Hinomaru Bento | The term, Hinomaru, means ‘circle of the sun’ in Japanese and stands for the Japanese flag. Hinomaru bento is a traditional bento box which has steamed rice with a pickled umeboshi in the centeras its food contents. The red umeboshi or plum resembles the Japanese flag and hence this bento is called the ‘Hinomaru’ bento.
The pickled plums are on the saltier side and also have a sour taste and you need to develop a taste for it before you get to like it. The Hinomaru bento is the simplest form of a packed lunch as there are no side dishes contained in it. The food content symbolizes patriotism as the sole umeboshi stands for the Japanese flag, alongside it also symbolized wealth and poverty in earlier times. In times of peace and abundance the box with the rice and single umeboshi symbolized poverty as it indicated that those were the only contents you could afford. In times of scarcity as during the post war periods, the box’s food contents symbolized wealth as being able to afford authentic Japonica rice was treated as an extravagance.
Another function performed by the sole pickled plum was to act as a rice preservative by inhibiting the formation of bacteria. It was also supposed to aid digestion. In today’s times, however, the bento comprises of food items which are varied and colorful, though the pickled plum remains for taste and its usefulness.
Today, too, rice forms the main dish of the bento and it can take forms of simply cooked rice or Onigiri rice balls or rice dishes seasoned in different ways. Besides the rice you have a single or a couple of hero side dishes that are seasoned adequately. The side dishes are coated with a thickened sauce and it is essential that they are chopped in small pieces. However, these dishes are normally in colors of brown and to pep up the bento additional side dishes are chosen in green, yellow and red colors. Simmered sweet potato is one of the favorite side dishes that are mostly found in most of the Japanese Bentos.
Most of the condiments and seasonings that form an important part of a bento are Umeboshi, pickled veggies or Furikake rice seasoning. They are great accompaniments to plain rice or some of them also taste nice when eaten alone.
A Japanese bento replaces its western counterpart comprising a brown bag or sack lunch. The vital difference between the two lie in the container and the food item contents. The bento box offers a convenient mode for packing healthy, nutritious and portion-controlled colorful lunch neatly in varied compartments to make it more appetizing.
Packing a bento box; the Japanese way is quite simple. You need to do planning for the week in advance. This ensures that you have all the ingredients at your disposal. The next step is to think creatively, keep some extra portion of your dinner menu and you have a major part of your bento box filled up for the next day’s lunch.