Museum Picks

Ann Masuda’s pick: Bento Boxes

When I hear the word “bento,” my head is filled with images from my childhood and my family’s vacations-by-car to the Pacific Northwest or to Southern California. On the first day of our journey, my mother would wake up several hours earlier than everyone else to cook and pack up our lunch, our “bento,” for the road. Our bento usually included o-nigiri (rice balls), teriyaki chicken or flank steak or hot dogs cooked in shoyu and sugar, some side dishes and dessert. Not particularly fancy, but it was always the best-tasting meal-on-the-go on the whole trip.

Bento “boxes” are sturdy containers, often constructed out of hard plastic, and come in a variety of shapes such as square, round, or oblong. A “box” may have a single compartment or may be divided into several compartments to keep differently prepared foods separated from each other. The construction and design make the bento box an ideal lunch box for people on the go. Bento boxes can be purchased in stores that sell Japanese-style dishware or gift stores. Typical bento box fare includes rice, meat, salad or side dish, pickles and other condiments. A variety of take-out bento boxes are available in grocery stores specializing in Japanese food. You can also order a bento box from menus in many of the restaurants offering Japanese fare.

Bento Boxes—Japanese Meals on the Go provides 64 pages of easy-to-follow, mouth-watering, recipes of dishes perfectly suited for bento boxes. Every page has large close-up color photographs of finished dishes beautifully displayed in their bento boxes. The recipes are not overly complex, will appeal to many palates, and are easily adapted for vegetarians. Recipe ingredients are readily available in asian food markets. Combine this book with a bento box for a unique holiday gift for your epicurean friends.

Ann Masuda is a sansei who grew up in Cortez, a Japanese American community in the heart of Calfornia’s San Joaquin Valley. At the Japanese American National Museum, Ann volunteers in the Hirasaki National Resource Center and is current chair of the President’s Volunteer Council. Professionally, Ann is an Audiologist and Clinical Research Coordinator at the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, California. And yes, she loves to cook and eat!

November 2002

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