April bento product highlights

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This is something I plan to do regularly - a quick roundup of interesting and/or new bento products that are available from our wonderful sponsors - without whose support this site could not keep running - as well as other things in the bento-product world that have caught my eye. The April post got delayed because I was travelling, jetlagged and so on, but here it is!

Pocket sandwich makers

Pocket sandwiches are made by cutting out and sealing off the edges of sandwiches, so that you have little filled pockets. They are really popular in Japan - Yamazaki, the largest bread manufacturer, makes a line of pocket sandwiches that are 100 yen each that have become a big hit.

The most popular pocket sandwich maker is probably the Panda de Sando. Sando is Japanese for sandwich, and the Panda de Sando is a bit of a play on words. CasaBento has a a very cute set consisting of the Panda sandwich cutter itself and cute panda-shaped cutters or stamps, that can be used to decorate the sandwich. It even comes with a scoop for your sandwich filling of choice.

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If you’re looking for something more basic, From Japan With Love has the Fuwa Fuwa Sandwich Maker. “Fuwa fuwa” is an onomatopoeia that means soft and fluffy - which is what the bread should be to make pocket sandwiches.

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Tip: Use soft sandwich bread rather than rough, rustic bread. (Try getting hold of real Japanese sandwich bread, available at Japanese grocery stores and bakeries in some cities, for maximum authenticity! But good old Wonderbread works just as well.) Put your bread in the microwave for a few seconds to warm up and soften the bread, so that the edges seal together properly.

Bento boxes with built-in cooling elements

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The weather is gradually getting warmer, so you may be thinking about ways to keep your bento cool. I have always loved the Gel-Cool line of bento boxes, (see one in use here for example) which have a cooling element built right into the lid. It’s also a nice big box, especially if you use both tiers, since each tier/compartment holds 500ml - great for someone with a hearty appetite. J Flair Homestyles has the Gel-Cool box in 4 colors. They also have colorful melamine tiffin-style boxes, listed on the same page.

Kawaii!

Sofia at From Japan With Love has an eye for picking out the cutest bento supplies available, like this adorable Pom Pom Purin bento box and water bottle set.

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Sleek and modern

Bento&co, who sponsored the Spring 2010 Bento Contest, have really been ramping up their catalog lately, including of course installing an English version of their site, previously only available in French. The Bento Colors bento box is a case in point - three stacking tiers inside a sleek, modern box that is available in several gorgeous colors. I have the pink one, and it’s even more beautiful in person as it were than in photos.

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Inexpensive and practical

Last but not least, the always reliable J-List/JBox carries a wide variety of bento boxes, including some that are practical and quite inexpensive. Case in point - the Natural Lunch Time “tight sealed” box, which is only $3.50, is made in Japan, and comes in three spring-like pastel colors - pink, pale green and beige.

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The spring bento scene in Japan

A few days before I left Japan, I did a final round of LOFT, Tokyu Hands and so on to see what’s new in the bento box world. Here are a few photos (you’ll find more on flickr.) It was interesting to see that essentially, bento boxes are sold in the same way that fashion accessories are.

Some weird-cute animal shaped boxes, with built-in cooling elements in the lids, just like the Gel-Cool boxes (but from a different company).

Odd animal-shaped bento boxes

I saw a lot of Madeline-character goods, at high end stationery stores, in department stores and more. These are some Madeline bento boxes and onigiri boxes - adorable.

Madeline bento boxes

This Ojue box was featured prominently both at LOFT and Tokyu Hands.

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It’s a bento box designed by a world renowned industrial designer called Chiaki Murata, and is sold by a company that specializes in modern, minimalist designs, Metaphys. The product page on their site has a description and better pictures. This is a bento box turned art object, though I’d have to put one to use to see how practical it is. And it’s certainly not for kids. But imagine the sensation you may cause by pulling this out at your desk at work… (Note: Bento&co carries the Ojue box, as does CasaBento.)

My sister Mayumi, who has appeared on this site before, lives in Tokyo and is the mother of two very active kids aged 8 and 10. She came with me on a couple of my bento-research shopping trips, and one thing she said that makes a lot of sense to me is that the primary customer for cute and new bento products is teenagers and adults buying bento boxes for their own use, rather than mothers of small children. Kids can be rather hard on bento boxes, and small children quickly outgrow little bitty boxes, so moms tend to stick to practical, durable or inexpensive boxes. Teenagers on the other hand are quite fashion-conscious, and have more pocket money to spend. So the bento boxes at 100 yen shops tend to appeal to small children, or are simply practical, while the more pricey stores stock cool and colorful gear. Mayumi makes bentos a couple of times a week for her kids to take with them for after-school activities, and she was lamenting the fact that the cute little bento boxes she got for them when they were in kindergarten are now way too small for them, especially for her 10 year old son, who eats as much as an adult!

