Around the World in a Lunchbox

The student packed lunch. Those words immediately conjure up an image of a limp, cling-wrapped ham sandwich that was made in a hurry before leaving the house – maybe with an apple that’s going soft for afters. Doesn’t sound too appealing, right? But this stigma towards packed lunches is unfair and unfounded; and it’s not too time consuming or costly to rustle up a tasty and inventive lunch box – as packed lunches from around the world demonstrate.

Lunchbox bento Mela Eckenfels

The Japanese know this and have it nailed. Cue bento boxes: lunch boxes come art exhibitions. Bento boxes traditionally contain foods like rice, fish or meat, and vegetables, and are elaborately arranged to look like anime characters, animals or places. Bento boxes are ideal for students as the ingredients are relatively cheap! Try your hand at making some sticky rice balls, arrange some of your favourite veggies and decoratively add some protein and you have an exciting and healthy lunch (as well as something to make your library-neighbours jealous).



Food art is all well and good but perhaps you aren’t so into playing with your food, or maybe you need something more substantial before your workout. Argentinian empanadas are the answer! Think of a Cornish pasty, but, well… less Cornish. Although they vary regionally, empanadas usually have a heavier, bread-like dough and are traditionally made with either chicken or beef as a filling – although if you’re feeling adventurous then other additions include boiled egg, olives or raisins. Spiced with cumin and paprika, empanadas certainly get your taste buds tingling. Baking a batch of these would be cheaper than buying a campus meal deal every day, and make a perfectly good grab-n-go dinner too.




If the talk of spice has got you salivating, tiffins are the way forward. These stackable boxes used in India separate out each dish, for example with one section containing chapatis or rotis; another containing curry; and another containing rice or dahl. This is the perfect way to use last night’s leftovers or that tub of takeaway that you just couldn’t finish. However, if you don’t have a traditional tiffin box you may end up with multiple tupperwares in your rucksack (in Mumbai ‘dabbawallahs’ deliver the tiffins to schools and offices so you avoid this problem!)

Lunchbox bahn mi Young sok yun

Maybe this all seems too frivolous and you genuinely just enjoy a good, traditional sandwich. There are still ways to travel the world with two slices of bread! The Spanish bocadillo de tortilla de patata is basically a variation on an egg sandwich, with a thick egg and potato omelette as a filling. Venture to Vietnam with a banh mi: a French-style baguette with cured meats, pate, pickles, carrot, chilli and mayonnaise. Or even dare to be Dutch and have a broodje haring; a bread roll filled with raw herring and gherkin.


So there you have it: packed lunches are not just the slightly soggy roll squished at the bottom of your bag, and they don’t deserve their boring reputation. The world has some delicious and exciting lunches on offer and now you know how to give them a go – even if you still end up in the SU shop come one o’clock.

 Emily Howard

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Images: Jim Merithew (Wired), Mela Eckenfels, Paola Sucato, Young Sok Yun (all via Flickr)


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