Korean lunch boxes (doshirak)🍱 are making a comeback thanks to nostalgia and TV shows like Squid Game.
Just the sight of one brings back so many memories for me.
I’ll share some cultural info and tips you might find useful when packing a nice Korean bento box.
Let’s dig in!
When do Koreans pack a lunch box?
In the ’60s-’90s, Koreans brought their own lunch boxes to school, until they started providing meals (급식) in 1997.
When I was a student in the 1990s to 2000s, school meals were optional, so I had the privilege of experiencing Korean lunch box culture.
Students usually formed a group of 4 to share banchan and made lunchtime like a buffet. The popular items were ham, sausage, mini pork cutlet, fried mandoo (dumplings), jangjorim (braised beef) and gyeran mari (Korean rolled omelet).
Korean company workers started the trend of bringing your own lunch box in the early ’90s to save money and time.
Those days are over, but Koreans still enjoy doshirak culture when:
- couples want to be romantic by packing a lunch box for their boyfriend/girlfriend (these are very cute like the one in the cover photo above)
- students go on a school picnic (moms make gimbap, yubu chobap, or sandwiches)
- high school students take Suneung (exam halls aren’t open until the test is over, almost like quarantine, so test takers bring their own lunch boxes packed by their parents)
- men participate in reserve force training as a part of military duty (I’ve heard from my brother that these aren’t great)
- people want to watch their weight (popular dieting food is tofu, boiled eggs, konjac, sweet potato, Almond Breeze (almond milk brand), etc.)
Nostalgic Old School Lunch Boxes and My Experience
In the past, Korean students had to bring a backpack, a tote bag containing slippers, and a lunch bag to school.
High school students brought two for lunch and dinner.
Back then (around the ’70s), they had a heater in each classroom to keep their doshirak warm.
You can still try Nostalgic Old School Lunch Boxes (추억의 도시락) at a pub that contain steamed rice, stir-fried anchovies, kimchi, sausage and egg.
You can eat everything separately or shake it to make fun and easy bibimbap in a box!
My school had a central heating/AC system on the ceiling, so I didn’t get to have a heated doshirak experience with scorched rice at the bottom.
What I did enjoy was bibimbap in a large bowl. My friends and I sometimes brought bibimbap ingredients and made a huge bowl at school.
And it was AWESOME!
During breaks, we all ran towards the school snack bar to buy a bunch of chips, cookies and soft drinks! Ahh, I miss my metabolism when I used to gorge myself on snacks and not gain weight.
Occasionally, we also escaped school (like climbed over a wall or sneaked out) to eat tteokbokki in a nearby market during lunch/dinner time.
What to include in Korean bento box?
Growing up, my school lunch box had a few containers:
- one vacuum stainless-steel thermos for steamed rice
- another one for soup
- two plastic containers with dividers for banchan
- a thermos bottle for bori cha/water
- a plastic case containing reusable spoon and chopsticks
I had the same doshirak set up when I took Suneung as well.
To go on a picnic for a date, Koreans make them super cute, and lunch boxes normally include:
- yubu chobap
These are packed in Tupperware or picnicware, not stainless-steel thermos (this feels too much like a school lunch box).
💡 Tips for Packing Korean Lunch Boxes!
- Let steamed rice and hot dishes cool a little before packing as they may get soggy or spoiled due to moisture.
- Pack salad or ssam in a separate bag to keep them fresh.
- Place a paper towel underneath anything fried or jeon (mini-Korean pancakes) to soak up oil.
- Put banchan and fruit in separate containers to prevent them from getting mixed up, which ruins everything!
- Do the dishes as soon as possible as they may stain or smell.
Where to buy Korean doshirak?
Bon Dosirak: It’s a bit pricier than the other franchises, but Bon Dosirak tastes better and healthier almost like homemade. I order this when I don’t feel like cooking in Korea.
Hansot Dosirak: As the largest, most affordable chain in Korea, Hansot Dosirak is a college student’s best friend. I used to have their Chicken Mayo once a week in uni.
Convenience Store Dosirak: I’ve actually never tried it at a convenience store. I think it would be better to go to Gimbap Cheonguk.
💡 Be Careful!
Watch out in summer when the risk of food poisoning is high. It has nothing to do with the food. But, since you’ll carry your lunch box for a certain period of time, the food may go bad.
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Did we miss anything?
Let us know your thoughts or questions about Korean lunch boxes!
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