May 23, 2011

Bento 101

My first introduction to bento was through manga & anime. So what is a bento? This is what I've learned about bento so far. Bento is a single portion take-out or home-packed meal in Japanese dish. A traditional bento usually consist of rice, fish or meat, pickled or cooked vegetables. Although bento are readily available in many places throughout Japan, it is still common for Japanese to spend time and energy to carefully prepare a bento for their kids, spouse, or themselves. 

For Japanese moms, bento are carefully constructed with love and offers a connection to home and family while the child is away at school. Because the meals are handmade, they usually take enormous amount of preparation time and planning to create a balanced meal that is appetizing and appealing to the eyes. Read here for more. 

Bento can also be arranged in a style called kyaraben or 'character bento'. Kyaraben is typically decorated to look like a popular characters, such as anime or disney characters. This style of bento are very popular among moms with little kids. Originally, a decorated bento was intended to interest children in their food and to encourage a wider range of eating habits, but now it has evolved to the point where national contests are held. Well, it is the Japanese we're talking about, the one who created the TV Champion!

A good bento box should contain energy source (rice/bread/pasta) adjusted to individual needs, body builder (meat/poultry/fish/soy), body tuner (vegetables/sea vegetables/mushroom), filler (fruit/dessert/condiment). Making your bento box look full and attractive can be accomplished  with a few simple additions. Use whatever fresh, colorful fruits and veggie to fill the gaps and add a pop color to the box. Including colorful food from every hue in the rainbow in a bento box, that will ensure a healthy balance of nutrients as well as a pretty presentation. Just like a Japanese saying, is very important to "Eat with your eyes", that's why colors and presentation are important in preparing a bento box.

How to make a bento box? First of all, to make your task so much easier, you should own some basic bento-making-stuff. There are endless list of bento supplies, but of course there are a few key items and many inexpensive alternatives. It's all about creativity.

Must have item number 1 is a bento box. Any container can be use as a bento box. A small container can hold an unexpectedly large amount of food because it should be tightly packed to avoid mixing. You can choose from various shapes, materials, and sizes.

Rice ball or onigiri molds comes in mani shapes and sizes, not only the traditional triangle shape. Traditional onigiri can easily shape by hand, but the onigiri molds are very helpful for complicated shapes. Cutters can be use to cut veggie, processed meats, cheese, or egg sheets. You can use cutters that are specially design for bento making, or use the regular cookie cutters.

Silicon or plastic cups can be use to segregate each food items. Silicon cups can be adjusted to the space available in the box. Both cups comes in many shapes and colors. Baran or dividers also use to keep food and flavors seperated. The most comon baran are the green sushi grass, but nowadays you can also buy colorful printed baran or silicon baran. Food picks also comes in hundreds different designs. This is a cute accessory that is both practical and colorful. Little container can be use to hold ketchup or mayonnaise while small plastic bottles hold various sauces and dressing.

And then, there stuff that are nice to have. Like nori punchers. You can cut your nori with small scissor, but nori punchers will surely be a big help in creativity and in time. They comes in many designs, you can also use regular craft punchers also. Browsing for bento supply is so much fun, you'll find many things that only the Japanese would ever considered to create.

Don't forget the books. There are some bento book published in english, but most of them are in Japanese. But no worries, as soon as you understand the essentials, you basically only use the books for ideas, not the actual recipes. Click here for great bento books reviews. You can also browse and visit the many bento blogs for ideas and tips. These are my favorite bento veterans, some of their creations are ridiculously amazing. Oh, and some of them are Indonesian. ;)

In Jakarta, you can buy your bento stuff here: Any Japanese Supermarket, Daiso, Food Hall, Carrefour, Metro Dept. Store, etc. And these are some online shop where I usually buy my bento stuff when I can't find the things I need in stores: Little Bento HouseDomi Bento ShopBento E-ShopRariru Shop.

Of course I'm not an expert of bento making, so nothing in this post that originally came from me. I'm just compiling information from various sources. Happy bento-ing everyone! ;)

pics taken from here.


angki said...

wow lengkap sekali. thanks for sharing :) am thinking of making bento too for the kid. since next year she'll be going to a different school which don't provide meal for snack-time. so mommy will be busy preparing.. di pagi buta!! since her future school starts at 7!! oh!

Puan Dinar said...

Yuk bikin bento :) Ganbatte mommy!


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