Bento for Lunch
A Bento Box Is...
... a traditional Japanese lunch box container
... a multi-item mid-day meal, offering a mix of flavors, colors and temperatures.
Bento boxes are fast becoming popular as a modern Western lunchtime option. These small meals offer lots of variety and can be created from very healthy ingredients. If you are making them yourself, the recipes are fantastic for using up odds and ends of dinnertime leftovers in creative ways. They can run the gamut from totally traditional to post-modern inspiration, so be sure to check to find out just what you're getting if you are ordering them from a restaurant or food service. Tired of the sandwich routine and brown paper bags? Try a Bento Box!
Onigiri - The Building Blocks of the Bento Box
Onigiri are literally the foundation of a bento box lunch. At their most simple, they are a deliberately-shaped ball of seasoned white rice. Many variations include a strip of nori, toasted seaweed, or a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Frequently, the shaped balls are stuffed with something savory, both meat and vegetables. A tangy option is an umeboshi plum.
- Onigiri can be flavored by mixing spices with the rice before it's shaped or by sprinkling it with vinegar. Once shaped, the rice balls can be sprinkled with or rolled in sesame seeds (light or dark) afterwards
- Fill with grilled and flaked fish, cooked beef or pork shreds, umeboshi (pickled plums), bonito flakes, cod roe, chopped vegetables and just about anything you like.
- 1 lb white rice, medium grain
- sea salt
- nori (dried seaweed sheets)
- sesame seeds, brown or black (toasting optional)
- fillings as suggested above
Instructions For Making Onigiri By Hand
- Cook the rice and let it cool to the point where you can touch it without it being too hot for your hands.
- Wash your hands, leaving them wet and then rub your hands with salt. This keeps the rice from sticking too much.
- Take a palmful of rice (anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup) and shape it into a ball, a triangle shape or a cylinder (see instructions below for how to make shapes).
- To fill the rice ball, press a hole into the ball with your fingers, fill with desired stuffing and press closed again.
- Finish by wrapping a narrow strip of nori (trim down the full sheets) or sprinkling on toasted seeds.
How Was This Recipe?
How to Make Different Onigiri Shapes By Hand
Make Your Own Onigiri Video
Bento Box Recipes
- Back to School Special: Bento Box (or Lunch Box) Recipes!
Traditionally bentos are made with 4 parts of rice, 3 parts of the main dish, (either meat or fish), 2 parts of vegetables, and 1 part of a serving of pickled vegetables or a dessert.
- Simple Menus for the Bento Box
Japanese food is traditionally served with an artful simplicity and a sleek dramatic style unmatched by any other cuisine. How can you re-create the visual drama of the Japanese kitchen in your own home? The shokado bento box is the answer.
- Golden Door Bento Box - Recipelink.com
The Golden Door Bento Box can be a bit labor-intensive, but for a special luncheon it is a delicious and healthful treat that is well worth the time it takes to assemble.
MTC's introduction to Bento, the Japanese art of lunch.
- Teanobi.com: Japanese Food Lunch Recipes
Traditional Japanese Lunch Recipes
- Lunch in a Box: Building a Better Bento
- Flickr: BENTO LUNCH BOX RECIPES
A Flickr group focused on Bento Box Recipes! Visually delicious!
- Post your favorite Bento box recipes
A public forum thread on the topic of recipes for bento boxes. See what everyone is posting as their favorite!
Take A Tour of a Real-Life Bento Box!
Assembling Your Bento Box
As people with non-Asian culinary sensibilities explore the idea of the bento box lunch, you're going to find all sorts of variations and experimentation as traditional and non-traditional bento box foods are utilized and explored. Go as traditional or non-traditional as your tastebuds desire.
The traditional ratio of contents in a bento box follows a 4-3-2-1 pattern. Four parts will contain rice, three parts have meat or fish ingredients, two parts will contain vegetables and the last part will be either something pickled or a dessert. Japanese desserts are not as sweet as what you'd find in Europe or the US.
- Rice - traditionally every (or nearly every) course in a bento box lunch contains either steamed or fried rice.
- Noodles - consider swapping out a portion of rice for something with noodles instead. Thin rice or buckwheat noodles are perfect for lunch.
- Meat or fish - a bento box is a great way to use up dinner entrée leftovers such as beef, chicken or fish.
- Fruit - whatever fruit is fresh and in season is perfect for a bento box.
- Baked goods - steamed buns or rice crackers are good additions to your bento.
- Sauce - A little bit of hoisin, mustard, sweet and sour sauce or soy sauce can be nice.
Remember that heat rises and cold falls, so if you have a bento box that stacks, you want to put the cool items on the bottom and the hot ones on top!
