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Topic: For Bento-enthusiasts and newbies! (kind of long + now with pics!)  (Read 12034 times)
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ProngsBaby
« on: July 10, 2008 11:13:11 AM »

erm. Hello! Okay so I realized that there is growing interest in bento-making here is the non-asian dominated world. Since 1)I know a lot about bentos and 2)you could search forever on google for bento info and not get all the info you are looking for, I decided to put together everything I know here on craftster! So, here we go!

Bento (pronounced Ben-like the name and Toe-like the appendage) is a Japanese form of lunch making/packaging. It originates from the japanese ideal that everything you encounter in your day should be beautiful. It is called bento by women and obento by men, I believe its a gender-language thing, so you might find it referred to as obento.

there are many different forms of bento. You will see mainly regular/adult bento and kara-bento also called chara-bento. Regular-adult bento are very neat looking and nicely arranged with some shaping, but not too many frills. Kara or chara-bento are character bentos. These are those extremely cute looking bentos with animal, cartoon, etc. themes. These very simple all the way to extremely intnse works of art. Kara bentos are mainly aimed at children.

regular bento


kara bento


A lot of working-class japanese citizens in japan take the train to work. At each stop there are obento stores/shops. Each stop has its own unique bento and some are very popular!

Bento conatiners range from the disposable kind that store-bought bentos come in to cute character bento boxes to beautifully ornate laquer boxes. They can be any mixture of small, multi-tiered, wide, or single-layered.

a multi-tiered bento box showing its contents


Bentos should be prepared the morning of the day they are to be eaten. I believe this is due to the fact that the main part of any bento is the rice and Japanese rice can't go in the refrigerator. (it hardens. ew.)

Bentos are often composed of left-overs, but freshly prepared food is also a part of bento.

The bento container should be filled all the way. There should be no empty spots and you should not be able to see the bottom or too much of the sides of the container. This is for aesthetic reasons.

You might hear of bentos being balanced or not balanced. This refers to the ratios of the  food. Ideally a bento should contain 4 parts rice (I believe pasta might also suffice), 2 parts veggies, 1 part meat, and 1 part dessert/fruit. (Meat and fruit are highly expensive in Japan, thus the small proportions. I often switch it to 2 parts meat, 1 part veggies, 1 part dessert/fruit.) I have also heard of the 4:3:2:1 ration of rice to meat/fish to fruit or veggies to pickled vegetables.

Bentos are not just food to fill your belly, but also food for your soul. A mother, wife, or girlfriend (and/or men too ^.^) carefully prepares each bento to express her love.  Its a beautiful thing!

**By the way: these are all pretty much just guidelines. Rules are made to be broken. A lot of the established ideals of bento-making are based around japanese culture and their economy. (honey-dew melons cost around $100 USD ...each! amazing!) So by all means do what you will and have fun! This was in no way meant as a critique or a lecture!**

oh and btw non of these lunches were made by me....I need more practice.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2008 06:27:02 AM by ProngsBaby » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2008 11:19:04 AM »

Thank you for the intro! I'm starting to get into bento too. I have a lot of supplies but can't seem to get started in actually making any bentos.
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ProngsBaby
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2008 11:24:15 AM »

Oh I forgot to mention the tools fo the trade!

there are a lot of sites that sell bento boxes and related tools. jbox.com is one. Ebay is awesome for these kinds of things. If you are lucky enough, some asian markets sell these items.

so there are of course bento boxes. There are also onigiri shapers. Traditionally onigiri (rice ball) is shaped by hand, but its sooooo hot! your hands are red by the end of it. Onigiri shapers are great and come in a variety of shapes, not just triangles!

wiener cutters (giggle)- wiener cutters are kind of what hey sound like. You put the hotdog inside and they cut them in such a way so that after they've been cooked they look like different shapes. Some common hotdog shapes are, crabs, octotpi, flowers, prawns,etc. (many people just cut these designs by hand with a small knife)

mini soy sauce bottles- they're great! Just enough soy sauce for one meal and they fit right in the box with the food!

cocktail spike/toothpicks- cute plastic ones oftenhave characters on them.

egg shapers- I believe someone else has already posted a pick of the end result. They are soooo nifty. You peel a boiled egg while its still hot, plop it in the mold and let it cool inside. When you take it from the mold it has assumed the shape of the mold! I just bought two!

egg shapers and wiener cutters


dividers- these come in so many different shapes and styles! many people use muffin-tin cups as a more affordable options. dividers are just meant to keep the flavors of the different food from mixing.

