United States, in Japan, you can take out food for lunch or dinner called Bento. The bento is stored and sold in boxes, thus the name, Bento Box. This take away style is very popular and can be found just about anywhere – in train stations, convenience stores, theaters, shopping areas, vending machines, and so on. For instance, if you were to buy a ticket to take a bullet train, you can either buy Bento boxes to take with you on the train or relax and wait for a vendor to come to you. Interestingly, on such trains, when the train comes to a stop, the bento boxes are replenished with fresh food. The great thing is that the foods served change based on the local variety available. Since this can become a confusing experience with so many changes and choices, you will even find guidebooks for sell to help you stay on top of where bento boxes are sold, what they include for each stop, and so on.
As you travel through Asia, you will find many restaurants offering bento. The businessmen of Japan can simply buy a bento box and have their lunch in one compact location. Additionally, bento boxes are typically very attractive and colorful. These boxes are nothing like the paper sacks you find at fast-food restaurant in westernized countries. These are beautiful and often feature hand painting.
The bento boxes contain nutritional food that usually consists of a meat, rice, vegetables, and pickles. Each of the items has its own compartment so the foods stay fresh and the flavors do not run into each other. Some bento boxes are made from wood grain and have lacquered trays that fit snugly down inside the box. These compartments are easily removed, making cleaning a cinch.
The size of bento boxes varies. For example, you might find one that is 10-inches square and two to three inches deep. Some bento boxes actually come with a set of chopsticks that match the box. Bento boxes also come in a soup type container that might measure four and one-half inches in diameter by two and one-half inches deep. With a lid, you can store your favorite type of soup, keeping it hot until ready to eat.
If you want to make an impression on friends or family when serving Asian food at home, you can purchase your own bento boxes. You will find these boxes in a number of compartment sizes. Using the traditional bento box to serve your guests Asian food creates an authentic presentation.