Although the bento box may seem trendy and cute, it has been a part of Japanese cuisine for over a decade.
“Bento” comes from the Chinese biandang. is a Southern Song dynasty slang term that means “convenient.” It refers to both the bento meals and the bento boxes themselves. The Kamakura period (1185-1333) is the earliest known instance of bento. This was when people used to carry cooked and dried rice in small bags to eat at home. The first wooden lacquered bento boxes were produced during the Azuchi Momoyama period (1568-1600). Bento gained popularity over the next 100 years and became more sophisticated and elegant. Specially prepared bento was used for tea service, theater intermissions and travel. Many cookbooks were published during the Edo period (1603-1867) that covered how to make, cook, and pack bento for special occasions.
Bento became a popular staple in the Meiji Period (1868-1912). It was also very popular among teachers and schoolchildren, since early schools didn’t provide lunches. During this period, bento boxes were also sold at train stations. The aluminum bento box was a popular item during the Taisho period (1912-1926). It was also a hot topic of social debate. In schools, wealth disparities were easily seen. The aluminum bento box and the bento meal type (rich, varied foods vs. simple, processed foods) were status symbols. The country was also experiencing food shortages. After WWII, the practice of bringing bentos into school decreased and schools started providing lunches for staff and students.
In large part, the popularity of bentos rose in the 1980s due to the rapid growth of convenience stores and the advent of the microwave. Many bento sellers and shops replaced costly wood and metal boxes with inexpensive polystyrene boxes. They are also very popular on social media. Handmade bentos are making a comeback. Bentos can be found almost anywhere in Japan, from convenience shops to train stations to airports and shops that sell bentos.
The bento box’s long history has been all about convenience and providing a quick, nutritious meal. The bento box is a keystone of Japanese cuisine history, and it has been enjoyed all over the world, from the very basic and simple to the meticulously prepared, decorated and decorated.
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