Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Bento Making

Hey everyone! I'm here to write a quick how to on bento making today. If you don't know what a bento is, just think of it as a Japanese lunch box. Now for my disclosure. I've only ever made one bento in my life. My friend Chelsea helped me make it. I'll be relying on her for a lot of my information. On to bento making.

So. The first thing you should know about making bento is that you will need a bento box. If they are not available in your area you can make do with some appropriately sized Tupperware. Bento boxes can come in various shapes, but the standard shape is usually rectangular. There are two boxes in a bento box set. One is generally deeper than the other. These are generally held together by an elastic band. Bento boxes are available in varying size intended for kids, women, men, etc. So, depending on how much you eat will determine what kind of size you'll want. Here are some available bento boxes on to give you an idea of the kinds available. 

My bento box.
I'm going to go ahead and dive into what I know about bento making with some assistance. However, I'd like to recommend this book if you want to learn more than I know.

A bento should be portioned in a 3-2-1 ration. 3-2-1 of what you ask? The 3, or half of the bento, should be made up of rice. This will generally fit into the box that is made to go on the bottom. In Chelsea's words, this is done so that when you open the box all the cute stuff is on top.

The 2 portion is made to be comprised of vegetables. You can have just about any combination of vegetables in your bento, but you'll need to keep in mind the space it has to fit into. Also know that anything soupy will spill, so liquids can not go in your box. Sorry, no vegetable soups here.

The last portion, the smallest one, should be some kind of meat. Chelsea says be sure to remember "fish counts as meat by the way people." So that's the general breakdown of a bento.

So here's my step by step on how we made my bento. There is no right way to do this, but there are definitely wrong ways to do it. For example, if you don't add rice to your bento, it's not really a bento and is just more of a lunch box. That being said, if you can't stand rice, feel free to do what you see fit and add some kind of starch as a replacement. Also, it is perfectly acceptable to make your bento the night before you want to eat it.

So, step one was assembling the ingredients.

My assembled bento ingredients.

I was in a hurry and running low on funds when I made this bento (the night before heading to Mt. Fuji), so I cheated and bought an container of microwaveable rice. After that were cherry tomatoes, cucumber and a carrot. Lastly was a bit of a mix up on my part. I thought I'd bought a kind of fried meat and instead I accidentally bought korroke, a kind of fried potato patty. generally this last bit should be some kind of meat.

Next I made my rice and put it in the bottom box. It's important to pack it in. Due to my instant rice package I didn't have quite enough to finish off the bottom box. While it's still hot I used a little mold on the rice that you push down and leaves a pattern.

Now this next part is important. Before you close your box you'll want your rice to be at a room temperature. This is to avoid causing condensation which will leave your rice soggy and gross.  Generally your rice should fill this bottom box, but as you can see, I was a bit lacking.

Following this I sliced my korokke in half and put it in the remaining space next to the rice. As you can see it was originally a bit too tall so I had to trim it down before being able to call the bottom box finished and set it aside so the rice could cool.

We then set to work on the top box. This box is all about presentation. It should be colorful and when you open it up it should remind you of candy or jewels or be otherwise awesome. That being said, the size and shape of the box will present their own challenges as you'll want to maximize the space you have while still having good presentation. As you'll see, I'm not yet very good at this and the tomatoes were especially challenging.

One way of helping to make the top box presentable is the use dividers to separate your foods. As a general rule of thumb you don't want anything touching that will leak it's flavor into something else. To this end, she used carrots and made little flowers which acted as dividers. Most bento boxes will come with a pre-made divider, but in cases where it doesn't quite cut it you can improvise. Things like lettuce work well as dividers. You can also buy special dividers and cups designed especially for that purpose.

As you can see we're using the carrots for dividers. We've also added the remaining korokke since my plan was to eat all this on Fuji and I knew I'd be super hungry. So we had the cucumbers left. Chelsea, knows adorable ways of cutting cucumbers that looked like this.

At this point, while we were still thinking about presentation, I also wanted to fit as much as possible in for Fuji. Thus the random tomato up in the top left corner.

We used some leftover cucumber and carrot to fill some spaces and then added carrot slices to the top of the rice.

And there you have it. That was my bento.

Some other rules to keep in mind are below.
  • You shouldn't double anything in the box. This means if one part is made with soy sauce you shouldn't put anything else in that's made with soy sauce to avoid doubling flavors.
  • Make vegetables colorful. The more colorful the better. 
  • If adding a dessert to the bento, keep it at the 1 portion size. 

Here are a couple of other websites which can help you on your bento making way!
Lunch in a Box
My Meal Box
Little Japan Mama

Good luck with your bento creations and feel to show them off to us!!


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