Photo/IllutrationA look-alike lunch box for Indonesian Lhaksmi Dewayani’s son who goes to a nursery school includes "kimpira gobo" sauteed burdock root and carrot, butter sauteed "hanpen" fish cake made of “surimi” fish paste and thin wheat “somen” noodles (Takefumi Horinouchi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

SHIZUOKA--Lhaksmi Dewayani was filled with anxiety on the way to attend an explanatory meeting at an elementary school here in February last year.

The 35-year-old mother had to tell the teachers something important about her daughter, who was to become a first-year student at the school from that spring.

As Muslims hailing from Indonesia, there are certain foods and ingredients that her children are not allowed to eat due to religious reasons.

Muslims are strictly prohibited from eating pork or consuming alcohol under Islamic law, and only permitted to consume meats that have been slaughtered in line with Islamic teachings.

Dewayani was worried that if her daughter was to eat a different lunch than the rest of the children at the school, it may lead to her being bullied or discriminated against.

“My daughter cannot eat foods containing pork and alcohol,” Dewayani told the school’s assistant principal.

“How do you manage the lunch box at the nursery school?” the vice principal asked the mother.

“I make a menu just like the lunch to be served at the nursery school,” Dewayani replied.

“Well, let’s do the same here,” said the assistant principal.

To prevent possible food poisoning, the school promised her they would keep the lunch box in a refrigerator at the school.

Dewayani wakes up at 5 a.m. After finishing her daily prayer--Muslims need to pray five times a day--the mother started making "bento" lunch boxes for her daughter and 4-year-old son who goes to a nursery school.

She glanced toward two menus from her son’s nursery school and daughter’s elementary school, which are stuck on her refrigerator.

One day’s menu contains seven dishes including a hamburger with grated "daikon" radish on top, miso soup and a portion of marinated vegetables with nori seaweed called “isoae.”

The mother ordered a Muslim-friendly hamburger directly from a halal-certified company that produces processed food products in Kagoshima Prefecture.

She chopped carrots, brown beech mushrooms and deep-fried tofu (abura-age) and put them into a pot, then mixed in alcohol-free miso paste.

With a sprinkle of “aonori” green laver powder as a finishing touch, the isoae was ready.

An hour later, two types of lunch boxes looking just like those provided at each school were made.

On a visitors’ day at the elementary school, the mother of a boy sitting next to Dewayani’s daughter said to her, “My son always said your daughter’s lunch box looked yummy.”

Dewayani’s daughter also told her mother how her classmates talked about her lunch, saying, “My classmates often told me that they envied my lunch box you have made.”

However, the mother still feels a tinge of unease about how her children will feel about their lunch boxes being different to other children’s in the future as they reach an impressionable age.

In January, the winter school holidays were over. Dewayani sometimes makes the same menu for her son and daughter’s lunch boxes due to being too exhausted to make two different ones after working every day in her part-time job.

“Sorry, your lunch doesn’t look the same as your friend’s,” she said as she handed the lunch box to her son.

“That’s OK,” he replied with a smile.