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It traces its origin to 12th century Japan and spread to countries like Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines and the US state of Hawaii. The bento box is a single-portion take-away or home-packed meal common and generally includes rice or noodles, fish or chicken or meat with pickle on the side.
Usually square in shape with up to six compartments, bento boxes vary from mass-produced disposables to hand-crafted lacquerware.
"We want our guests, the majority of whom are expatriates, to experience Japanese cuisine in the Japanese style," Executive Chef Ritesh Negi explained of the Bento Box Festival underway till September 30 at the R.E.D fine diner at the Radisson Blu MBD Hotel here.
There are three variants of the Bento Box on offer - Vegetarian, Mixed Meat and Seafood - and I opted for the last named because it is seafood that is at the heart of Japanese cuisine.
It was a visual delight as it arrived at the table - a one-foot-square box with four compartments containing Scallop Tempura, Salmon Yakatori, Prawn Butter Garlic and Prawn Tempura Roll with Chan Veg Rice and Miso Soup Prawn on the side and accompanied by Thai Ginger Pickle, Wasabi (horseradish), Taikwan (pickled radish) and Soy Sauce.
A quick eeny-meeny-miney-mo saw the melt-in-the-mouth scallop, crispy-fried in tempura butter, quickly disappearing, aided in no small measure by the red wine that had now appeared on the table. It was a savoury experience at its best.
It was then time to simultaneously attack the other three items on offer.
The grilled salmon, marinated in soy and mirin (a sweet, slightly tangy rice wine) and accompanied by spring onions was done just right, the darkened skin adding to the flavour while the tiger prawns tossed with butter and burnt garlic provided an interesting contrast, as did the sushi prepared with golden fried prawns and nori (edible seaweed) sheets.
"Most Japanese don't go by the starter-soup-main course route while dining. They want everything on the table. Pick from here, pick from there, mix-and-match; the Bento Box provides it all," explained Chef Negi, an alumnus of IHM Ahmedabad with over 14 years of experience in the hospitality industry.
Negi had two more surprises in store: Coffee Pork Spare Ribs with Sesame Seeds and Pork Belly Teriyaki.
"We marinate the spare ribs for two hours, steam them, deep fry them and then dip them in coffee sauce. As for the pork belly, it's marinated for 12 hours, steamed for five hours and then grilled," Negi explained.
It was then time for the piece de resistance: Ice Cream Spring Rolls with kiwi and dragon fruit on the side and a sherry.
"We freeze the ice cream till it is rock hard, immerse it in a batter and medium fry it - all in quick time - before serving it. It's got to be eaten at one go to savour the contrasts," Krishna explained.
All-in-all it made for a very satisfying meal.
What: Bento Box Festival.
Where: R.E.D. (Rare Eastern Dining), Raddisson Blu MBD Hotel, Sector 18, Noida, till September 30.