The desire to tuck into a home-cooked packed lunch, in order to save time and money is universal.
But as tastes and cultures are very different around the world, so are the various solutions that are adopted.
Here’s a quick glance at ‘typical’ lunch boxes from 5 countries:
Bento Box (Japan)
In Japanese, the word Bentō refers to a snack in a partitioned box that is eaten outside the home. Traditionally prepared by the wife or mother for the husband’s and children’s lunch, bentos are also sold all over Japan (on trains, in “convenience stores” open around the clock, in dedicated restaurants, etc.). The food in question is varied and well balanced. Everything is properly sliced so it can be easily eaten with your fingers or chopsticks and the presentation is always very neat. Homemade bentos are usually wrapped in a piece of cloth that keeps the box warm and makes it easy to carry around. And, when it’s time to eat, the cloth doubles up as a placemat.
Dosirak is the Korean version of the Japanese bento box. Almost always made at home, the meal is beautifully served in a wooden or plastic box that is carried to office or school. The one item that is always present in this box is the traditional “kimchi”, a condiment made up of peppers and lacto-fermented vegetables.
Biandang (Taiwan and China)
In Taiwan and China, millions of people consume “biandang” for their lunch. Most of the time, these are very affordable meals they buy in small kiosks on every street corner. The polystyrene box invariably has 4 compartments, one for rice and meat, and the other 3 for sautéed or steamed vegetables.
The term “tiffin” dates back to British times and it stands for a light afternoon meal. Nowadays in places like Mumbai, this word mostly refers to a packed lunch that the wife prepares for her husband. Such meals are packed in a metal box called “tiffin-box” and transported to the employee’s office by carriers known as “dabbawallahs”. It is estimated that dabbawallahs cater up to 175,000 customers a day and that too for over a century now. The main reason for the popularity of this system is that only home-cooked meals ensure that the food eaten by the employee meets the dietary rules of his caste.
The Milanese term “schiscetta” comes from the verb “schiacciare”, which means to press or pack together (food in the container). Once reserved for the poorer classes who couldn’t afford to buy food outside, the practice of bringing a home-cooked meal to work has once again become popular because of the economic difficulties the country has been undergoing of late. In fact the number of workers who bring packed lunches to office has increased by more than 15% in 3 years. And since Italians love to surround themselves with beautiful objects, the market for all office lunch-related equipment has grown significantly. New products include a wide range of colourful and durable dishes, pretty utensils, unusual paper napkins and amusing water bottles. Every detail helps brighten the meal of Italian employees. The success of the book “La schiscetta fa tendenza” (Packed lunches are all the rage!) with 100 suggestions for super appetizing meals shows that it’s all about… style (at least in Italy).
If we have given you the taste for some make-ahead meals, it’s time you try some of our lunch box recipes: