Bento Box Ingredients, Most Popular

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Bento Box Ingredients, Most Popular

The main ingredients in a bento box are cooked rice which is accompanied by pickled vegetables or a mixed salad along with a serving of fish or meat. Following is a guide for the most popular bento box ingredients.

Traditional Japanese lunch boxes or bento boxes have been quite popular since the 1980s. The microwave oven introduction caused a massive hike in bento box use, and since then, the traditional style bento box has come back.

Bento Box Ingredients
Bento Box Ingredients

Firstly bento meals are normally prepared by dividing your meal into nutritiously balanced portions that include 4 food groups including carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables, and fruit. Follow a ratio of 4 parts carbohydrates, 2 parts proteins, 1 part vegetables and 1 part fruit. Learn more about the 4 food group ingredients below.

Rice, Japanese Staple Ingredient (Carbohydrates)

It is believed that the Japanese first learned how to grow rice around 300 BC which was introduced by the Chinese. At the time a short-grained japonica variety was common as the mild and humid climate made it easy to grow the crop which spread to the rest of Japan within a few hundred years.

Around the fifth century, dried rice was being served in single compartment bento boxes as lunch for people going out to hunt, work on farms or wage war. The bento box made it easier for them to eat on the go and was either eaten as it was or re-hydrated with water to make rice balls.

Today the rice is one of the main ingredients in almost all bento boxes and can be prepared in many ways which include;

  • Hakumai “white rice”
  • Genmai “brown rice”
  • Sekihan “rice cooked with red beans”
  • Zakkokumai “rice with mixed grains”
  • Noriben “rice covered with nori seaweed”
  • Wakame Gohan “rice mixed with seaweed”
  • Onigiri “Japanese rice balls”Try: Onigiri Recipe
Zakkokumai “Rice With Mixed Grains”
Zakkokumai “Rice With Mixed Grains”


Translated into English as a Japanese salt plum, umeboshi is basically dried pickled plumbs most commonly eaten in Japan. Originally eaten by the samurai to combat battle fatigue and a remedy for colds and flues. They are extremely sour and salty; however, they also have a sweet version pickled with honey. Umeboshi is normally served with rice in small quantities to add flavour and presentation to the meal.

Umeboshi were also widely used after World War 2 by the Japanese for their Hinomaru Bento Box which translates to Japanese Flag Bento. The circle symbolising the sun was a small piece of Umeboshi placed in the middle of a one-piece bento box with white rice.


Salads are used in bento boxes to balance the meal out, re-freshen the palate, ad some crisp flavours, and add colour to the meal. Japanese salads would include Natto salad which includes natto, green onion, green salad and sesame oil. Wakame seaweed salad included dried wakame seaweed, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, grated ginger, grated garlic and sesame seeds. Bonito Salad included frozen sweet Peas, bonito flakes, tuna, egg noodles, large eggs, water, salt and chopped parsley flakes. Broccolini Gomaae was another variation of gomaae but with broccoli.

Umeboshi (Japanese Salted Plum)
Umeboshi (Japanese Salted Plum)


Tamagoyaki is a Japanese type of omelette which includes sugar, soy sauce, sake or mirin. The ingredients were grilled in a rectangular pan which was then rolled in thin layers. Other versions included dashi maki tamago which included dashi, dried bonito stock and kelp. Although Tamagoyaki was used in bento boxes, it was also served in sushi rolls or served for a breakfast meal. Try our Tamagoyaki Recipe.


Agemono is basically deep-fried Japanese food. Many types of Agemono include Karaage, which is small portions of seafood and meat with flavouring and then fried. Other types of agemono include Karaage, Japanese fried chicken, octopus, Kaki Furai, Deep-fried oysters in a panko batter, Ebi furai, Deep-fried shrimps in a panko batter, korokke which is a Japanese version of Portuguese croquette, Tempura which we all know and Tonkatsu. Agemono is a perfect addition to any bento box as they are prepared in bite-sized portions.

Tamagoyaki (Japanese Omelette)
Tamagoyaki (Japanese Omelette)


Tonkatsu translates to pork cutlet which looks very similar to the German Schnitzel. The dish made from deep-fried pork cutlets which are coated in flour, eggs, and panko flakes. The Panko flakes make the pork very crunchy, which is a great addition to a bento box meal. Tonkatsu is widely cooked in most Asian countries but invented in Japan late in the 19th century by a restaurant called Rengatei in Tokyo.

Typically sliced into thick bite-size pieces and served with a side of shredded cabbage, cucumber slices and drizzled with Tonkatsu Sauce. The dish is an enduring favourite among Japanese of all ages and perfect as an add-on to any bento box meal as the bite sizes are work in perfectly with chopsticks. Try our Tonkatsu Recipe.

Grilled fish

Typically mackerel, salmon, or unagi (eel).

Tonkatsu (Japanese Pork Cutlet)
Tonkatsu (Japanese Pork Cutlet)


Sushi widely eaten worldwide is a specially prepared bite-sized meal made from vinegared rice and combined with a selection of ingredients including seafood, veggies or omelette. Often also served with pickled ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce. Seafood types include calamari, eel or crab meat.

Sushi was first made around the 8th century in Japan and was originally a way of preserving fish in fermented rice. In the Muromachi period, people caught on and began to eat the rice with the fish which took on as a new meal. Later in the Edo period vinegar was used in rice instead of the fermentation process as it was easier and quicker to prepare. Today Sushi is a readily available fast food which is associated with Japanese cuisine.


Nimono is a Japanese dish that includes a base ingredient simmered in shiru stock which is flavoured with sake, soy sauce, and a small amount of sweetening. The base ingredient of Nimono can vary from vegetable, fish, seafood, tofu singly or combined together. Types include;

  • Misoni which is fish but can also be made with vegetables.
  • Nikujaga is beef and potato stew which is then flavoured with sweet soy sauce.
  • Nizakana is locally caught fish poached in broth of sweetened dashi
  • Kakuni is small bite-sized chunks of pork belly stewed in soy, mirin and sake with large pieces of daikon and boiled eggs.
  • Finally Okinawan which consists of pork stewed with bone.

Stewed beef

Gyudon, a flavorful layer of beef served atop a bed of rice.

Traditional Japanese Sushi
Traditional Japanese Sushi

Bento Common Ingredients

Bento boxes can be filled with almost anything that you like though traditional bento normally includes a heaped serving as rice for the main ingredient as it is the staple of Japanese cuisine. Popular food types in a Japanese bento box also include fish or meat, pickled or pre-cooked vegetables, tamagoyaki which is a Japanese omelette, potato or pasta salad and fruit which is sometimes served in a little side bowl.

Bento Box Meal
Typical Example Of A Bento Box Meal
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