NHK, the national broadcaster here in Japan, has a new late-night weekly series called Salameshi (サラメシ）. Sala is for “salaryman” (or woman), a wage-earner in other words, and “meshi” is an informal/slightly rude way to call a meal. (If you’re trying to be polite in Japanese, use “gohan” or even more politely, “oshokuji” to mean ‘meal’ instead.) The “sala” part is a pun too, since “sala” or “sara” can also mean plate. (Plate lunch, get it?) Anyway, the show is a light hearted look at working lunches, from all walks of life.
The variety of lunches eaten by people from all works of life is fascinating. There’s the marine biologist who is invited by a local fisherman to eat a sort of miso stew of anything caught that day that’s not sellable; the cruise ship captain who limits himself to tiny portions at lunch since he’s obligated to eat full course meals with his passengers every evening; the elementary school principal who has to eat the same school lunch the kids eat, and who has trouble maintaining his weight because it’s so high calorie; the race car driver who eats sumo-wrestler sized portions but still has trouble maintaining his weight. So far, the most boring lunch is the one a MetLife blimp pilot eats (a sandwich) - though we did learn how he uses a PET bottle to relieve himself. :o They have bits of interesting lunch related trivia, such as the fact that the standard price for a fullsized takeout bento in Nagoya is only 350 yen (about US $4.30). Every week, there’s also a nostalgic look at a lunch that was enjoyed by a famous person, now deceased, such as the unajuu (grilled and steamed eel on a bed of rice) enjoyed frequently by Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda Motor Corp. They even give a shoutout to bloggers. On last week’s show they featured Mihoko Nishi, the blogger behind Ginza Lunchblog , who’s been diligently chronicling the bargain lunches she’s sought out in this expensive area of Tokyo for 6 years - surely one of the longest running lunch blogs? And there’s lots more. Who knew that working lunches could be so interesting? The Food Network should definitely borrow this idea.
Bentos feature prominently on the series of course, and almost every week there’s at least one bento, usually sought out and photographed by Ryo Abe, co-author (with his wife; she’s the writer, he’s the photographer) of Obentou no Jikan (Bento Time) . To someone who has never seen a ‘real’ bento (one that a regular person brings to work or school) and thinks all bentos look as picture perfect as the ones you see on most bento blogs. If that’s you, it may be comforting to see the bentos been eaten by regular Japanese adults. They’re usually pretty basic; rice, some kind of fish or meat, some vegetable, often a piece of tamagoyaki (rolled omelette). Some bentos are even simpler - a Tupperware container with rice, another container with leftover curry, popped into the microwave.
The reasons for making lunch are varied to, and surprisingly perhaps the men have more interesting reasons than the women. (Women just seem to make bentos as a matter of course.) One salaryman in his 30s recently got re-married - to his former wife. They’d split up partly due to the fact that he never helped out around the house with any chores. This time around he’s making up for that - and part of that is making both their bentos every morning. Every day, he waits for a text message from her, letting him know if the bento was good or not. Or there’s the middle aged engineer who is a tanshin funin - a salaryman living alone away from his family due to a work assignment - who makes precisely the same bento every day. One tier of his two-tier bento is always filled with salad. The other tier is half filled with rice; the other half always has a piece of grilled fish, a piece of tamagoyaki, and some pickles or other vegetable. Everything is arranged with neatness and precision.
If you’re in Japan, Salameshi is on NHK Sogo (or NHK 1) every Saturday evening at 11:30PM. I do hope that the international Japanese TV broadcasting services like TV Japan in the U.S. and JSTV in Europe will pick this show up - it’s a fascinating look at everyday working Japanese people, via their lunches. Here is the official Salameshi web site  (Japanese only).