Bento is a Japanese single-portion meal that is eaten on the go (like take-out). Traditionally, a bento contains a small portion of fish or meat served with rice or noodles that's accompanied by cooked/pickled/raw vegetables. Bento served in restaurants or for dinner are often presented in large lacquered boxes or trays, and convenience stores (in Japan anyway) often sell bento in disposable containers. Japanese moms pack bento lunches for their husbands and children – it is almost a contest in some circles to see who can pack the cutest lunch for their children. Check out the About Bento section for more info.
No, I’m not Japanese (although I am
Asian – does that count? haha), and my mom never made me bento lunches. Heck,
none of my friends ever had bento lunches either (although I am pretty sure that
we all would have been intensely jealous of anyone who had them).
I like to make my bento lunches in the morning, but I’ve also made dishes for the next day’s bento the night before (leftovers are a great time saver!). It usually takes me at least half an hour to make my and my husband’s bento (his take less time as they’re not as cutesy), sometimes less if I have pre-cut veggies on hand or if I am using a lot of pre-cooked/pre-packaged foods. It often takes me a lot longer if the bento is very elaborate or if I planned poorly. Packing bento definitely requires more time than a sandwich and chips, but I don’t like sandwiches that much, and I love how a yummy bento brightens my (and my hubby's) day at work.
No. I generally make my bento in the
morning and do not refrigerate once I get to work. I just eat my bento at room
temperature sometime between noon and 4pm. If I am using leftovers, I heat them
up before packing them.
Indeed they are. Most people are surprised by how small a bento box is in real life. My pictures can make them look huge, but they are really quite compact. However, you can fit a lot of filling food in them (about 3-3/4 cups in a typical bento box). My big, strapping American hubs (*giggle*) sometimes requires more food than small bento boxes can hold, but I found some larger bento boxes meant for bigger appetites for him. I also like to pack us both ‘snack bento’ to eat later in the day (e.g., fruit, onigiri, pastries or cookies, etc.).
I buy my bento-ware from a variety of places, mostly online. Check out the Bento Boxes and Accessories section to see my collection (also includes links to where I bought items and prices). I’ve also listed some great online sources for bento goodies in the Links and Resources section.
When I have time to make the drive, I
go to H Mart or the Super H Mart, which is a Korean grocery store chain (also
called Hanahreum). They have all sorts of Asian food, as well as a limited
selection of bento and sushi supplies (in their kitchenware section). The Super
H is a veritable smorgasboard of Asian food and goodies. I spent two hours
wandering around with my mouth agape the first time I went. I’ve also found
that the produce is fresher and cheaper there than in American markets (e.g.,
kiwis were 6 for $1 at H Mart and 2 for $1 at Harris Teeter one week).
I buy pre-cooked and pre-packaged
foods from regular and Asian groceries. They are great for filling out a bento
and only need a few minutes of cooking/reheating before being popped into a
bento box. I use everything from canned goods to frozen dumplings and tofu
puffs to ‘noodles-in-a-box’ preparations that are sold just about everywhere.
Check the appetizer section of your frozen food aisle – I’ve seen in every
grocery store an assortment of dumplings, eggrolls, wontons, and other finger
foods that are perfect for cute lunches.
I use Tamaki Gold short-grain rice. It was recommended to me as ‘the best’ by the owner of a tiny little Japanese
store where I did my first run for Japanese cooking supplies. I love it and
haven’t had a reason to switch to any other brand. Calrose and Nishiki rice also are widely
used and recommended.
I sometimes mold my onigiri by
hand, but I usually use a mold to save time. I
have a small triangular mold that I use for mixed-rice onigiri and
onigiri rolled in different toppings. I use a larger triangular mold for
onigiri stuffed with different fillings. Check out the Onigiri tutorial.
I like to make things look pretty, so I use color and texture as guides (plus, the more colorful a bento is, the more likely it is nutritious, unless you’re filling your bento box with MnMs and the like). If my box doesn’t have dividers, I will create spaces to fit the food using sushi grass dividers, cupcake liners, or dividers made from food (e.g., sliced-cucumber ‘walls’, lettuce leaf ‘cups’). A colorful bento also looks better in photos! ;)
Definitely! Be sure to check out the Links and Resources section for inspirational bento blogs, cooking blogs, cookbooks, etc. The Recipes section features many of the foods that I use in my bento, and the Prepared Foods List lists different types of prepared and pre-cooked foods that can be whipped up in minutes to add to your lunch. And, of course, there is always Google . . .
I started cooking gluten-free in July 2006 in order to confirm my hubs' recent diagnosis of celiac disease. He's suffered a myriad of symptoms ranging from chronic fatigue to peripheral neuropathy over the past five years and has lived in the dark as to their cause. It turns out that an allergy to gluten (found in wheat, oats, and barley) is the most likely culprit. For more information and resources about celiac disease, see the Gluten-Free section.
Feel free to link to this site – just let me know so that I can return the favor. Bento blogs, cooking blogs, and other resources are featured in the Links and Resources section.
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