There are tons of other tools that bento-ists use..but I'm too lazy to type them all out. If
« Last Edit: July 11, 2008 06:26:00 AM by ProngsBaby » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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ProngsBaby
« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2008 11:25:23 AM »

Thank you for the intro! I'm starting to get into bento too. I have a lot of supplies but can't seem to get started in actually making any bentos.
I know me too! it seems so overwhelming... but if you just start out simple and work your way towards the really ornate stuff its not so bad!
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musicalbessie
« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2008 11:34:25 AM »

I just got my first bento a couple of weeks ago but haven't used it until this week. I absolutely love it! I haven't taken any Asian food in it yet since I've had salmon cakes, mac & cheese, and lasagna leftovers. I need to find some dividers though for when I experiment with my bento. I know silicone cupcake liners work well, but I was hoping to find something more straight? I'd like my bento to look like a divider plate sometimes.

Thanks for all the info too!
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ProngsBaby
« Reply #5 on: July 10, 2008 12:03:12 PM »

I just got my first bento a couple of weeks ago but haven't used it until this week. I absolutely love it! I haven't taken any Asian food in it yet since I've had salmon cakes, mac & cheese, and lasagna leftovers. I need to find some dividers though for when I experiment with my bento. I know silicone cupcake liners work well, but I was hoping to find something more straight? I'd like my bento to look like a divider plate sometimes.

Thanks for all the info too!

I know what you mean. Have you tried fake grass, like the kind that sometimes comes in your take-out sushi containers? Its great and flexible. Its also washable and/or disposable. You can buy it in packages at some asian markets.

Also I've taken my cheap silicone cups and cut out the bottoms and then notched the bottom edge so that it stands kinf level instead of forming a circle. That way they make straight dividers or curved dividers.
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« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2008 08:29:22 PM »

pictures?HuhHuh this was interesting!  Thanks
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mom2blu
« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2008 05:50:43 AM »

it sounds awesome, but also sounds like it could get expensive. I would love to do this, but I don't think I have that kinda of time. How long does it take to assemble a bento lunch?
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« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2008 05:56:59 AM »

I have tons of books(book junkie...yes) on making healthy box lunches for my boys..so next school year thats what they are bringing..

with the rising cost of school lunches and 2 kids in school I cant imagine doing another year..

they have the containers..might as well use them..I think what we are missing is having an awesome thermos..

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ProngsBaby
« Reply #9 on: July 11, 2008 06:34:57 AM »

it sounds awesome, but also sounds like it could get expensive. I would love to do this, but I don't think I have that kinda of time. How long does it take to assemble a bento lunch?
It actually not that expensive. bento boxes can be very inexpensive, usually less than $20. bento accessories usually run aroun $1-$5 each. If ypu collect them slowly then its really not that bad.

bento assembling time really depends. Some elements can be prepared ahead of time like cutting the veggies, cooking the main dish, etc. other things like the rice should be prepared the morning of. (I have an awesome rice cooker that I can program so that my rice finishes cooking at a certain time. So I can prepare it the night before and it will finish cooking just as I am starting to put together the lunches) Probably at the beginning it takes  a lot of time. I usually do bentos on the weekends, because I can be a bit lazier....

really if you have the leftovers it takes no time at all. I made a lunch for my mom in just about half an hour. I made fried rice, put in in the bento box, sliced some chicken from the night before and arranged it over the rice, sliced a kiwi and put it in a small side dish cup I had already fitted into the bento box. simple and fast!
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