Today, the bento box is a trendy lunch style. Growing up, my mom would pack me a bento box to take to elementary school, complete with onigiri (Japanese rice balls) and a few side dishes to go with it; sometimes my lunch even included warm miso soup. Sounds amazing, right?
Well, I remember the reactions I got from my classmates when I’d open my bento at lunch. Classmates would hone in on the onigiri, wrapped in nori (sweet-salty Japanese toasted seaweed), and react with disgust and ridicule. I would go home and tell my mom that I just wanted a ham sandwich, just like everyone else.
I’m reminded of this memory as I listen to an episode of the BBC’s Food Programme on seaweed. Many cultures around the world have incorporated sea vegetables into their diets over hundreds of years. Growing up, my experiences told me that I was the odd one out, eating various seaweed products (nori, kombu, hijiki)…but now, I feel like North America and parts of western society are the odd ones out by not eating any seaweed.
Interestingly, seaweed use is becoming trendy, recognized for its vast flavours (including umami), mineral and trace element content, potential for supporting sustainability in energy (for humans and beyond), and – I’m assuming – because it still has that exotic pull. I’m noticing friends who really enjoy eating Korean or Japanese nori as a snack, eating or even rolling their own sushi, adding dulse or kombu to soup. Seaweed can be a condiment, a base, a main dish.
The future is bright for seaweed!