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Practical American Bento: Bento Boxes

April 17, 2008

  I feel that I should preface this with a statement regarding the particular boxes shown.  Yes, I stole the pictures off of eBay.  No, I have not used all of the boxes shown.  And no, I can’t recommend a particular eBay seller to purchase from.  As always with eBay, please choose your seller carefully.

  On to the bentos!

  One of the first questions a person asks, right after “What the hell is a bento?” and “Where do I get one?” is “What kind of bento should I get?”  I’m so glad you asked!

The Single Tier
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  This is your very, very basic bento.  Two compartments and a lid.  Some of the bentos that fall into this category will have a sliding divider or a small removable box, and some will even have a small case for your chopsticks.  But those are *fancy* basic bentos.  And don’t worry guys, they do make bento boxes in more manly colors.  This particular style is great for a sandwich and some chips or other side dish.

  At this point, you might be asking “Okay, so, what’s the difference between this and your basic divided Tupperware container?”  And the answer is “Not a whole hell of a lot.”  A bento is all about what’s on the inside.  But that’s a whole different post.

The Basic Two Tier
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  Again, a very, very basic box.  The advantage of this design over the first one is that you can fit more food, and you don’t have to worry as much about your food crossing the divider and getting peas all over your pasta.  Then again, some people like that sort of thing.  You can also make great use of the variety of bento divider cups to create an interesting design in one of the layers.  If you don’t have nifty divider cups, baking cups work just as well.  That’s also the subject of a different post.

Two Tier With Divider
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  Note that this two tier box comes with a removable divider.  In this one, it’s a little tray, which is nice in that is lets you put wet food in one area, and dry in another.  Sometimes these sorts of boxes will come with a single removable wall, which is nice in the rectangle boxes, but can be a pain in the butt in the oval boxes, as those thing will only shift so far before warping the sides of the box.  Also seen here is the elastic band that comes with some bento sets, which holds the whole thing together.

Two Tier With Two Dividers
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  This is my personal favorite style, and not just because it’s the same type as my first bento.  I find that the single wall divider, combined with the “H” divider makes this the most versatile style of box.  Both dividers are removable, and both can be shifted to just about any position within the box, making the compartments as small or as large as you’d like.  The constraints of the dividers force you to think inside the box, if you’ll excuse the pun, which can cause you to either become very dull, or very, very creative.

The Whole Shebang
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  A version of my own full bento kit, including bag and rice press.  I don’t get much use out of my rice press, but for beginning bento users, this is an excellent tool to use until you can build up your own collection of rice molds.  Your bag is your little bit of extra insurance.  The elastic band should hold everything closed, but the bag wraps it all up nice and neat.  I should note that while most bento boxes are stable enough to withstand the ride to work or school, they’re not really intended to be tumbled about in a book bag or briefcase.  If you go through all the work of putting together something beautiful, you need to make sure that it doesn’t get all shaken up!

The Hot Bento
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  And finally, no bento discussion would be complete without a hot bento.  Hot bentos come in kits like this one, or large jugs, much like your typical Thermos jug.  This version comes with a nice little thermal container, plus two side boxes.  This is great for soup, stew, and other hot semi-fluid meals.  But you don’t have to put hot fluids in here.  The thermal container will keep things cold as well as hot.  Gazpacho, leek soup, or even a nice civiche are wonderful on a hot summer day.

  Bear in mind while doing your bento shopping that while these are your basic bento types, they are by no means the only type of bento out there.  One of the most wonderful things about bentos is that they come in all sorts of colors, sizes, and shapes.  Also, while it is wonderful and thrilling to have your very own Japanese bento box, a box from Japan is not required for you to start making bentos.  Just about any store that carries plastic storage containers will have a box that will do you just fine.  And if you’re not certain that you’re completely into this whole “bento” thing, a less expensive box might be the way to go.  You can try a few of the basic bento techniques I’ll discuss next time, and see how they work out for you.  Happy shopping!

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