I still remember my childhood fascination with my own tiffin well ahead of lunch, and of course those of friends whose school bags in some way betrayed lunch-time vessels of wonder. Today, when I catch sight of a tiffin, memories and the unreasonable hunger pangs of childhood come rushing back. 

I would hesitate to say there’s another box to challenge the Great Indian Tiffin. So let me just say, it has a Japanese cousin that’s equally mesmerizing. 

In Japanese cities, many a school tot and office goer is kitted out with a bento, a lunch box that packs in their lunch-time fix in delightful compartments. I’ve been told that in Japan, it’s common for mothers to take great pains to pack their children’s bento meals in artistic forms - such as flowers or popular anime or video game characters. To many Japanese, packing a bento for the family is an opportunity to showcase their artistic skills. 

This shouldn’t come as any surprise –Japanese firmly believe and demonstrate that food is eaten with the eyes first, and I could not agree more. There is another artistic aspect of bento meals that I noticed when I stayed with my Japanese hosts some years backs. It’s the cloth that’s used to wrap the bento. Once untied, furoshiki may be used as a table mat. Traditionally, the furoshiki cloth is used to wrap gifts, store and carry a variety of items and is seen as an environment-friendly alternative to plastic bags. 

Before my first visit to Japan, I remember reading quite a bit on Japanese food traditions and the buzz around one bento in particular caught my fancy from among the dozen varieties. In fact I made sure it was the first bento I would try in Japan. It’s the ekiben – the variety of bento that’s served at train stations throughout Japan. Like the trains themselves, ekibens are never static and they feature the local specialties of the stop. 

Ekibens have proved to be quite a hit and a friend tells me that at last count, there were close to 3000 types of ekiben sold at stations throughout Japan. Which means, even if you tried one ekiben a day, you still wouldn’t be done in five years. And I’m not alone in being taken up by the ekiben – more than a few Japanese will confess to taking a train ride for the sole purpose of treating themselves to an ekiben. 

But if you’re not in Japan, there’s no reason why you can’t treat yourself to the pleasure of bento. I’m delighted to say that here in India, you have the opportunity to tuck into the treasures of an authentic Japanese bento at Edo, ITC Hotels first purely Japanese bar and restaurant at ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru. The bento meals at Edo pack a selection of Japanese treats in one compact box that is landscaped to evoke the spirit of Japan. 

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