Bento for Americans: Sharing Japanese Cuisine with America

by Tyler Reininga

The Food and Nutrition Education Lab is always cooking up something fun, but this semester we also had the opportunity to delve into another culture! Maki Yasunaga is a nutrition undergraduate student from Nakamura Gakuen University in Fukoka, Japan. She is currently studying at UD’s English Language Institute and, with the help of a grant from the Japanese government, has a dream of selling bento lunches in Manhattan, New York.

A bento – or “boxed box” – is a take-out or home-packed meal indicative of Japanese cuisine. The box has multiple compartments that generally include one soup and three side dishes with rice (“ichi jyu san sai”) like fish or meat, pickled and cooked vegetables, or fruit. It is usually consumed for lunch and is valued for its balanced nutritional content – kind of like a Japanese version of the USDA My Plate!


Pictured, left: Chirashi sushi, a dish traditionally served on March 3rd (Hinamatsuri), accompanied by beef and potato stew, tomato salad and fried lotus root.


Maki tested her recipes for the bentos in the lab with the assistance of NTDT student volunteers, who aided her in preparing and taste testing the dishes. After creating each bento, Maki asked the student volunteers for feedback, so not only did they learn about her culture, but they provided insight on ours.

Maki has a sponsor in New York who owns a restaurant called BentOn. She reports back to her sponsor each month with updates and pictures of her bento recipes. She intends on selling her bentos in his restaurant if he approves of her recipes. She wishes to expose Americans to some of Japan’s culture, flavors, and ingredients in hopes of a positive response.

Maki introduced a lot of unexpected ingredients and flavor combinations that contradicted the perception that Japanese cuisine solely exists in the form of sushi. For example, she made tender furofuki daikon with miso paste and lemon zest, fried lotus root, egg soup with seaweed, and sautéed burdock root.

Rice served with tofu “meatballs”, furofuki daikon, cucumber salad and miso soup.

Savory egg custard with mushrooms.








She returns home to Japan in March with aspirations to return and work in the U.S., and get her Master’s Degree in Nutrition. Maki says that Japan’s educational system offers a limited scope of the nutrition field and few foreign exchange programs to take advantage of. However, it is evident that this ambitious student does not step down from any challenge or opportunity!


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