A: I love scrambled eggs. How about you?
В: I prefer them poached.
It's lunchtime at school and you're heading for the canteen, but what will you have to eat? Will you have a sandwich and an apple, or maybe a hot meal? Things are a little different in Japan. Children open their lunchboxes to find rice shaped like footballs, eggs that look like rabbits or flower-shaped carrots all packed up in an obento!
An obento, or bento, is one of the oldest food traditions in Japan. Basically, it is lunch served in a box. Obento boxes have been part of the Japanese society since the 5th century when people used to take a packed lunch with them to work. Bentos have become very popular since then and you can buy them almost anywhere nowadays at theatres, airports and even at train stations.
An obento usually consists of four parts rice, three parts meat or fish (fried or grilled), two parts vegetables (pickled1, boiled or steamed) and one part fruit. It should be nourishing and healthy, but it must be appealing too. You often see food shaped like flowers, animals and sometimes even cartoon characters! Mothers take great pride in creating 'school-bentos' for their children.
Nursery schools have established regulations for an obento. Food should be easy to eat with chopsticks or the fingers, portions should be small and it should be pleasing to the eye. It should also include food that the child would not normally eat so that they won't become a fussy eater.
The Japanese have always looked upon the mother as one of the main influences of a child's success. Taking time to prepare their children's food shows their love for them.
And what happens if a Japanese mum runs out of ideas? There are almost 400 magazines available to get inspired.