Saturday, July 09, 2005

OK, Let's Talk about Bento

The topic has been brought up in the comments to my previous post, so why not ;)

298-yen bentos

Bento means packed lunch or packed meal in Japanese. Those you see in the photo above are the 298-yen (apx. US$2.66 ?) bentos at a supermarket not too far from my apartment. Yep, all these are 298 yen each. I wouldn’t say they are very tasty, but with this low price, how can you complain?

Talking about bento, there are roughly 2 types of bento places around here --- where they sell pre-packed cold bentos (though they can warm them up there with microwave) and where they pack warm bento after you order one at the counter there. The supermarkets and convenience stores fall into the former category. The latter, franchised bento shops, used to be my favorite but not so much any more.

This is one of the bento shops near my apartment that sell warm bentos. There, you take a look at the samples in the showcase and order the one(s) you like, then take a seat in the shop and wait. The part-timers there of course do not cook everything from scratch after you made an order… most of the food is prepared or pre-seasoned already and all that’s left to do is to deep fry or grill or heat it. So the waiting time can be around 5 minutes or less… well, depending on what and how many of the bentos you order.

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Samples in the showcase

You noticed some samples have 2 prices in the tag? The top one is the price of the bento with warm rice, and the one at the bottom is the price without rice. If you already have some cooked rice at home, you can buy a bento without rice and make it even cheaper. Good idea, isn’t it?


This nori bento (called “Nori-ben” for short) literally means “bento with dried seaweed (nori).” When this type of franchise shops became popular in Japan, this nori-ben was the most popular menu because it was the cheapest one and yet quite filling, though lacking in vitamins. “I’m going to have nori-ben.” or “I live on nori-ben” was synonymous with “I’m broke now,” ...well... at least among my friends.

In earlier days, in a typical nori-ben, you didn’t see anything more than soy-sauce seasoned bonito flakes all over the rice covered with a big sheet of dried seaweed. Oh, maybe a few slices of pickles were on the rice. This one in the photo is a little upgraded version, thus could be a little smaller than the earlier versions, I suppose.

Of course, other than the bentos in plastic containers like these, we have more elaborate, expensive kind of bentos in Japan if you don’t mind paying good amount of money. Those are the ones from famous traditional Japanese restaurants. I cannot afford to blog about them right now, but maybe someday I would give it a try.
…. Hopefully.


Anonymous said...

Some interesting info on bento. I tried something like teriyaki chicken and rice with some gobo side dish and found it to be very tasty! It was from a 7-11. Needless to say I was thoroughly surprised!! A friend of mine said he tried Lawson's bento and said it was pretty good but I haven't tried theirs yet. Can you give us some info about ekiben? I would think that in Kochi you would have some type of loach in the bento? Or am I thinking of a different place?? 

Posted by kyle

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, Obachan,
These pictures of've really outdone yourself this time. So fun!

If we were to say that "I live on noriben" in the US, it would mean that person is positiviely loaded with money and good taste. There are not that many people who can afford to eat packaged Japanese food for sustenance.

You're so lucky to be living in Japan--it is actually one of my dreams. I hope your dream of living in a house next to the ocean becomes true--Are you hoping to live in Japan or US on the beach? Hey, you can be a baywatch babe!


Posted by joanna

Anonymous said...


Wow, you've really outdone yourself this time with the bento boxes. So fun!

At the supermarket 25 minutes away from where I live, they make the cheap "supermarket" style bento. But it's all we've got here, and we pay $6.50 per box.
For a meal, I usually have to eat 2 of them.

The noriben looks De-licious! So if one says one lives on noriben in the US it would probably mean that the person is flushed in the green, loaded with moola, very rich to be able to afford sustaining on bento alone.

On the otherhand, here McDonald's and American fastfood is dirt cheap. If someone says that they are living on fastfood, I would feel very sorry for them and perhaps give them a donation.

I hope your dream of living on a beach become true. The part about the big dog is specific and experts say that the more detailed you can envision your dream the more likely it will become true.
Anyway, you can be a baywatch babe when that happens--but your personality seems just fine the way it is!


