Conference lunches in the United States can be rather lackluster affairs. Anyone who has attended a work-related conference in the US is familiar with the unfortunate white paperboard box featuring a sandwich (ham or turkey… always ham or turkey), a bag of potato chips, an apple, and perhaps a brownie. This, along with a sugary soft drink, is supposed to keep a person fueled for a full afternoon of lectures and workshops. It’s not a terrible lunch, it’s just not very inspired.
Japan, in happy contrast, favors the Bento Box – and Bento Boxes are a delight! In mere minutes, the coordinators of an educational event I attended distributed lacquered boxes, disposable chopsticks, and bottles of green tea to a huge number of people… reminiscent of the white paperboard box experience. However, instead of finding a lunch more befitting of a kindergartener, I found the lunch featured above!
Fifteen (yes, fifteen) different items were included in each Bento Box, offering a wide range of colors, textures, and flavors ranging from sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and the ever-important umami.
Both kinds of pickles (center of box) were delicious. I believe the salad and tasty little half-circles in the lower left were made from lotus root. The fritter (upper right) was made with corn. Also featured were smoked salmon, chicken, and a rice-based custard. The only thing I didn’t love was the egg and round patty in the upper right. What a fun, fun lunch!
I’m not sure how the shrimp wrapped in what I believe was a thin thread of deep fried taro root stayed crispy, but somehow it did. Each item was incredibly fresh. My Bento Box experience ended with a smile in the form of a cute little wrapped red bean mochi for dessert. What’s not to love about that?
Red bean mochi for dessert
The next day’s lunch featured an entirely different Bento Box, shown below. I could get used to this! Do you think Bento Boxes will ever catch on at US conference events? I won’t hold my breath.