The Difference: Bento vs. Teishoku vs. Gozen vs. Kaiseki
As you may know, Bento (弁当), Teishoku (定食), Gozen (御膳), and Kaiseki (会席) are all Japanese words associated with a meal, lunch, or dinner.
I think Bento is arguably the best-recognized overseas of the four. But do you know how it differs from the other three?
Bento vs. Teishoku vs. Gozen vs. Kaiseki
For those unfamiliar with Japanese food culture, I must say first that Bento can mean two different things.
One is what everyone knows, a homemade boxed meal for family members to eat outside, consisting of different portions of small side dishes, typically accompanying a bed of white rice.
But what should be compared here with Teishoku, Gozen, and Kaiseki is the other meaning, which refers to takeout boxed meals sold by supermarkets, convenience stores, or shops called Bentoya (弁当屋).
In Japan, you can see various Bentoya chains in towns, including Hokka Hokka Tei (ほっかほっか亭), Hotto Motto (ほっともっと), and Origin Bento (オリジン弁当), and those shops offer numerous varieties of boxed meals at reasonable prices.
Nonetheless, they have some menus in common, such as Nori Bento (のり弁当), Makunouchi Bento (幕の内弁当), and Shogayaki Bento (生姜焼き弁当), which are standard Bento menus widely loved by us Japanese for a long time.
While Bento refers to takeout boxed meals sold by shops and stores, Teishoku, Gozen, and Kaiseki are meals served in Japanese restaurants.
Teishoku is a combo of rice, the main dish (such as ramen, Tonkatsu, Yakizakana grilled fish, or Yakiniku grilled meat), and several side dishes, including miso soup and tsukemono, that typically comes on a tray.
Served by diners called Teishokuya (定食屋) or Shokudo (食堂), Teishoku is generally casual and inexpensive compared to Gozen and Kaiseki. By the way, popular Japanese Teishokuya chains include Ootoya (大戸屋) and Yayoiken (やよい軒).
Zen or Gozen is similar to Teishoku, as Zen (膳) originally refers to a traditional Japanese four-legged tray for festive food.
Their compositions are almost the same. But compared to Teishoku, Gozen is generally luxurious and expensive, offered by higher-grade restaurants, with more dishes.
While Teishoku and Gozen are set-menu meals that come all at once a while after ordering, Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese meal comprising multiple courses served individually, usually requiring a reservation.
Kaiseki or Kaiseki Ryori is available at traditional Japanese restaurants called Ryotei (料亭) and is more formal and expensive than Gozen.