Bento Food Traditions
Goshiki ("five colors) is an idea of balance found in Japanese Buddhist thought. It is interpreted as a way of balancing nutrition and aesthetics by having each meal incorporate five colors via the foods chosen: white, red/orange, yellow, green and black/brown/purple.
Goho adds further balance by having each meal incorporate five ways of cooking, choosing from boiling,frying, grilling, pickling, simmering or steaming.
Other Great Bento Box Links
- Bento Boxes
Get traditional bento box trays, bento lunch boxes and books on recipes
- Japanese Food 101
- Bento Box: What's for Lunch [Japanese American National Museum]
A Bento Box for Kids is an educational branch of the Japanese American National Museum.
- Order of the Day - washingtonpost.com
For Lunch, a Bento Box Holds The Promise of Harmonic Nutrition
- Bento - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Bent is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine.
- Crafting a Bento - The World's Biggest Show & Tell - food, art, diy
This instructable will attempt to provide the basic design principles, resources for obtaining the necessary tools, and some of the traditional rules of making a beautiful and delicious bento.
- Flickr: Photos tagged with bento
If you check out the pictures on Flickr that are tagged to "bento" you'll find an overwhelming and delicious array of ideas for making bento box lunches. Be sure to eat before you go look at these...
Bento Box Bulletin Board
Jean Rogers on August 31, 2012:
I am lucky to have a Japanese sister-in-law that makes amazing food. I have been thinking about trying to put together Bento lunches, but haven't yet done it for lack of knowledge. You have inspired me to learn how to do this. Japanese food is so beautiful and delicious!
cashmere from India on August 25, 2012:
I didn't know what a Bento Lunch box was, so the title caught my eye. Now after reading this hub I feel like trying my hand at one!
Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on August 18, 2012:
Oh. Okay. Won't try that then. I will stick to fresh rice. Thanks!
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on August 18, 2012:
Sharkye, freezing rice tends to make for extremely bad-textured rice unless you've got the capability to flash freeze it.
Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on August 17, 2012:
True. Especially if you went ahead and made it while cleaning up after dinner. Do you know if the rice could be frozen in large batches for later use? That would make a really great quick meal for my toddler.
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on August 17, 2012:
Sharkye, if you use leftovers from dinner, it becomes very easy to do regularly.
Jayme Kinsey from Oklahoma on August 17, 2012:
That looks very interesting. Definitely fresh and tasty, but I don't know how easy it would be to make it everyday if you were busy. Love the recipe ideas!
vaforever1987 on August 13, 2012:
Lovelovemeloveme from Cindee's Land on August 05, 2012:
thanks for the HUB! this is soo cute! if i had the time i would totally give this a try.
MissyGear on July 24, 2012:
What an informative article. I absolutely love everything bento. They are so fun and creative. Tasty to boot. I'll have to go make some onigiri for myself right now!
Chantele Cross-Jones from Cardiff on July 23, 2012:
We had some in China, and I love the idea. Really want a bento box!! Ive been making my own little ones with salad stuffs for a while, but would love to learn to make real bento boxes. Great Hub, Voted up!
whowas on July 23, 2012:
Wow. I had never even heard of a Bento Box before. That just kicks the pants off the standard 'Tupperware' with a sweaty cheese sandwich and a packet of chips inside it!
Not only is it great to look at but the ideas for things to cook sound delicious - and healthy too. I kind of regret that I work at home now so I don't need to take a pack lunch. On the other hand there is no reason why I shouldn't use these same recipes and make up a 'Bento plate' is there?
Excellent - lunch problem solved!
Amy L. Tarr from Home on May 27, 2012:
I personally prefer Jasmine or Basanti rice over white rice. It sticks together nicer and has a softer mouth feel.
L M Reid from Ireland on April 24, 2012:
I must be honest I had never heard of a Bento Box before I read this article. But the food looks so simple to prepare and tasty for lunch so I will definitely be giving this a try
Thanks for SHARING. Up and Awesome
kelleyward on April 11, 2012:
This is a great hub full of great tools and information! I am working on bento lunches for my kiddos and am currently writing a hub on this. I will add a link to yours!
louromano on March 16, 2012:
Great hub ! I have always wanted to try this, but I didn't know how.
louromano on March 15, 2012:
Nice article , thanks for sharing.
vaishali sabnani on February 07, 2012:
Nori is not available in India..so what else can u suggest?..love these Bentos...have seen my daughter preparing these in Japan:)
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on September 20, 2011:
Mir, traditional bento boxes don't have raw ingredients that can spoil, as fruit and veggies can last until lunchtime. You can also look for a style of box that retains cold to help. But there should be no raw meat or fish in a bento box.
Mir on September 18, 2011:
Does this have to be kept with an icepack? I'm thinking of packing one for lunch at school, but I don't want it to spoil.
