Bento: The Working Class ‘Friend’

Obento [お弁当] or simply bento [弁当], is the Japanese equivalent of a lunchbox. Consisting of tiny sections of food including rice, fish or meat, and various types of vegetables, the bento is both cheap and delicious. The great thing about them is that they appeal to people like me who are A. greedy and B. can’t decide on just one thing to eat. By giving you tiny portions of numerous types of food, you can completely satisfy your multiple cravings for things like yakisoba [焼きそば] or fried noodles, deep fried chicken/fish, rice and vegetables, all in one sitting. Brilliant!

Now if you’re married to a Japanese woman, you’re probably lucky enough to have a homemade bento every single day that is filled with both love and freshly-made portions of food. If, however, you’re not married to one (or you’re female, like me), you either have to make your own or do what every good salaryman (and working women) does, head to your local konbini [コンビニ]!

Here you can find various sizes of bento, from the tiny ones that women on diets prefer, to the larger size ones with jumbo proportions of rice and lumps of calorie-filled goodies. Personally, I prefer the latter and my favourite one from 7-Eleven is indeed, what I like to refer to as, ‘a bento box of deep-fried goodness.’

Deep fried bento
Deep fried bento

All my Western friends here seem to be on a health-kick or some type of diet, but as someone who spent most of her 20s obsessed with staying thin and exercising, I’m now enjoying making up for lost time. I visit konbini to eat one of these about once or twice a week. At least one of these visits is at midnight to consume enough fat and grease to soak up all the alcohol I’ve had prior to that. Yes, judge me as you will.

A search on the Internet regarding konbini bento will show that they often get a bad rap, especially by people who are health conscious and wary of their salt and preservative content. My take on that is that if you’re eating them every single day, it might be a problem, but every now and then, it’s not. If you are concerned, there are options from Lawson’s that are available, but because I’m not, I urge you to go and check them out for yourself. Let me know if they actually taste good because as we all know, sometimes ‘healthy’ does not equal ‘tasty.’

One of the great things about buying a bento from konbini is that the staff will ask if you want to get it zapped in the microwave. This simple act takes the humble konbini bento to new heights and lets you pretend if only just for a few seconds, that it’s home-cooked and fresh.

Another perk regarding konbini bento is that there’s no washing up! You simply dispose of your empty box in the nearest konbini bin and head back to work, content in knowing that you don’t have to carry around chopsticks and a lunchbox with congealed food on the inside.

Over the years, I’ve tried bento from all the konbini, but I definitely believe the ones from 7-Eleven taste the best and are of higher quality. Family Mart ones are my second option when I feel like a change, but I no longer buy any from Lawson’s, Sunkus, Daily Yamazaki or Popura. Yes, I’m a bento snob, so there!

Yep, konbini bento is indeed the way to go for a quick and easy lunch on the run, or a lazy dinner when you come home drunk… I mean, late and don’t feel like cooking. So with that idea in mind, go out and eat my fellow friends and let me know what YOUR favourite bento is. I’d love to hear from you!

Jade Brischke

Jade first visited Hiroshima with a group of her students from Australia and after falling in love with the city, vowed that one day she would return to live and work. It seems dreams really do come true! When she's not writing she's out and about with her camera, walking and exploring the streets or some may say, wandering aimlessly. She, however, doesn't believe any wandering is aimless. Jade blogs regularly at jackcrispy.com.

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