Bento Box

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Bento boxes are a type of Japanese lunchbox. They can either be made at home or purchased in restaurants as a single plate take-away. I thought I would explain the different types of bento, how to buy your own, and discuss the bento’s rising popularity in the USA.

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In a restaurant, it is similar to a plate with compartments that are often filled with rice, fish and vegetables. The type made at home are often stackable and come with a lid or carrying case. Bento for kids called Kyaraben are often colorful and the food is shaped into cute shapes or animal characters.

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The bento box itself can be made of plastic, steel, or the most expensive ones are lacquered wood. Designs for kids are colorful and often feature anime characters. Bento boxes for grown-ups are a little more subdued and may feature solid colors, polka dots, or be decorated with traditional Japanese designs like cherry blossoms or bamboo.

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Bento are becoming more popular in the US as the average person may be trying to save money by packing their own lunch for school or work. Many people who have food allergies or want a healthier lunch make their own bento. And of course the hipster who thinks its cool to imitate Japanese culture or that being “nerdy” and into anime is now cool. Much as I hate to say it, bento are similar to American kids lunchables or grown-ups using tupperware or glad containers to pack a lunch. But the Japanese bento has more style and is a little more fun.

Where to Buy Your Bento

Asian Markets or Grocery:

If you live in a large city with a sizable Asian population, you likely have a Chinatown with stores that specialize in Asian groceries. Try looking in the section with dishes or gifts. My favorite Austin Asian Market is called MT Super Market. They had the restaurant style plastic tray bento, a 3-tier plastic bento, and a metal stacking bento sometimes called a Tiffin carrier popular in India and Thailand.

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Seller Sites:

Try looking on sites with multiple sellers like ebay, etsy or amazon.com. Prices range from $10 to $40 and up. A small plastic one may be around $10 and the more expensive ones are $40 or more. If you are lucky they are about $20. Try limiting your search by color. If you want a more grown-up version try searching for bento for men which have a plainer design and often darker colors like black or brown. Be sure to pay attention to the measurements. Check that the bento is water-tight and microwavable if need be. Often the removable lid is not microwavable. Most adults need at least a 2-tier bento to be able to fit in a large enough portion.

Specialist Japanese sites:

Websites that focus only on items from Japan and other Asian countries are great also, especially if you are looking for a certain character. Try looking at jbox.com or http://www.jflairhomestyles.com

American Companies that sell bento:

laptoplunches.com

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easylunchboxes.com

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West Elm

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