[Update:] Sadly, the Idea bento box reviewed here has gone out of production. A good substitute is the Shikiri Bento , which is another single-tier multi-compartment box.
I’m often asked questions along the lines of, “What’s a good bento box to get started with?” A generic answer would be “whatever appeals to you, is the right size for your needs, and is within your budget.” (See the links at the bottom of this article for more to help you select a bento box.) But when I saw this box, I thought this might just fulfil the brief as a great first bento box.
The logo on top says “Ideal”, so I’m calling it the Ideal box. (Bento&Co calls it the Shikiri bento  - shikiri means ‘divider’ in Japanese, and that’s a very appropriate name for it too, as you’ll see.
One thing that appeals to me immediately is its design. It’s quite sleek and neutral, suitable for a wide variety of tastes. (The maker claims it is inspired by 1980s design and is therefore ‘retro’. I don’t see it, but maybe you do.) It comes in black as well as white.
When you open the lid, which has a leakproof gasket all around and snap-on fasteners - great things for a bento box for newbies to have, since it eliminates most chances of leakage - you get to a clear plastic layer, which holds the included chopsticks. I love it when bento boxes include chopsticks. Have you ever brought along a bento somewhere and realized you’d forgotten to pack any utensils? It’s not nice.
Under the clear lid, we get to the really interesting part of the box. Most bento boxes come with one divider, or at the most one divider plus a little inner cup. This one comes with two multi-compartment dividers plus a simple I-shaped divider.
You can use the dividers and compartments in all kinds of ways - or just leave them out. The great thing is, each of the inner elements fits snugly enough in the box not to shift around, even when used singly. You could even leave out the dividers altogether if you wanted. But having so many compartments to fill may just inspire you to diversify your lunchtime menu with different foods.
The Ideal bento box is not cheap, but it’s very sturdily built and should last for a long time with proper care - and it could just be the only box you’ll ever need. It’s microwave-safe with the lid removed.
(Tip: if you tend to favor foods that can stain, e.g. curry or tomato sauce, go for the black model.) (Actually it seems the dividers are white even in the black box so…that doesn’t quite work ^_^; For what it’s worth though I have the white model, and so far it hasn’t stained at all, even after packing some tomato-sauce pasta in it.) Available at Bento&Co for US $32 / €23 .
And here’s the box in action - also a sneak preview of the next Guy Does Bento !