erm. Hello! Okay so I realized that there is growing interest in bento-making here is the non-asian dominated world. Since 1)I know a lot about bentos and 2)you could search forever on google for bento info and not get all the info you are looking for, I decided to put together everything I know here on craftster! So, here we go!
Bento (pronounced Ben-like the name and Toe-like the appendage) is a Japanese form of lunch making/packaging. It originates from the japanese ideal that everything you encounter in your day should be beautiful. It is called bento by women and obento by men, I believe its a gender-language thing, so you might find it referred to as obento.
there are many different forms of bento. You will see mainly regular/adult bento and kara-bento also called chara-bento. Regular-adult bento are very neat looking and nicely arranged with some shaping, but not too many frills. Kara or chara-bento are character bentos. These are those extremely cute looking bentos with animal, cartoon, etc. themes. These very simple all the way to extremely intnse works of art. Kara bentos are mainly aimed at children.
A lot of working-class japanese citizens in japan take the train to work. At each stop there are obento stores/shops. Each stop has its own unique bento and some are very popular!
Bento conatiners range from the disposable kind that store-bought bentos come in to cute character bento boxes to beautifully ornate laquer boxes. They can be any mixture of small, multi-tiered, wide, or single-layered.
a multi-tiered bento box showing its contents
Bentos should be prepared the morning of the day they are to be eaten. I believe this is due to the fact that the main part of any bento is the rice and Japanese rice can't go in the refrigerator. (it hardens. ew.)
Bentos are often composed of left-overs, but freshly prepared food is also a part of bento.
The bento container should be filled all the way. There should be no empty spots and you should not be able to see the bottom or too much of the sides of the container. This is for aesthetic reasons.
You might hear of bentos being balanced or not balanced. This refers to the ratios of the food. Ideally a bento should contain 4 parts rice (I believe pasta might also suffice), 2 parts veggies, 1 part meat, and 1 part dessert/fruit. (Meat and fruit are highly expensive in Japan, thus the small proportions. I often switch it to 2 parts meat, 1 part veggies, 1 part dessert/fruit.) I have also heard of the 4:3:2:1 ration of rice to meat/fish to fruit or veggies to pickled vegetables.
Bentos are not just food to fill your belly, but also food for your soul. A mother, wife, or girlfriend (and/or men too ^.^) carefully prepares each bento to express her love. Its a beautiful thing!
**By the way: these are all pretty much just guidelines. Rules are made to be broken. A lot of the established ideals of bento-making are based around japanese culture and their economy. (honey-dew melons cost around $100 USD ...each! amazing!) So by all means do what you will and have fun! This was in no way meant as a critique or a lecture!**
oh and btw non of these lunches were made by me....I need more practice.