From the People's Daily App.
This is Story in the Story.
As workers across the country return to their offices, lunchtime tastes have changed as home-cooked meals are the flavor of the month.
Statistics from e-commerce platform Suning show that its sales of electrical bento boxes increased by a factor of 20 between February and March 2020, compared with the same period last year.
The bento boxes are also more economical. Lunch at a restaurant would usually cost around 40-50 yuan, but with bento boxes, office workers can normally save 1,000 yuan a month.
The boxes can heat the food when needed, thus saving people from having to queue up to use the office microwave when they want to eat.
However, as China's economy has developed, on-site canteens, more disposable income and a greater choice of restaurants and delivery services have become the norm.
Today’s Story in the Story looks at how office workers are turning to bento boxes for their lunchtime meals as they offer a healthier and more affordable option than eating at restaurants.
(Photo: China Daily)
Since returning to work, Zhang Yuanqing from Shanghai has taken a homemade lunch with her to the office.
Carried in a delicate bento box, she takes a pretty photo of it every day to post on her social media as a record of daily life, something which brings her a sense of accomplishment.
Although people can, for the most part, once again dine at restaurants and order food delivery like they did before the pandemic cut a swathe through daily life, some people, like 28-year-old Zhang, choose to make their own lunch-a practice which started as a safety measure, but has now become a habit.
As many people were forced to prepare their own food during self-isolation at home, they spent time brushing up their cooking skills by finding recipes and following demonstration videos online.
From the 1960s to the '80s, it was not uncommon for Chinese people to carry an aluminum lunch box with a homemade meal to work or school. All the boxes would be heated up together in a large food steamer before the lunch break.
"Since the pandemic began, I have had more leisure time to enjoy life and become more serious about dining. Enjoying a healthy diet has become the motivation to bring my own lunch," Zhang said.
As she works in the tourism industry, which has been heavily affected by the pandemic, Zhang's workload has dropped.
She said a beautiful bento box gives her a cheerful state of mind when she dines. It's easier for beginners to start by setting goals-for example, she plans to bring her own lunch at least 100 times this year and learn a new recipe every week.
(Photo: China Daily)
Before the pandemic, Zhang Lulu, an office worker from Beijing, either frequented her company's canteen or simply ordered takeaway.
The canteen reopened recently with strict hygienic rules, but she has brought her own food for more than two weeks.
Staff members make an online reservation for the next day's meals and choose the dishes they want and pick a time slot in which to dine.
As part of the new protocols, they are required to sit on the same row of a long table, separated by recently installed glass partitions, and are encouraged not to talk with each other during meals.
"The pandemic has forced me to change some areas of my lifestyle in a more positive and healthier way," Zhang Lulu said.
She believes preparing her bento box has made her more self-disciplined. "It's never too late to make a change," she said.
"I have had less desire to spend money, so I buy fewer clothes-the fast fashion industry results in extensive water consumption and pollution," she explains. "Ordering fewer takeaway meals also reduces waste."
Zuo Lingyao, 27, who works in the finance industry in Shanghai, is also a food blogger that posts her daily bento recipes online.
She tries to use ingredients in a clever way to garnish her bento box with a photogenic character-for example, creating a fried egg with a big smile using black sesame as eyes and a small slice of red pepper as a mouth.
"You should not turn it into a mundane task. I will rest sometimes if I am very busy or tired," Zuo suggested.
"I have an anticipation at lunch before I open the box, even though I know what's inside,” she said.
(Produced by Nancy Yan Xu, Lance Crayon, Brian Lowe and Da Hang. Music by bensound.com. Text from China Daily.)