Bento is a broad Japanese term that refers to pretty much any boxed meal. Traditionally these were prepared at home to be taken to work or school for lunch, but in modern times bento can be purchased as pre-packaged meals at grocery or convenience stores.
For many people in Western countries, their first thought goes to the “bento box” seen often in the menu of Japanese restaurants. However, in its home culture, bento really is much more versatile and ubiquitous. (Not to mention the term “bento box” is somewhat redundant since the definition of bento includes the boxed nature of the meal.)
Bento commonly contains rice, pickled vegetables, and an entree — often grilled meat or fish. Although the meat, rice, and vegetables trifecta is common, the complexity of bento can vary from just one food item to a whole array of foods stylized by whomever put it together. The latter is common with Japanese mothers, who will sometimes style the food in their children’s bento to look like cute animals, objects, or characters.
You can find bento at Uwajimaya in the deli department as well as bento boxes and bento accessories in our home section.