Bento Boxing

Food for Thought

To make a bento, you have to strike the right balance between many factors. Firstly, you have to work backward from the box. Think about what would fit in the box before you start cooking. It’s not like conventional cooking where you look for the right plate after you finish cooking. The box is your three-dimensional canvas; you need to stare at it before you start designing it.

For instance, for the sandwich I made, I had to buy the bread with the right proportions and thickness. I planned how many sandwiches to fit in the box so that there wouldn’t be any awkward space left. An empty space is an enemy of a bento box because the food would move around in transport and become a big mess. I also had to plan how to cut the sandwich in order to get the right height.

You also have time constraints to contend with. The starting time can be flexible, depending on when you wake up, but it needs to be finished before your kid leaves for school. It’s like in Iron Chef. You have to think about not only what can be transported but also what can be eaten at room temperature.

A typical bento box has four or more items. Naturally, you would not have time to make tiny portions of four different dishes, so you think about what can be made in advance, stored, and used over a few weeks.

The Japanese have brumotactillophobia—the fear of food touching each other. To address this fear, they sell many different types of products, like sheets of green plastic shaped like grass.

For the bento box to be aesthetically pleasing, you need to think about the combination of colors, and how to layer them on top of each other to utilize the depth of the box optimally.

All these constraints make bento-making a fun, creative challenge. Since other bento-makers are also working with the same constraints, it’s easy to appreciate their creativity. If you had all day and an unlimited budget, naturally, you would be able to make something fantastic, but that wouldn’t be fun. It would be like playing chess where you are allowed to move the pieces anywhere. Life too is interesting only because death imposes limits on what’s possible.