Another thing that struck me is how well all of the bento equipment sellers mentioned above are keeping up with bento-fashion trends in Japan. I tried to find bento stuff that wasn’t available outside of Japan yet, and found it rather hard to do so! I guess it’s a sign that the overseas market for bento equipment is maturing quite rapidly.

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

17 comments

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Re: April bento product highlights

Lovely Post! Quick Question:On the pocket sandwiches. What all do they use as filling? I'm guessing your typical ham sandwich wouldn't work that well. And how do you keep the filling from being squished out as you seal or do you just underfill the sandwiches?

Thanks!

Re: April bento product highlights

The filling can be just about anything, but it should not reach to the edges of the bread or they won't seal shut. Things like peanut butter, jam, egg salad, tuna salad, etc. work great. If you fill it with jam, seal and then lightly toast it (in a frying pan or a toaster oven) it almost becomes like a little pastry.

Re: April bento product highlights

Oh, the colorful bento temptation! My collection is getting out of hand, but I do like the plain boxes and their potential. I might make a tutorial on how to decoupage one of those so you get a stylish box at a very low price.

Re: April bento product highlights

Wonderful post! Thank you! I really enjoyed reading it. I received a pocket sandwich maker (The same Panda de Sando one) for my birthday, and it is simply adorable. It's also pretty fun to make the little sandwiches. :) After reading this post, I really want the sleek Bento Colors boxes, and the ones with cooling elements is perfect for the coming summer ... ahh they're all so cute I want them all! :)

Re: April bento product highlights

Hello, I'm a french bento addict, and I want to know where we can bye the 3-tier square bento (like a tiffin). I'm very interested by this box^^.

Re: April bento product highlights

Hi Figolu, you can buy it from J Flair Homestyles here.

Re: April bento product highlights

Nice post =) thank goodness the Bento&co is now in English! My French is so rusty!

Re: April bento product highlights

Those pocket sandwich makers remind me of this:
http://www.smuckers.com/products/category.aspx?groupId=3&categoryId=46

Re: April bento product highlights

I love all the products you have here! I like the ojue bento boxes and the boxes with the cooling gel inside! The 3-tier colored ones look wonderful, too. Next spring I'm going to Japan for the first time, and I want to pick up some stuff for bento boxes (and a few dvds/cds that might be cheaper there). I'm going to Akita, but my boyfriend's brother lives in Tokyo, and I'm sure we'll visit him. His wife's name is also Mayumi!

Re: April bento product highlights

For anybody living in the Netherlands reading this who's interested in the tiffin-style box: Hema sells them for approx. EUR 15.

I really like the Bento Colors box and the Ojue box - sleek and modern. Unfortunately I already have more boxes than I know what to do with as it is...

Re: April bento product highlights

Lovely collection. Especially the Ojue and the Bento Colors. Would love the latter as I always have to put my boxes sideways to go into my slim rucksack and sometimes things fall from one section into another (sometimes this is good, as some almonds ended up in my avocado and rice and umeboshi today and it went quite well! I think I will have to wait until Bento Colors is here though as we do get wacked by import tariffs and rather strange 'administration charges' if bringing from outside the EU. (UK)

Re: April bento product highlights

Oh, the colorful bento temptation! My collection is getting out of hand, but I do like the plain boxes and their potential. I might make a tutorial on how to decoupage one of those so you get a stylish box at a very low price.

Re: April bento product highlights

Thanks to the recent competition and 20% discount, I've ordered one of the Bento Colours boxes. :) Fingers crossed it gets here safely!

What to do with leftovers from carrot stars & no crust sando's?

I was wondering, in this post and in general, what do you do with the crust or star carrot leftovers since Japanese have always been good on using leftovers in creative ways to conserve waste pollution?

Re: What to do with leftovers from carrot stars & no crust ...

Well, I'm afraid to say that "Japanese have always been good on using leftovers in creative ways to conserve waste pollution" is a bit of an exaggeration or myth these days (sort of along the lines of "French women don't get fat and are all chic" or "all Americans are rich and own two cars" or something), but you can see one way of using up the leftover bits of vegetable cut-outs in this bento. A past generation of frugal Japanese housewives used to dry the crusts of bread and turn them into breadcrumbs, or fry them up, coat with with sugar and turn them into snacks and so on.

Re: What to do with leftovers from carrot stars & no crust ...

When I was a kid, my mom would usually just throw leftovers into an omelette. I have recently started doing this, especially since I'm into bento-making and bento-making accumulates awkwardly shaped food.

Leftover omelette is particularly funny in my family because if you pronounce omelette in a different way, it'll come out as "umulet" which is Filipino for "repeated". Food pun! ^_^

Something i love

I love little egg molds for my bentos hard boiled eggs >.<. Just something that makes lunch a littl bit more cute! XD my couisin and i did them (hes 5) and he loved the fact that he could make is harboiled egg look like a bunny

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