The lunch box loses its war against the Happy MealI’m from the lunch-box generation. I’m used to waking up in the morning and seeing my mother cooling rice in tiny tin lunch boxes for me and my brother before she made our breakfast.
Lunch-bag food was more than gastronomic pleasure. You were what you ate. It was a social lubricant, even a status symbol, perhaps because the meals weren’t as uniform as the sandwich-and-apple-juice combo in Western brownbag lunches.
When I was growing up, some food items were certainly more precious than others.
For example, kids would kill for canned tuna. If a girl who wore Nike shoes to school brought pancakes made of fried canned tuna in a plastic lunch box with Kitty prints, you could tell she was the school’s little fashion queen.
Perhaps the most popular thing on the menu at the time was boiled beans braised in soy sauce and sugar. Its popularity was perhaps due to the fact that mothers could conveniently pour in the leftover beans from their kids’ breakfast plates if they ran out of creative lunch ideas.
My brother is five years older than me, and the lunch food of his generation, sausage slices stir-fried in ketchup, was one of the most popular menus that go with steamed rice. In my father’s generation, it was eggs.
These lunch-box food trends were a mere luxury for some kids in the school, now and then. There were always one or two students in the class who brought salted cabbages with rice six days a week. Then there were kids who were too poor to bring anything to school. They would often wonder around the school at lunch-time and quietly return for afternoon classes.
Good thing that school lunches made it mandatory for all students to eat their meals now.
Talking of lunch bag trends, there was a wealthy kid from Japan in fourth grade who brought bananas to school for dessert.
Mind you, bananas were precious things when I was going to school. If your parents had got you bananas for your lunch bag, it could be a special sign ― like you were the daughter of a high-ranking official at the secret intellgence agency.
It came to me as a mere shock when Korea first lifted a ban on import fruits and heaps of bananas were sold on pick-up trucks by merchants at a giveaway price.
For years, I insisted on eating bananas over steamed rice.
Now, you put a banana, sausage and canned tuna in one bag for your kid. The problem is nobody likes any of the three. No matter what kids have for school lunches nowadays, all they really want are Big Macs and french fries.
How to Cook
Boiled bean treats
Ingredients: 1 cup of black beans, 1/2 cup of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 cup of water, 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds, little bit of sesame oil.
1. Wash the beans throughly in running water.
2. In a pot of water, boil the beans for 10 to 15 minutes on medium heat.
3. When the beans soften, throw the water out. Pour in soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar.
4. Let the sauce simmer, and serve with sesame seeds on top.
by Park Soo-mee