This Is the Perfect Road Trip Meal -- Jun 06
When it comes to eating on the road, there are a few schools of thought. Some pack pretzels, fruit, and lunch meats into a cooler with Tetris-like precision. Others prefer rolling the dice on roadside stands and gas station burritos.

When avid traveler and chef Marc Matsumoto is on the move, his go-to meals are bentos—Japanese-style packed lunches that often include combinations of rice, meat or tofu, and vegetables. “If my trip were to involve a lot of physical activity like hiking,” says Matsumoto, co-author of Ultimate Bento: Healthy, Delicious, and Affordable: 85 Mix-and-Match Bento Box Recipes and host of Bento Expo on NHK World, “I’d pack a bento with a lot of protein and carbs.”

In Japan, the dominant form of transportation is by train, and the modern form of bento comes from ekiben, which literally means train station bento. “These were bentos sold by vendors at train stations around Japan for travelers looking for a meal to eat on their trip,” Matsumoto says. “Bento” refers to the lunch box and the meal, and there are whole online communities dedicated to the art of making them.

In addition to being portable, bentos are eaten at room temperature and typically not refrigerated, making them perfect for your next road trip or camping adventure. “A typical Japanese bento box is about the size of an American pack of butter,” Matsumoto says. “It may seem small, but the idea is to keep it compact so that it’s easy to take with you when you’re on the go.” Matsumoto estimates that an average bento box could hold at least a pound of food, which equates to around 600 to 1,000 calories, making them hearty enough to sustain you on a rigorous hike. A couple of Matsumoto’s favorite meats to include are loco moco (burger patty with a mushroom gravy) and chicken nanban (fried chicken coated with egg batter). You can purchase the bento box container from any Asian grocery store or from Amazon.