Posted by joanna

Anonymous said...

that little bottle of soy sauce (last pic) is TOO CUTE! 

Posted by alf

Anonymous said...

the u.s. equivalent of nori ben would be cup o noodles, maybe?

i'm glad i don't have access to such a variety of cheap and tasty bentos (and yummy japanese candy - melty kiss anyone?) because then i would never cook and grow very, very fat.


Posted by rae

Anonymous said...

Hi Obachan,

You know that I love bentos and these look so delicious. I think I need to go and have a bento for lunch today. Thanks for making me hungry! =)

Posted by Reid

Anonymous said...

I love bentos.. Obachan..! now you are making me drool so hard..!  

Posted by MrsT

Anonymous said...

there was one time i was eating bento for the whole week. i almost wanted to write a post of it. outside the campus near the roadside, they do have some good bentos. i dont really like bentos from the convenient store.  

Posted by Patrick Leong

Anonymous said...

> kyle --- Hmmm… teriyaki chicken and gobo. Sounds good! About ekiben… no, loach bento is not Kochi thing. I googled a bit and found that they used to have loach ekiben in Kanazawa, Ishikawa prefecture which is in the northern part of Japan. I’ve never bought ekiben in Kochi, but these  are the ekibens available at Kochi station. (Click photos to enlarge.) I think the anpan-man bento (the last pic) looks kinda scary…

> Joanna --- You know what? I think I’ve overcome my fear of taking photos in public finally :D
If I could live on the beach where the weather is very nice, it doesn’t matter which country… Gosh Baywatch! Wonder what David Hasselhaff is doing now… Thanks for the compliment about my personality. BTW, a hamburger (the cheapest one) is 80 yen (apx. 71 cents?) at McDonald’s here in Kochi. Is it almost the same as the price over there?
And I wish your dreams would come true including living in Japan :)

> alf --- It sure is ;) There are fish-shaped ones, too, which usually come with sushi bento. I used to collect those small bottles to reuse them for my own bento, but turned out that I don’t need to bring soy sauce with my lunch very often, so I eventually threw them away.

> rae --- Oh I love cup noodles, too. Usually just one cup isn’t enough for me. I get hungry again real soon. Melty kiss is my fav, too : )

> Reid --- Yep, I know you love bentos and you have pretty good bentos over there : )

> MrsT --- Easy, easy ;)

> Patrick --- I guess in Kansai they collect plastic garbage twice a week, right? They did when I lived in Osaka. Here in Kochi, they do that only once a week, and when I had bentos in those plastic containers for several days in a row, the plastic gomi piled up in my kitchen and drove me crazy. That’s one of the reasons why I quit buying bento too often. 

Posted by obachan

Anonymous said...


The hamburger here is about $1. Then there is Taco Bell, Fried Chicken, Pizza as junk/cheap food, although Pizza is getting more expensive. One slice to-go is $2.15 now.

If you want to live near the sea, you can open an itzakaya by Cape Cod, Massachusettes, for example,--lots of upper and middle class tourists who rent big fancy cottages, as well as year-round citizens. It's near Boston, so clientel are international and sophisticated in taste. But No Itzakaya! It should be a hit...

Alternatively Hawaii is nice--but already has lots of Japanese restuarants alhtough probably in the smaller island they could use a few--if the food is delilcious and atmosphere is great.  

Posted by joanna

Anonymous said...

I was hoping you would blog about bento one day ;), so this is so fascinating for me ... thanks, Obachan. I think I can eat bento every day without being bored of it (different dishes of course :))  

Posted by OsloFoodie

Anonymous said...

> joanna --- Wow! Izakaya by Cape Cod! Never thought about it. OK, I'll add it to my crazy future dreams (if it's not too cold in winter there).

> OsloFoodie --- Maybe Japan is a bento paradise ;) I've found some bento trivias on the net so maybe I'll post about them sometime in the near future.

Posted by obachan