Bento, delicious love letter
In Japan, the anticipated joy of lifting the lid of a homemade bento*, tasty, colorful and full of vitamins, is for some a daily rendez-vous. For others, they have to make do with the konbini-bento, the semi-industrial bento from the convenience store, whose transparent plastic lid takes away all the mystery.
The artisan of the first one is most of the time the Japanese woman. She gets up early to prepare the bento for her young child, imagining the clear and joyful glint in his or her eyes when the child discovers what is inside the box. Today, she will even write his name delicately with ketchup on the rolled omelet. Cooking is like writing. She can tell so many things to her child, so many "I love yous" that she would not dare say directly because of her modesty.
A sacrificial mother at times, she will pour everything into this box of love: time, reflection, and promises - and sometimes lose herself in the process of designing ingenuity to win the competition. The pressure is so intense that it pushes one to produce something that is always tastier, more creative, more nutritious... than the next door family. Why is my bento always so bland and colorless? She doesn't accept this defeat. What a humiliation for the Japanese school child who arrives at a school event with an inglorious bento and has lunch next to a classmate whose mother got up at five o'clock in the morning to prepare ebi-furai (breaded shrimps), laid out next to the rice, masterfully, on a bed of shredded cabbage.
In Japan, the idea that cooking at home is healthier is still alive and well, and often high school students also enjoy mom's bento. Kaori, a single mother, has to deal with her daughter's teenager crisis, a girl who does not say a word at home. The mother decides to write in the bento what she doesn't dare to say out loud. When the girl opens the box she finds a rice ball shaped like a furious face and a piece of seaweed cleverly cut into the shape of an epithet "Do your dishes!” Kaori makes the daily bento her messenger, her fighting weapon. Direct speech would be futile, the bento maintains the connection. During her three years of high school, the rebellious teenager finishes each meal, her own way of responding to her mother's expression of love. She chooses to be silent. For this reason, the mother has always maintained hope. Rather than withdrawing into her silences, Kaori cooks, it is concrete. For the last meal she will write to her daughter: "Follow your dreams", a beautiful missive of love.
For some, the bento will be a Pandora's box. The husband opens the bento prepared by his wife and finds only white rice without accompaniment, revenge from the neglected wife. The husband's astonishment is compounded by his shame in front of his amused office colleagues...
For others, the bento is a declaration, that of the young woman in love. Every weekend she makes bentos for her boyfriend. Do rather than say.
There is also the letter to oneself, of the young single woman who works and now carries what is commonly called the my-bento, a personal lunch box, a meal she prepares just for herself and consumes with greedy pleasure.
Finally, there is the station bento, the ekiben, Japan's national treasure, made up of local specialties, a culinary journey that carries the nostalgia of the place one has just left. The taste of the land reminds the traveler of the vibrant memory of this evanescent figure that he will never possess... a letter from an unknown life that he imagines, sitting in the train that takes him away from her.
*bento : take-away meal, presented in a box.