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The Beat #33: The Bento Issue

The Bento Box Issue

This week, our guest contributor Darren Wong takes a look at the beloved bento box. From 5th century Japan to 21st century Pinterest boards, the bento has grown from pragmatic origins to an international staple for the delivery of portable, nutritious meals. It has a pretty fascinating story and is as packed with meaning as it is with food.

Over time it has evolved, moving from Japan throughout Asia and then across the globe. It has been seen as a status symbol, as a representation of family, of group organization and of Japan itself. There are nearly as many different types as there are people who enjoy them, and they can be found in train stations, convenience stores, school lunch rooms and Michelin star restaurants.

Let’s take a look!


Every bento box will have a space for some delicious protein, whether that’s meat or a vegetarian option. The nigiri Darren has pictured here has a history as ancient as the bento box itself, although it was a man named Hanaya Yohei in the 1820s who modernized it at his riverside stall who developed it into the type we recognize today.

Sushi Grass

Did you know there’s a history behind that little green plastic leafy thing in your bento box? Haran (or baran) is traditionally a fresh leaf slid between two foods to make a waterproof and odor-proof barrier. Sushi chefs often use bamboo leaves for this. Over time, this expense and availability led to the evolution of the plastic thingy that seems to have escaped from an Easter basket. Sidebar: don’t overlook the omelet or rolled egg as a cheap and widespread source of protein in your bento!


Your bento box will also typically have a compartment for vegetables like the edamame and lotus root pictured here. Clay’s favorite vegetarian bento from Ninki in Nashville uses this compartment for some delectable veggie tempura, including mouth-watering disks of sweet potato. And don’t forget the wasabi and ginger!


The staple food. Whether it comes plain, sprinkled with sesame seeds or topped with furikake and takuan, like Greg’s childhood favorite, the Zip Pac from Hawaii’s Zippy’s, it’s gotta have rice. We love rice at the Beat. Take a look back at The Beat #3 for more!


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