Discover the Art of Japanese Bento Boxes at Tomo Restaurant

bento boxes

A Japanese bento box is a harmonious blend of flavors, textures, and colors, designed to provide a balanced and satisfying meal. 

At Tomo Japanese Restaurant, we take pride in offering an authentic taste of Japan through our carefully crafted bento boxes. Would you like to know everything about them and their importance to the Japanese?

bento box

What Is a Bento Box?

A bento box is a traditional Japanese meal container that typically consists of a single-portion, packaged meal, which is used as a convenient way to carry meals for work, school, or travel.

The box is generally compartmentalized with dividers to keep foods separate and arranged in a visually appealing way, sometimes even decorated to look like animals, flowers, or popular characters, especially for children’s bentos known as “kyaraben” (character bento). The idea is to have a variety of flavors, textures, and colors—rice or noodles, fish or meat, pickled or cooked vegetables, and sometimes fruit or dessert. 

They are designed to be filling without being excessive, promoting a balanced diet with reasonable portion sizes.

Common Types of Bento Containers and Their Features

Traditionally, bento boxes were made of lacquered wood; but nowadays they come in a variety of materials:

Plastic Bento Boxes

Plastic bento boxes are popular due to their lightweight and durability, making them ideal for everyday use. They are easy to clean and often come with airtight lids to keep food fresh.

Besides, they are available in a myriad of colors and designs, hence they are especially popular for children’s lunches. 

Metal Bento Boxes

Metal bento boxes, often made from stainless steel, are sturdy and long-lasting, so they are ideal for those who need a durable container for outdoor activities or travel.

Some metal bento boxes come with insulating properties, which help to keep the temperature of the meal until it’s time to eat.

Wooden Bento Boxes (Magewappa)

Of course, there are still today wooden bento boxes that offer a traditional and elegant look. 

They are often handcrafted, showcasing the artistry of Japanese woodworking, and are typically used for special occasions or to add a touch of sophistication to the meal.

Eco-friendly Bento Boxes

In recent years, eco-friendly bento boxes made from biodegradable materials like bamboo or recycled plastic have gained popularity. 

Many of them are designed to be reusable, promoting sustainability and reducing waste compared to single-use packaging.

Cultural Significance

In Japan, preparing a homemade bento is an act of love and care—The effort put into selecting ingredients, cooking, and arranging the food beautifully is a way of showing consideration for the recipient’s well-being and happiness.

Parents make bentos for their children, and partners make them for each other. Especially for children, bento boxes are sometimes made into “kyaraben”, where the food is styled to resemble popular characters from anime, manga, or video games. This makes the meal more appealing to children and it also demonstrates the parent’s creativity and dedication.

IchiJu SanSai: Traditional Nutritional Philosophy

Besides being a very practical solution to carry meals, bento boxes reflect Japanese cuisine’s emphasis on variety and balance.

The concept of ichiju sansai (“one soup, three sides”) is a traditional Japanese approach to a balanced diet; and it is often reflected in bento composition, though often omitting the soup for practical reasons.

A typical Japanese bento box includes three main components:

  1. A main protein
  2. Rice
  3. Side dishes 

Protein is often fish (like grilled salmon or mackerel), meat (such as chicken teriyaki), or sometimes eggs (like tamagoyaki, a rolled omelette).

Rice is a staple in most Japanese meals. It’s usually white rice, though brown rice or mixed grains are sometimes used.

Side dishes typically include a variety of vegetables such as pickled vegetables, steamed or stir-fried veggies, seaweed, or small salads.

This structure reflects the above-mentioned philosophy of ichiju sansai, ensuring a balanced intake of nutrients and portion control in meals.

Seasonal Ingredients and Regional Specialties

Bento boxes often reflect the seasons by incorporating seasonal ingredients. For example, in spring, you might find cherry blossom-shaped rice or pickled sakura blossoms. 

Also, different regions in Japan showcase their local culinary traditions with their own bento styles and ingredients. For example, a bento from Hokkaido might feature fresh seafood, while one from Kyoto might include delicacies like yudofu (simmered tofu) or kyo-tsukemono (Kyoto-style pickles).

Medetai: Aesthetics, Minimalism and Harmony

As we mentioned before, Japanese cuisine places a high value on the visual presentation of food, and the arrangement of a bento box is an art form, with careful attention to color and texture. 

This aesthetic principle is known as “medetai”, which means joy and celebration, making even everyday meals feel special.

The presentation of a bento often also embodies the principles of minimalism and harmony found in Japanese culture. The careful arrangement and neat packaging reflect the cultural appreciation for order and simplicity.

Social and Economic Aspects

In Japan, bringing a homemade bento to work is common and seen as a sign of self-discipline. It allows workers to control their diet and avoid the expense and unpredictability of eating out. 

Indeed, bento boxes are a healthy alternative to fast food, widely available in convenience stores and train stations, and there are even specialized bento shops.

Tomo’s Exquisite Bento Boxes

At Tomo Restaurant, each of our bento boxes offers an authentic Japanese culinary experience:

Sushi Bento 

Savor the fresh taste of the sea with four pieces of chef’s choice nigiri sushi. 

Each piece is meticulously crafted to highlight the natural flavors of the fish, providing an elegant dining experience. 

Teriyaki Bento 

Tempura Bento 

Enjoy a selection of battered and fried shrimp and vegetables. 

You can also opt for chicken tempura or an all-vegetable tempura for a vegetarian-friendly option. 

Shumai Bento 

Indulge in 10 pieces of our shrimp shumai, lightly fried to perfection. These delicate dumplings are a seafood lover’s delight.

Sashimi Bento 

Experience the pure taste of fresh fish with our sashimi bento. 

The chef’s choice of sashimi is skillfully sliced and presented to highlight the natural flavors and textures of the seafood. 

Sushi & Sashimi Bento 

For those who can’t decide between sushi and sashimi, this bento offers the best of both worlds. 

Enjoy a selection of chef’s choice seasonal fish, prepared as both sushi and sashimi.

Bento Veggies 

This bento is a colorful and nutritious choice for our vegetarian and veggie customers. 

Our vegetarian bento box features a variety of delicious options, including vegetable tempura, chamame (seasoned soybeans), and an avocado roll. 

Bento Boxes: An Art Form 

Bento boxes are an integral part of Japanese culture and have been so for centuries. 

They provide a convenient way for people to have a balanced meal while on the go, whether it’s for work, school, or outdoor activities. That makes them a key component of daily life and a symbol of Japanese culinary tradition.



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