Monday, April 18, 2005

I Want My Bento Too!

Japan is in trouble again because of their ignominious past. It might not be appropriate to speculate how the world would be when Japan had succeeded with their imperial war of aggression. History is written by the victors. However, I reckon the world would be better-off in respect to single-portion takeout meals. For sure, America's hegemony did no good to public health (read Fast Food Nation for the details).

Why does it come that I praise Japan's takeout meal Bento? Last Saturday's issue of NZZ run a feature about Bento by Christoph Neidhart. I read everything by Neidhart I can get hold of, whether I'm interested in the topic or not. He's the best journalist I know besides of Ryszard Kapuściński.

A traditional Bento consists of rice, fish or meat and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables as a side dish. Containers range from disposable mass produced to hand crafted lacquerware. Bento are readily available at convenience stores and Bento shops throughout Japan.

A Bento is traditionally made in a 4:3:2:1 ratio:
  • 4 parts of rice,
  • 3 parts of the main dish, either meat or fish,
  • 2 parts of vegetables, and
  • 1 part of a serving of pickled vegetables or a dessert.
However, basically anything can be used to make a Bento.

Several precautions should be taken when making a Bento. The most important thing is to avoid food poisoning, especially in summer. Foods should be cooked well and the Bento must be stored in a cool, dry location. If sushi is a part of the Bento, it should be prepared with more wasabi than normal. Foods covered with sauce should be carefully packed, or avoided altogether, as sauce may spill over on to the other foods. When cooked rice is a part of a Bento, it should be cooled by leaving the Bento open first. If a Bento is closed before it is sufficiently cooled, the steam from the rice will condense inside the Bento and make the food soggy.

It is still considered an essential skill of a Japanese housewife to be able to prepare an appealing boxed lunch. Her problem is that the perfect Bento cannot be achieved. It's never more than a serious attempt.

1 comment:

Ms Mac said...

That looks brilliant! I'm hungry again now!