In Japanese convenience stores, you often see a lot of affordable prepackaged meals in a box-like format. These are known as bento boxes, and common selections often feature a mixture of foods including hamburger steak with rice, Japanese curry with rice and katsu, and yakisoba meals. If you’re in the mood to recreate this in the comfort of your own kitchen, here are some tips and suggestions to get you started:
Find a container that suits your needs
The first step involves finding a box to carry your food. Traditionally speaking, bento boxes were hand-carved from wood and polished to a lacquer-like finish. Today, you have a range of options including wood, aluminum, and plastic. There are also different shapes you can choose from, including rectangular, square, circular, or oval boxes. When you’re choosing a box, consider the durability of the material, the ability to hold your meal, and whether it comes with a convenient carrying strap or case if you intend to travel. Some even have two layers and storage options for some miso soup!
Don’t forget the accessories and dividers
If your container doesn’t come with dividers, consider investing in some storage compartments or a cupcake liner to keep everything nice and neat. To make your box look attractive, it’s a good idea to use vegetables as gap fillers such as broccoli, cherry tomatoes, parsley leaves, or shredded cabbage. By filling in the gaps, you prevent items from moving around and spilling during transit. In addition, purchasing a pair of chopsticks and buying or making a kinchaku (Japanese drawstring bag) will provide you with an authentic bento experience.
Plan your balanced meal
For the healthiest combination of ingredients, consider following a rough guideline of 40 percent vegetables, 30 percent whole grains, 20 percent protein, and 10 percent fruit in your bento. As everyone knows, having fluffy Japanese rice is one of the key components of a great bento meal. To simplify the cooking process, choose from a selection of rice cookers that are highly reviewed, such as Tiger and Zojirushi, as they can help you get a majority of your work done. For some flavor, chicken tonkatsu and grilled cod are some of the most popular protein options that complement your grain of choice. Some vegetables and sliced fruit add the finishing touches to your meal.
Experiment with fun art styles
If you’re feeling creative, consider practicing charaben (or kyaraben), which refers to character bento. It involves artistically arranging your food into specific anime characters, animals, or plants. Popular inspirations include Studio Ghibli, Disney, or Sanrio characters. To make things easier, buying molds and stencil plates can help you get the shapes you’re looking for. Interestingly, this practice is even banned in some Japanese schools because of the fierce competition between students. While it can be time-consuming, adding a special touch to your bento meal can brighten up your day.
As you can see, making a bento box doesn’t necessarily have to be costly and difficult. Working with the storage containers you already have at home, and customizing your meal to fit your preference just takes a little bit of trial and error. With some luck, you’ll soon be able to create a variety of bento box meals that remind you of your favorite supermarket!
Exclusively written for tokyocreative.com By Kyle Bondoc