ELI student spotlight: Maki Yasunaga introduces Japanese boxed lunches to U.S.

Maki Yasunaga has a dream, and it comes in a box – a bento box.

Maki YasunagaMaki’s dream is to sell bentos – Japanese boxed lunches – in the United States. A bento is a single-portion, take-out or home-packed meal in a box that typically consists of rice or noodles, fish or meat and cooked and pickled vegetables. By using unexpected flavors and ingredients in her dishes, Maki hopes to expand the American palate and cultural perspective to include Japanese dishes other than just sushi.

Maki’s dream had its beginnings with her father, who worked in research and development at a Japanese food company when Maki was a child. He taught her how to cook, introducing her to many different kinds of foods. Just as importantly, Maki experienced how excited people became when they ate the food she made. Her love of cooking, combined with her desire to provide a healthy alternative to American convenience food, led to her decision to create nutritious Ichi Jyu San Sai (the perfect everyday Japanese meal of one soup and three side dishes) bento boxes for Americans.

Bento box

Maki has been able to pursue her dream thanks to the support she has received from various sources. A scholarship from the Japanese government enabled her to come to the United States to study and work on her project. During the fall semester of 2017, student volunteers in UD’s Food and Nutrition Education Lab helped with the preparation and taste testing of Maki’s recipes. The students provided Maki with valuable feedback on her dishes – a great opportunity for meaningful cultural exchange, and invaluable to her efforts to develop and test her bento boxes. Finally, Maki is supported by her sponsor, a New York restaurant owner who sells bento boxes and provides her with valuable insight.

A nutrition undergraduate student from Nakamura Gakuen University in Fukoka, Japan, Maki is currently studying at UD’s English Language Institute. After the current ELI session ends, Maki will travel to New York to sell her bento boxes and learn how to run her own business at her sponsor’s restaurant, BentOn. Her boxes will sell at BentOn from February 26th through March 16th, after which she will return to Japan to finish her nutrition studies. She hopes to return to the U.S. to get her Master’s degree in nutrition, followed by working in research and development at a Japanese food company creating new and healthy food. Coming full circle, the final part of Maki’s current plan is to fulfill another important dream: to work with her father after she has an established career

To learn more about the hard work that Maki has been doing to achieve her dream, visit the Food and Nutrition Education Lab’s website at  http://www.udel.edu/004591.

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