If you're like me, you're trying to be wise with your money and its spending power. Since there's not much of it flowing my way, I'm trying to be especially wise when it comes to lunch. I use to grab lunch at the deli across the street, but I've realized that the $7 it costs to buy lunch every day is adding up to be quite a bill. So, a co-worker and I are doing a little trade. I bring her eggs from my neighbor's chickens and she brings me a fabulous packed lunch. After a few weeks, we've gone back and forth about the cuteness of her packed lunches and have discovered the oh-so-lovely world of bento boxes!
According to the OED, bento means "a Japanese or Japanese-style packed lunch traditionally consisting of rice, vegetables, and Japanese specialities such as sashimi and teriyaki, and served in a lacquered or decorated wooden box." The Encyclopedia of Food and Culture offers a really nice history of the bento; saying that the bento goes back as far as 1600 in Japan. Obviously, you do not have to include the aforementioned rice and vegetables. Sandwiches cut into cute shapes, fruit flowers, and awe-worthy and adorable bottles of sauce are part of today's bento boxes. If you do a simple Google search for "bento" you'll come across hundreds of sites on the topic and retail sites for bento accessories.
Bentos are extremely popular with the stay-at-home-mom set these days. Especially moms with school-aged kids. If you have an extra twenty minutes in the morning, packing a bento for your kids is a cute option. Your kid may just be the most popular one come lunchtime. Or, if you don't have kids, there are all sorts of adults who bento it to work too. You could be the most popular one at work!
Check out these books and sites for help in getting started. It's not hard, it just looks intimidating.
Bento Love by Kentaro Kobayashi
Face Food by Christopher Salyers
Simple Menus for the Bento Box by Ellen Greaves
Yum-Yum Bento Box by Watanabe and Ogawa
Just Bento and Hapa Bento are some very nice websites dedicated to all things Bento.
(pictures from the Going-On Grownup blog)