Trend Watch: Bento

Bento is a meal that is served in a box. Often, the box has two or more compartments and sometimes the boxes are stacked on top of each other. Bento describes both the meal and the container it is stored in. Bento originated in Japan in the 17th century, gaining popularity in the 1880's as an early form of fast food sold at train stations. Later, Japanese children carried bento lunches to school. When the schools started providing lunch, bento's popularity went into decline.

But we’re predicting a strong comeback.

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Bento has all the makings for a popular trend:


  • it requires at least a few pieces of specific equipment offering an excuse to

  • collect lots of special equipment

  • you can find bento boxes in museums (antique lacquer) and in dollar stores (plastic)

  • and everywhere in between

  • it has a daily, practical use

  • it is creative and expressive

  • there’s ample opportunity to get a little obsessive

  • it has strong cultural associations and, in the end,

  • you get to eat it

There are bento sub-genres such as face bento and non-edible bento. And truly telling, there are numerous bento flickr groups and blogs and communities.

It’s a quick and stylish way to bring your lunch to places such as work or school or your next flight. Bento also helps alleviate wasteful paper and plastic bags. But in the end, bento is just plain fun to eat: all those little compartments, colorful arrangements and tasty bits here and there. Opening a bento box is a lot like opening a present and who doesn't enjoy that feeling?

(Image: e-obento)

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Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.