Kimchi, Tteokbokki, Bibimbap – the moment you know it’s Korean, you love them all! Apart from being yummy, they are loaded with every nutrition your body needs. What if, you get to have a portion of them all, regularly? Add some portions of rice and banchan to it, and you will get what Squid Games have immortalized – the Korean bento box. With its origin in ancient Korea and handsomely drawing inspiration from its neighboring Japan, this lunchbox has recently gained huge popularity – all thanks to its wide availability even at convenience stores.
For those who haven’t watched Squid Games, or are new to this raging food culture of Korea, this comprehensive guide will give you an idea of the contents of this bento box. Along with that, we will also give you some quick recipes that you can include if you intend to pack yourself a healthy bento box. Let’s give you the specifics –
Table of Contents
What is a Korean bento box?
Alternatively known as Dosirak, this bento box is a packaged meal of an assortment of small portions of regular Korean dishes (with rice leading the pack). Though the ancient name for this ‘box meal’ is Dosirak or Tumak, given the term ‘bento’ is of Japanese origin (meaning the same) – in current global terminology, even for a Korean-packed assortment of meals, the term ‘bento’ is used.
Technically speaking, there are a couple of types of bento boxes – from the traditional homemade Dosirak to the convenience store-bought ones. For the unversed –
. The Home-made Dosirak
The original lunchbox format includes – rice, meat, pickled vegetables, and soup in specific components. They are either packed from home or are available in current times in school and office spaces.
. The Gimbap Dosirak
This is more of a packaged meal that is found in convenience stores, or as a quick-pickup option for formal occasions – comprising seaweed rolls. The only difference is – in general situations, seaweed rolls are made of vinegar. But when prepped for a Korean bento box, this seaweed roll is made from a combination of sweetener and sesame oil.
. Yennal Dosirak
This is closer to the current concoction that you officially know as bibimbap (though not the same). In this case – an amount of home-cooked rice, stir-fried kimchi and eggs, seaweed, and pan-fried sausages is packed in a single compartment. Before eating, you simply need to shake the box and somewhat mix the ingredients.
What does the Korean bento box include?
Now that you have an idea about the concept of bento boxes and the available types, you must understand what it includes primarily. Rice, as you know is the staple component of this box, apart from that, meat and vegetables also make for a crucial position.
Let us elaborate on it a little more for you –
Rice, especially the uncooked short-grain variety (Mepssal) is a must in every Korean meal. Koreans generally prefer a steamed, fluffy variety of rice for their combo meals and otherwise. To add a spicy texture to this – blend it with a bit of chili paste/hot pepper paste and a dash of sesame oil.
2. Banchan (side dishes)
The side dishes are a must in case of a Korean meal. Primarily it is kimchi, but apart from that, it also includes – seasoned spinach, anchovies, and perilla leaves. Cooked and pickled well to suit the tastebuds of one and all, this is a must-add-on for completing the bento box.
3. Protein content (primarily spam)
A significant amount of fish/meat/tofu must feature in a Korean bento box. Generally, the spam is used. However, you may alternate it with – Bulgogi beef, Boon Hong sausage, and tuna. To keep it plant-based, tofu in chili paste is a must-add!
4. Korean seaweed soup
Though this soup is mostly a birthday dish, but, you may have it generally as well (given its highly nutritious profile). Apart from that, the Dosirak may also include dried seaweed of the likes – hijiki, wakame, and kombu.
What you must understand is that – each component of the Korean bento box is chosen in a way that illustrates the need for delivering a meal that is nutritionally balancing and aesthetically pleasing. The core of the Korean value system is – a sense of harmony especially when the family is eating together (even in Korean office space and schools, people prefer to eat together).
How to make the traditional Dosirak?
If you are looking towards the traditional Korean bento box or Dosirak, here is how to make the straightforward one –
Soak the short-grain rice in cold water for a couple of hours, before preparing it. After you have cooked it, fluff it up with a fork and if needed – add a dash of hot pepper or chili paste to it.
With the rice paddle, take a scoop of rice and place it in the middle of your lunchbox. Keep the surrounding slots free to ensure that the rice mixes better with the side dishes and meat.
After that cook the meat to place it in the side chambers of your box. If you are using spam, then dip pieces of those in egg (whisked) and light-fry those. You may skip the frying part if you are half-frying your egg on top of the rice.
If you are adding kimchi to your Dosirak, then you will probably not require any soup or other dried veggies. Ensure that to maintain the flavor of your kimchi, you layer it with vegetable oil and onion. Add a layer of seaweed sheet to amplify the taste.
Some bento box variations to check out
Now that you have a basic idea of the Korean bento box and how it is prepared, let’s give you an idea of some of the most common bento set-ups for you to try out –
Variation 1 – Bulgogi beef Dosirak
For this, you will require the traditional steamed rice, and a set of banchan, that includes – pickled cucumber, broccoli, and mushrooms. To create the ideal taste, you will have to marinate the thin-sliced beef in a combo of spices, sesame oil, and soy sauce.
Variation 2 – Bibimbap style Dosirak
Mix the traditional Korean rice with bulgogi beef (cooked), a choice of vegetables (most opt for – zucchini, spinach, and carrots), and place a half-fried egg on top of this concoction. Enjoy with a dash of sesame oil!
Variation 3 – Traditional kimchi-fried rice Dosirak
This is more on the traditional lines but with a spicy twist. Take the kimchi fried rice, that you have prepared earlier (mostly leftover from the last meal) and add radish, seasoned spinach, and stir-fried meat to it. Give it the usual spin in sesame oil and pack it up hot in your box.
Variation 4 – Japchae noodle Dosirak
If you are tired of having rice for lunch and want to shift to something different, include noodles in your Dosirak. Take a handsome amount of glass noodles and boil them in warm water. After that, stir-fry it with mushrooms, carrots, and bell peppers primarily (you can add your choice of veggies to this). For the banchan, you may opt for pickled radish, spinach, and sprouts.
If you have any alternative recipes for bento boxes with us, you can share them in the comments section.
Quite like Korean beauty, K-pop and K-drama, the Korean bento box has garnered immense popularity globally. Just like the wholesome regimen of the above-mentioned categories, this lunchbox also provides the perfect balance of nutrients – from easy-to-digest carbs to heavy proteins. Given that it is no longer a mere homemade format, and that it is available at almost every convenience store on the sidewalk, on a busy day, you could ditch the burgers and go for the bento! If you liked this article, and want more exciting tidbits like this, keep following this website!
1. How to make and store the Korean bento box?
The ideal way to make this lunchbox is stated above. Once you have followed this process, then separately place each of the components in different chambers and put it in an airtight container. You can store a bento box in the fridge for 3-4 days.
2. Is there a specific way to eat Dosirak?
Though there is no such specific format for eating a bento box, yet, the dishes are best enjoyed with a metal spoon, after you have shaken the contents of this box and the Korean strawberry milk for company. You may also add a bottle of soju to this lunchbox meal.
3. Are Bibimbap and Dosirak same?
Though it might feel the same, since apparently the gimbap variety of Korean bento box and Bibimbap looks the same, however, there is a major difference in terms of their ingredients. The Dosirak is cooked with a handful of essential elements, and packed into segmented boxes – when it comes to Bibimbap, it is rice blended with gochujang-based sauce with a host of vegetables in it.
Monalisa Mukherjee is a content writer and copywriter with close to 3 years of experience. She has written for websites like Biography Talk, Contour Cafe, He And She Fitness and Fiction Pad. She is currently associated with a noted Digital Marketing Agency and specialises in writing articles for travel, entertainment, cooking, celeb, lifestyle, tech, health, fashion and film news.