Wednesday, June 1, 2011

№ 14. Three Questions. All About Bento Boxes.

Boxes in Tsukiji Market, Tokyo. Not bento. 

1st: What’s a bento box?

The trusty Wikipedia says that “Bento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container.”

It is a lunch box. A lunch box that inspired IBM’s Thinkpad!

I love bentos because everything is carefully prepared and neatly arranged in err, a box. A friend tells me that the Japanese have rules for preparing bento. So she spent considerable time learning from her Japanese mother-in-law. I can only imagine how it went: Iie, not like that. Hai, cut that way.

Unlike the usual turu-turo (nothing wrong with turu-turo, of course), it simplifies one’s choices. It’s a convenience for those on the go. Turu-turo is our point and shoot style of ordering. It has its own merits worth writing in the future. But for now, bento.

The protein comes paired with the right vegetables, carbs, fruits and, sometimes, even soup. One doesn’t have to bother with both the choices and the proximity of the viands, etc. anymore. No more, “Ketchup please, Louise.” A balanced meal has been prepared. One just has to dig in.

In short, for a reformed OC, the structure and convenience entice. Wiping the drool now, Dr. Pavlov. Woof!

2nd: Is there method to the marvel in the box?
To sew order from chaos, that’s our sacred duty---all magnitudes of disasters, notwithstanding.

“This is bento lunch’s great strength: the thought and attention given to creating it. Making and presenting food with care is an act of love, whether it means a judicious balance of food ingredients (for taste, color, texture), or making the contents fun for a child, using imaginative cut-out shapes.” (Denis Dutton, from the New York Times article “Beauty and the Bento”)

Here’s an attempt to tame the universe in the box. 10 rules.

Thai version. This was our snack on a clean bus from 
Bangkok to Cambodia. Strictly speaking, not bento.

3rd: What’s bento got to do with this post?
I just happen to like food and metaphors. So I’m using what’s accessible and pleasant to my senses as a tool to explain a concept.

The bento box, under my posts here, is actually a meal for information omnivores like me. It’s a listing of links, resources, trivia and other marvels of the internet. I appreciate them, like footnotes, with gusto. They are marvels, for example, like the fried baby octopus dipped in soy sauce or the pink radish pickle that comes inside my favorite bento.

But for those who don’t care much for Japanese food, or right brain-imposed structure, or just boxes in general, nothing much really.

I’ll try to reign in on any excess. That’s rule No. 2 for me (2nd Question, above). There is no Babbette’s Feast here. I won’t attempt to rival Wikipedia. Not even a thought.

Bento in a Bento:

Neat discussion on the aesthetics of my favorite bento in Beauty and Bento.


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