Eating in Tokyo: Bento


A reasonable picnic lunch can be assembled at any convenience store. These stores go by a variety of names but look just like they do in North America. Look near the cash register, or in a cooler case, for pre-made sandwiches and Japanese bento (AKA O-bento). The latter is a plastic tray with rice and many little things to eat, usually some form of fish, chicken or mystery meat. The garish pink stuff is some kind of processed fish thing, the Asian equivalent of SPAM. If your kids don't already like fish, this pink stuff is not going to convince them to change.

If you're buying a bento early in the morning or later at night, check the date to make sure you're not buying yesterday's leftovers; you should buy only today's dated stuff. The month and year may be written in Japanese, but look for the day-date in regular numbers (1, 2, 3"¦). Figure on US$4-8 a box; some are big enough to share if you have young kids. You can also get bentos at most train stations if you are traveling.

If you buy a bento at a convenience store, they usually have a microwave handy to warm up your food if you like.

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