Cooking Cute: a bento site
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anko
Sweet red bean paste; comes in a can.  I use it to make sweets, like daifuku.
curry mix
Handy and popular, these mixes make making delicious Japanese-style curry easy.  I like S&B Golden Curry Medium Hot.
furikake
Adds flavor and color to plain rice; also great for rolling onigiri in.  My favorite flavor is yasai fumi.
green tea
It tastes good and it's good for you!  I like to use it to make ochazuke. Mmmm...
instant dashi (or hon dashi)
You can be authentic and make your own, but the powdered form is convenient and pretty good.  It should be shelved near the rice and soup flavorings. Vegetarians usually use a mushroom-based dashi.
kombu (or konbu)
Sold dried in the seaweed section.  Use it to make dashi, or stew/simmer it as a side dish or onigiri filling.
mirin (or aji-mirin)
Sweet cooking wine made from sake.  Look in the aisle with cooking vinegars, etc.
miso
This soybean paste is used everywhere in Japanese cooking.  I use it most often for soups and marinades (and salad dressing!).  Miso varies from chocolate-brown to pale yellow – the darker the miso, the more intense the flavor (and the higher the sodium content).  Usually sold in tubs.
mochiko powder
Sold in boxes.  I use this powder to make daifuku and other treats (like Hawaiian butter mochi). 
nori (or laver)
Located in the seaweed section, these thin sheets are used to wrap sushi, onigiri, and other foods.  Make life easier on yourself and buy them pre-toasted.  I get the large square sheets and cut them later if needed.  
panko
Light and airy breadcrumbs.  Use these to make deliciously crispy and moist tonkatsu or chicken katsu.  Substitute it for breadcrumbs in your usual recipes for a new twist.
rice
Buy short-grain rice (also known as sushi rice) in order to have properly sticky rice for sushi and onigiri. I love Tamaki Gold, but there are many good brands out there (Nishiki, Calrose, etc.).  I buy the big sacks at Asian markets because it is cheaper (and probably fresher).
rice vinegar
Used in many Japanese dishes.  I use Marukan, but there are tons of others.
sesame oil
Mainly used for seasoning; comes in regular and toasted.  I've used toasted sesame oil in recipes calling for plain, and it comes out fine.  Toasted sesame oil also is known as dark sesame oil.
sesame seeds
Get both the white and the black.  I use them in side dishes, for sushi, and as garnish and seasoning.
somen
Fine noodles made of wheat flour.  These can be used in stir-fries, soups, and eaten alone with dipping sauce.
soy sauce
I use reduced-sodium soy sauce.  I haven't found a particular brand that I like more than others yet.
Sriracha chile sauce
Comes in squeeze bottles.  It's nice for adding a little kick when you want some spiciness.
sushi seasoning
Instead of making a special rice vinegar-based mixture to mix into rice for making sushi, busy chefs can just use pre-made sushi seasoning.  Located in the same aisle as rice vinegar and mirin, etc.  It also doubles as a nice dressing for salads (especially watercress salads).
tamari Very much like soy sauce, but usually brewed without wheat. I think it has more flavor than regular soy sauce.
tuna
Yes, canned tuna.  I must always have some on hand so that I can make onigiri whenever I want to.  Tuna/mayo/wasabi is my favorite filling of the moment.
udon
You can buy these dried in packages.  Be sure to rinse them ultra well after cooking or they will stick together like crazy.
wakame
This is a type of seaweed used in soups and salads; located by the nori and kombu.
wasabi
Usually green and sold premixed or powdered (real wasabi is white, but hard to come by).

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sake
There are different grades of sake.  Buy one that is meant for cooking.  And buy one that is meant for drinking.  ;)
stir-fry sauces
These come in really handy on busy mornings.  Just chop up some veggies, throw them into the pan with some sauce, and voila! you have a swanky side dish for your bento.  I like Soy Vay sauces and oyster sauce-based sauces.
takuan
Pickled radish.  These little guys are bright yellow and have a sweet & sour crunchy punch.  Use them as an accent or garnish.  And they taste really lovely in a bowl of ochazuke.
teriyaki sauce
You must always have some of this on hand.  I use it for spam musubi, as a marinade, and a stir-fry sauce.
tofu
There are lots of different kinds out there.  When I buy fresh tofu, I usually buy firm, as that is what I grew up with.  The tofu can be added to soups or deep-fried and added to stir-fries.  There are also flavored tofu products available from companies like Nasoya.
umeboshi
Japanese pickled plum - definitely an acquired taste as they are super sour.  But once you get used to it, you're hooked.  Umeboshi are the traditional filling for onigiri and are often laid in the center of a bed of rice to resemble the Japanese flag.

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appetizer fare Mini-meatballs, mini-eggrolls, chicken wings, dumplings, mini-crab cakes, etc.  Fun stuff to brighten a bento.
edamame Easy to make, good for you, and a lovely bright green color.
gyoza Japanese potstickers with different types of fillings.  I like to make my own, but don't often have the time to do it.
fish cake There are many different types.  It's nice to have some on hand to throw into stir-fries and soups.
fried tofu I usually have abura-age and usuage in my freezer.  Before using, rinse the tofu with boiling water to remove some of the excess oil. I like to make my own to freeze as well.
imitation crab sticks For sushi rolls!
udon packets These packets have cooked noodles and a powdered soup base in airtight packages.  I find them in the 'cool' aisle of my Asian market and store them in my freezer.  
unagi I find grilled and seasoned eel in the freezer case of my Asian market.  I break it into portions when I get home and store it in my freezer.  I use unagi for sushi and as an ochazuke topping.
yakisoba packets I buy Maruchan's packets of cooked noodles and powdered sauce base.  Super-quick and yummy.

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