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Did you know the very first bento box fed warriors on the road hundreds of years ago? While the single-portion meal in a box carrying different kinds of food has been around for centuries, it’s been through quite the evolution before reaching its current status.

Even though this lunch originally began as a meal nourishing different types of workers on-the-go out of convenience, today you’ll typically find Pikachu and Hello Kitty rice balls part of bento boxes in Japan. Although the presentation of the box has adapted, the core benefits remain unchanged. The bento box covers all the essential food groups from fruits, grains, dairy, vegetables and protein – making for a well-balanced meal.

We’ll take a closer look at what the bento box is and how it evolved into the popular lunch option that it is today.

Thinking Inside the Box

Before bento boxes included very intricate designs, the boxed lunch had very humble beginnings. In the fifth century, the first record of packed lunches in Japan included dried rice when people would go out to hunt, farm or wage war, and brought food with them to eat on the job to simply save time.

The bento box appeared in the 16th century to feed people under military commander Oda Nobunaga. It also made a splash during the Edo period (1630-1868) where people brought them along to outdoor activities or even the theatre. As the railway system picked up steam, so did the station bento box during the Meiji period of 1868-1912.

Japanese-American sugar plantation workers introduced the bento lunch to the US during the 1980s, reports Timeline.

Today’s Bento Box

The box is as complex as ever, compared to its original use. Today you can find the Kyaraben version decorated to look like popular characters from Japanese animation, comic books, or video games.

There are also the Oekakiben bento boxes designed to look like people, animals, buildings, and monuments or specific items like flowers and plants.

Bento Box Oekakiben And Kyaraben 1920w 1024x512
Oekakiben and kyaraben bento boxes

While there are many types of boxes today, this box is a go-to because of its ease – not straying from its origins. “Bento” is derived from the Southern Song Dynasty term biàndāng, meaning convenient. (Did you know the original Bento location in Gainesville had biàndāngs on the staff’s polos?)

With it being so convenient, it comes to no surprise that many cultures embraced the bento box. Bento boxes also appear in Asian countries like the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, and India. Bento-style boxes are also seen in the Hawaiian culture.

Bento Cafe’s different flavors reflect the spread of bento boxes throughout time and different parts of Asia. While the bento box has come a long way from being an easy meal on the road for workers short on time into a complex lunch-making activity, we at Bento practice the simplicity of the original bento box.

Our concept is a dedication to delivering consistency through recipes and quality. Bento’s take on the box includes a formula of fresh ingredients and an always-evolving approach to Pan-Asian cuisine.

Pao Pao Box
Pao Pao Bento Box