Shokado Bento is a bento served in a classic Shokado-style bento box which is usually square and is divided into 4 sections by a separable cross-grid inset and genuinly or imitatively lacquered in black or red. Now I have 7 Japanese Shokado bento boxes at home, 5 are square that came in a set and the remaining 2 are a bit different, they are rectangular with 3 divided sections. I love these boxes and their differences, I enjoy arranging my food in these boxes for parties and lunches. I once served dinners in these boxes and it made a very memorable evening with our friends. You can maybe easily imagine how my guests looked like when they opened the lid of their Shokado Bento box…. a beginning of food entertainment!
Shokado Bento boxes are quite larger than our regular bento boxes of daily use. While we try to be very space-effective to pack food rather tightly in a small space of our usual bento box to prevent the food from moving around while carrying to work and school, it seems to me each section of Shokado Bento box is like an individual universe in which we can freely create our own food creation. If you like to fill all 4 sections of Shokado Bento box fully with just food, you will need almost 2-3 times as much food as a regular bento box. It is indeed a big bento box and the volume of the food is much more than a normal adult can eat for a lunch. Just like many of you, I hate to waste food. When trying to pack an usual volume of food in a big box like Shokado Bento box, you will need to deal with extra space. If you are a very experienced skillful cook and can use the space as a garnish for the food in your presentation, it is fine. But to most of you beginners or intermediates, I like to recommend to use small bowls, glasses and plates in Shokado Bento, they are not only helpful to fill the space but also they will make your presentation look more special.
I have 2 wooden mini bowls with lid, one in black and the other in red. It is very fun to use this bowl to serve a simmered dish and its delicious broth together in it. The lid will keep it warm as well and I just love this little open-the-lid excitement to give my guests.
Shokado Bento was originally created to be served at tea ceremonies in Japan and it has a very close relation to the Japanese culture of tea ceremony. I think Shokado Bento started originally as a humble bento and the portion of the food in each section was usually small as the main feature of Japanese tea ceremony is not the food but something else, even invisible spiritual thing.
Based on the common rule of Shokado style bento arrangement, I arrange rice in the lower left section and grilled or fried meat or fish in either or both of the upper sections. When I use all 4 sections to serve side dishes for a party dinner, a bowl of rice and a bowl of soup will be served alongside. I usually prepare different dishes paying attention to the colors and the season. Green, yellow, red, brown, white and orange are represented by seasonal vegetables and savory meat and fish dishes. As my Shokado Bento box is entirely black in color, I like to brighten up with light-colored plates and bowls. We eat with eyes, and that is more true about Shokado Bento. Even if the section is not completely filled with food and there is much space around the food, you may not necessarily feel it is scarce. Probably because your eyes were so well fed by the beautiful presentation and you were touched by the cook’s spirit behind the work?
Shokado Bento is a special bento, it goes beyond cooking a meal and eating it. It is almost so spiritual that I am so sure you will feel the hospitality which the cook has put into the food and the arrangements. When you have a chance to make a Shokado Bento, please take your time to plan the bento well. My advise for you is to use your all creativity and hospitality and make a special Shokado Bento.