I guess if all else fails, I just won't pack any perishable foods.
selfdefenselesson on August 18, 2011:
Man I miss japanese food! Thanks for this, starting on my bento box now.
Tatara from Asia on August 17, 2011:
happypuppy on August 03, 2011:
I feel hungry now. Bento boxes are so appealing! Thanks for sharing the wonderful tips on making your own bento box. Will definitely give it a shot.
happypuppy on August 03, 2011:
I feel hungry now. Thanks for sharing the useful tips! Will definitely give it a shot.
Karkadin from Middle of Nowhere, USA on July 28, 2011:
I have always wanted to try this, but I didn't know how. Great hub. Thanks for posting it. :)
Venture Boyz from Floating in the clouds on July 12, 2011:
I love bento boxes! I am totally going to do this over the weekend. Ah, now I am hungry! Now I just better sharpen up on my cooking skills. Thank you, relache.
AlienWednesday on July 09, 2011:
Oh, I really need to get on top of doing this. Always looks so yummy! Great hub!
mattandangela on July 03, 2011:
this is SO CUTE!
Chris Crow on May 11, 2011:
Wow, that looks like such a nice way to serve and eat lunch. Maybe one day I will be able to pull it together and enjoy lunch that way!
Linda Tadlock from Atlanta on March 08, 2011:
Love Japanese food. Thank you for the onigiri tips. Great hub.
teri nolen on January 21, 2011:
i love all things beautiful and inspiring and bento boxes are both!
craigmissuea from USA on January 17, 2011:
It appears to be a delicious lunch. I am hoping to try it very soon.
Luci Falke (Falcon) on January 07, 2011:
Um...i'm going on a fast (a period of time where you only eat nuts/seeds,rices,fruits and vegatables and I think Gandi did it too O_o) and I cant eat any meat,fish,or practically anything like that...gosh i wish i could eat fish and seafood again...
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on November 10, 2010:
Renee, as this Hub points out... You just make your own.
renee on November 10, 2010:
y cant we have bento's in alabama because i want 1
smakram on November 05, 2010:
Really inspiring and the step my step info is so easy to follow - thanks!
BartCougy on September 29, 2010:
This hub is officially Otaku-approved. I am going to have to bring one of these to work and show off to my coworkers, haha! They will be impressed by my extreme techniques and sweet as food. By the way, rice is the greatest food in the world, haha!
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on September 18, 2010:
Nori can be found in your grocery store, in the Asian foods section, or in health food stores.
prussianhero on September 18, 2010:
this rly helped. thnx. but can u tell me where i can get nori?
reduce stomach on September 11, 2010:
this is an awesome article. i love it.
It's just me from Alaska on August 14, 2010:
I survived off of bento box lunches through college, thank you for rminding me of good memories and of a way to eat and feed my kids in a healthy interesting manner.
YuuriHakafuriShibuya on August 06, 2010:
OMG!!!! Thank you so much for this hub! :3 I just recently bought a bento box from jbox.com and I needed to know how to make a proper bento lunch! I never knew what that red round thing in the middle of the rice was and now I know!!! Thank you :D
Michelle Ofiana from Baguio City on July 29, 2010:
Hi. I must give this a try. Thank you for the tips and the how to's. I love Bento during my days in Japan. Your Hub really gave me lots of ideas. Thanks a million.
vaguesan from Osaka, Japan on June 30, 2010:
I sometimes teach english at a kindergarten here in Japan and I have to each lunch with the kids. I`m often so amazed at what the parents come up with in their kid's bentos. I've seen pikachu onigiri, octopuses made out of hotdogs and carrots cut into ABCs.
CulinaryFool on June 23, 2010:
Wow, I wish my kids were little again so that I could learn how to make this for their lunchbox!
adorababy from Syracuse, NY on June 16, 2010:
The Bento boxes all have compartments which I love because you could easily organize all your viands and rice in different parts in one compact organizer.
Youngcurves19 from Hawaii on May 31, 2010:
looks pretty ono(ono mean yummy) ^_^ thanks for sharing
dtoombs from Tasmania, Australia on April 19, 2010:
What an excellent hub! Very informative, with lots of added resources. I teach Japanese & love the food. I might even show your hub to my students - I give you A+
Beth Morey from Montana on March 25, 2010:
I love using my bento lunch boxes!
lender3212000 from Beverly Hills, CA on March 12, 2010:
Excellent hub! I can't wait to give it a try.
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on March 07, 2010:
Yes, you eat the nori. Have you ever eaten sushi and it has a little strip of green seaweed around it, or really thin pieces of what seems like a green paper on top? That's nori.
nikolai16 on March 07, 2010:
This article is great! But i was just wondering, can you eat the nori? I didn't know if you we supposed to or not. :D
Amnesiantoinette on January 29, 2010:
Oh, this is making me 'home-sick' for Japan!
