Surviving lunch time in Tokyo!
Lunch time in Tokyo is all about bento for office workers. Almost every restaurant in office areas set up special tables at storefront and lay out bentos, and people buy them instead of eating inside the restaurant so they can save money, time or both. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to find a vegetarian/vegan bento so what I do when I go to a client’s site for the entire day is to bring my own bento.
It is actually quite common for people to bring their own lunch to work in Japan. We even have a word, aisai-bento, which means bento made by a loving wife:) And this bento making is a serious business – it’s not just throwing in an apple and plastic-wrapped peanut butter sandwich in a brown bag, no. When people bring lunch, they neatly pack rice and several side dishes in one or two-layered container – the bento box – in an art-like, very presentable form. If you go to a general store in Japan, you will find such a great variety of bento boxes in different sizes, structures, materials, designs, etc. etc.
I guess I’m kind of a rebel when it comes to bento because I never really liked this idea of packing everything in one box. I mean how can you have enough food in such a little box and how do you have time to create this “art” every morning?! Also, some dishes should be eaten cold and some hot… So, I do something kind of between Japanese and American styles.
When I know I will be needing a bento the next day, I just pack leftovers after dinner in small containers then put them in the fridge. I also usually cook a large quantity of rice, put it in one-meal-size containers and freeze them. So in the morning, I just need to put the frozen rice and leftovers in my cooler bag. The frozen rice works as like an ice pack to keep everything cool. Before eating, I just use the microwave at office to reheat.
I also like to have miso soup with my lunch, and I could pack in leftover miso soup, but that would make the bag heavy and it might spill… So what I do is, since the container is microwave-safe, I just throw in some vegetables, microwave them for a minute, add some dashi stock powder and miso. The cooked vegetables absorb the essence from dashi so when I put hot water to make it miso soup at lunch time, the vegetables taste like they were cooked in dashi stock for a really long time.
As a vegetarian/vegan, lunch time can be quite challenging in Tokyo (mostly because there is really nothing to eat…) but it’s easy to prepare and have really fresh (hot things hot, cold things cold) lunch almost as if you were eating at home:)