The bento stock exchange - long winded yelp
Group Eating. Lunch time trading.
tags: #socializing #entertainment #cafeteria
Today’s Bento: the small compartments: grated burdock root, carrot, potato-gummy pickles and tofu shavings. Macaroni salad, bean sprout pickle, daikon pickles, half moon fish cake. For the big square: shrimp and corn croquette, a potato and green onion dumpling, and a piece of very poignant fish. My favorite thing is the panko dusted mystery meat that takes the main space of the bento everyday. Save if for last and you’ll be happy.
when I’m not chatting with Yoshi, I eat in a group. Sharing happens, but it is not cute moments with strangers. It is a hungry bunch, we offer up the unwanted foods, each other's company included. Some eat meat. Some only eat fish. Some say they are vegetarian but wind up taking a bite of everything. One guy is just a picky eater. Some eat only cooked foods. Some eat only fresh foods, nothing fried. Then there are preferences for vegetables, for pickles, for sweets, for tofu, for rice. Every day, it’s the Bento stock exchange.
The Okamura Printing Co. cafeteria is primarily employees. The room's ceilings are low with eight long narrow tables provided in the hall. Fluorescent lighting fills the space as does the Japanese version of PBS that plays the same soap opera every day. Finding where to sit is easy in a sea of yellow okamura jackets, we are the mismatched gang of students caked in clay. We fill our own table, 16 seats. Each lunch bento is about 12 in wide, 5 in across and 2 in deep. It fits on a tray and comes with a lid. The tray also carries: wooden chopsticks with toothpick included, a tea cup, a portion of rice, and a bowl of miso soup. Inside, the box, 6 compartments separate the items. Things don’t touch in a bento, which makes for a happy picky eater.
There’s something about uncovering the box, the big reveal and the calm before the storm. It’s a bit like un doing an over-wrapped present (this theme hold true for all of Japan). Extra paper is not just extra wrapping. It provides a separation of outside and inside, the physical barrier behaves as a mental transition. The inner space is sacred and treated as such, even in the bento box. First, there the plastic lid, the paper around the chopsticks, the compartmentalized items are separated further by foil cups and plastic cut-outs of grass. Individual portions of sauces, wasabi, ginger are carefully placed. Even the food itself is packaged neatly by tofu skin, egg or fishcake.
Next comes the croquette toss: a preceding before the vegetarians can eat the main "course," which is disguised in a layer of breading. "What’s in it today?!," we ask Yoshi. He unconfidently says its fish while looking at the menu. We think it tastes like ham. Next comes the trading. Warnings to the fish-only people are called out and the rather anxious meat eaters go, “I’ll eat your croquette if you don’t want it.” Mostly it’s the same volunteers and same chiming in, “I’ll take it!.” Then there’s the less predictable things, like the vegetables. The slimy okra is offered up in excessive amounts. People pass their bentos across the table, scooting out the parts they want or don’t want. It’s more polite than it should be, no one wants to be the human equivalent of a garbage disposal. There is one guy, meat eating Marvin, who says yes to extras and is not coy but neither rude about asking. The girls try to be demure, one in particular doesn’t eat fried foods because of her complexion, but partakes in cake and seeks it out regularly. She leaves most of her bento up for grabs.
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KYOTO | CLAY | FIRE | KOBE