Andrew from Italy on December 19, 2009:
I promised to myself some years ago that as soon as I can I'll go visiting Japan. This hub is wonderful. Made me to check Expedia for the first flight to Tokio. Thanks.
Truth From Truth from Michigan on December 18, 2009:
I get bento boxes at a local restaurant and they are great, thanks for this advice on how to make one.
Unique Kids Stuff on November 06, 2009:
Wow, I dont' think I'm talented enough to make cool stuff like that.
Priscilla Chan from Normal, Illinois on October 18, 2009:
Love Japanese Bento Box. Thanks for sharing!
dizuckai on August 11, 2009:
I love bento boxes! :D , I gave my sister one for christmas and she hasn't used it :( so i will put it to use myself!
deeli82 on August 05, 2009:
wonderful, i will try this as soon as i can.
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on June 02, 2009:
Rice is most often colored with spices or by cooking in specific vegetable broths/juices.
jewelerbogey on June 02, 2009:
What did you use to die the rice?
notorious_HAI on June 02, 2009:
love it! I'm going to share this if you dont' mind.
Joanie Ruppel from Texas on May 12, 2009:
First time I was in Japan I had one of these and it had shitake mushrooms and I had no clue if it was animal or plant (or fungus as it turns out.) In spite of that I enjoyed it.
Sacramento Homes on April 03, 2009:
Thats alot of work but I bet it is worth it in the end. Not really bachelor food though. Wheres my left over Stir Fry!?;)
nancydodds1 from Houston, Texas on January 30, 2009:
Nyesha Pagnou MPH from USA on January 11, 2009:
Relache, thanks for this info. This is a terrific hub.
Rice Crispy from Roslyn, NY on November 18, 2008:
really cool hub. The food is beautiful. I want to try this out.
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on November 18, 2008:
sunforged, I can't do anything about it when the RSS feed from Google freaks out.
sunforged from Sunforged.com on November 18, 2008:
I had only read about these, I never imagined they would look so fun...just found my next culinary project
your bento box news (box) is showing some odd behavior
Braids from Kansas city Missouri on October 19, 2008:
Thank you. I have been trying tofine out how to make a bento but with no luck tell know. I can't wake tell lunch time.
budwood from Southern Nevada on October 04, 2008:
Very nice to see something both artistic and (presumably) tasty described in such delicious detail. Thanks.
wgsu007 on August 17, 2008:
So that's where Bento the Mac App got its name....
Lidian on July 22, 2008:
Great hub! I like the onigiri with little faces the best - so cute!
VinceSamios from Australia on May 26, 2008:
So cute! I love it!
misshardy on May 16, 2008:
Perfect Bento box! Great hub..very helpful videos and illustrations.
Chef Jeff from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago. on May 06, 2008:
The pictures alone make me hungry! I love to make California rolls and sushi with my daughter. We'll be trying out these ideas very soon!
Shy Nichols on April 17, 2008:
Wow! You really put this together well...it's like everything to is right at my fingertips to get started making the contents for a Bento Box. Do you have any favorite recipes?
raphanius from Derbyshire, UK on April 09, 2008:
I love Bento Boxes they are so colorful and pretty.
seamus on February 14, 2008:
Interesting. I'd like to know more about how to get the cute shapes in the the little "rice people."
imarketing4s on January 18, 2008:
great resources, thanks for sharing! now this is making me crave japanese...
Kylyssa Shay on January 04, 2008:
Oh, this is awesome! The pictures are adorable and I love your ideas!
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on November 30, 2007:
I like to use bento themes especially when I make summer lunches. And the goshiki theories are great for putting together bits of dinner leftovers into a lunch combo.
daoine on November 30, 2007:
Bento is a great reminder to slow down and appreciate simple arts like preparing food and making a "take-away" experience into something more memorable. Those pictures are so pretty, though, I'm sure I'd not want to spoil it by eating it! Although it does look really appetising.
Raye (author) from Seattle, WA on November 29, 2007:
I know "nori" is seaweed.
nori monster on November 29, 2007:
btw nori is seaweed (japanese)
nori monster on November 29, 2007:
cool!! make one about sushi and sashimi next^^ or kimbop
bihargyan from India on November 14, 2007:
Hope will be helpful for the kids.They are so demanding?
Veronica from NY on August 02, 2007:
Thanks so much for the great article about Bento! I received my first bento box as a gift from a friend in Japan a couple of months ago. I've been trying out different things and enjoying the bento artwork of others. I even make a little bento box for my one dog when we travel.