This was my school lunch today.
Most days I buy a "bento" (lunch box) like this with a container of white rice about half this size for 400 yen ($3.45). My school doesn't have a cafeteria, but it has these lunch boxes delivered each day through some service. This is the large bento, or you can order the small bento for 370 yen. The small is in the same size tray but it's half rice, half other food, instead of the rice being in its own separate container.
This is a pretty typical bento. I ate about half of it. You don't get to choose what's in your bento — it's a surprise every day. Yea! Recognize anything on the plate? Don't worry, most of it was a mystery to me, too. I've gotten quite used to eating unrecognizable food since I've been in Japan.
I'm not a picky eater in the states but I've encountered plenty of things here that I don't like. I've also eaten lots of stuff I never imagined I'd put in my mouth. Those snail-like things in a green shell come to mind. One thing's for sure, picky eaters would not survive in Japan (Andy!).
So here's what it is. Starting at the top left corner and working clockwise:
Section 1: That black stuff is kelp. It is disgusting.
Section 2: Pickled daikon, dyed pink. Daikon is a popular vegetable around here that looks like an enormous white carrot and tastes like not much of anything. It's alright, but not when it's pickled. Pretty much all the vegetables served here are pickled and they're too strong for my taste.
Section 3: The squarish gray thing is a rather tasteless firm gelatin-like food made from starch. It's low in calorie and is supposed to be good for digestion. Going clockwise you see a round little potato. But it doesn't taste like a regular potato. It's really dense and sticky and icky. Next is a cabbage roll. Gross. And last, that straw-like looking thing is fish sausage. Sounds bad, but it's ok.
Section 4: A chunk of pork and more daikon, this time in a mushy chunk. Edible.
Section 5: Shredded daikon with radish and seaweed.
Section 6: Egg roll and fried shrimp. Good.
So I ate about half this, passing on the kelp, the pink pickled daikon, the little round potato and the cabbage roll.
Yesterday was a better bento day:
I ate almost all of this. Again, starting from the top left corner and working clockwise...
Section 1: Scrambled eggs with clam bits.
Section 2: Tempura (deep fried stuff). On this day it was bits of lotus root, pumpkin and squid. Squid is really common here but I avoid it at all costs because I almost barfed last time I tried it. It's too chewy. The lotus root was ok and the pumpkin was really tasty.
Section 3: Chicken in tomato sauce (yum!).
Section 4: Pinto beans cooked in sugar water. Delicious.
Section 5: Pickled radish. Blech.
Section 6: Soba (buck wheat noodles) with cabbage and bean sprouts. This is edible.
Usually I eat what I can of the bento and fill up the rest of the way on white rice. I'm paranoid that the rice is going to cause me to blow up like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but I figure it's still a better alternative than buying the one other thing on sale at lunch: donuts.
Interestingly, the school won't sell any pop in it's pop machines and won't allow kids to have candy in school. But the students can pick from a fairly wide selection of donuts or other breads on sale during lunch.
I guess I could bring my own lunch but I've been too lazy to pack so far. Plus, the bento is just as cheap as bringing my own, and probably better for me anyway.
And hey, it adds a little adventure to my day.