Traditional bento shop collaborates with pair of comedians to make environmentally sustainable mini-lunches.

Japan is a country full to the brim of delicious food, but so often overlooked by tourists is the humble bento. Bentos are boxed lunches usually divided into compartments containing rice or noodles, a main meat dish, and pickles or salad. Bentos can be homemade, but you’ll find every convenience store across Japan has a section of delicious looking bentos ready to take home.

But as much as we love bentos (and we really do), we’re forced to agree that they might not be the most environmentally sustainable way to enjoy a meal. Not only do most bentos come with a pair of disposable chopsticks, but the plastic packaging containing the meal is not particularly eco-friendly.

Keeping that in mind, bento company Jishowtay, from Shizuoka Prefecture, has come up with a novel solution to avoid unnecessary waste. Jishowtay has been in operation since around the end of the Edo Period, during the Ansei era (1615-1868), but despite their long history in the business, they’ve now come up with a new way to enjoy bento whilst greatly reducing plastic waste — the OniBen.

The OniBen — made up from the words onigiri (rice ball) and bento — is a unique and more environmentally friendly way to enjoy a meal on the go, as the plastic trays that normally contain food have now been replaced with ‘trays’ made from rice. This is in compliance with a law that was passed in Japan earlier this year, which required companies to review their use of single use plastics, in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. While OniBen are still wrapped in a single sheet of plastic, the amount of plastic needed is significantly less than a normal bento.

But it’s not just single use plastic that’s being reduced; disposable chopsticks aren’t needed at all, either. The rice bento ‘boxes’ are perfectly proportioned so you can hold and eat your meal using just one hand, like a burrito.

▼ The fact that you can hold your entire ‘bento’ in the palm of your hand means you won’t risk people sneakily stealing your food, either.

The OniBen come in twelve different flavours, including curry, grilled mackerel, yakisoba, and fried shrimp. Among the twelve are five flavours that were made in collaboration with manzai comic duo Pakkun Makkun, made up of Makoto Yoshida and Patrick Harlan. The collaboration came about after Pakkun Makkun became interested in Jishowtay and its long history, when the comedy duo performed a gig in Shizuoka.

▼ Pakkun Makkun in action

One of the more striking flavours of OniBen that the comedy couple contributed to is the ‘Pakkun Makkun combo‘ — an OniBen that features BBQ from Harlan’s hometown of Colarado, with Manila clams.

While OniBen are a little small to constitute an entire meal like regular bentos, their pricing (from 250 yen [US$1.81] to 500 yen[US$3.63]) means you could buy two or three for about the same price as a normal sized quality bento. OniBen are available to buy at Hamamatsu Station’s Jishowtay store, as well as other Jishowtay stores in Hamamatsu City.

We can’t wait to get our hands on an OniBen or two next time we’re in Shizuoka, but for now we’re just praying our old pals at Kitchen Dive decide to turn their bentos into OniBen too — just imagine how much rice would be needed to house this massive spaghetti bento!

Source: PR Times
Images: PR Times, Pakutaso
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