how-to

Quick tip: Using tofu in bento-friendly recipes

Tofu is a great protein, especially useful for vegan or vegetarian, but also useful for lightening up meat based recipes. I use tofu in a number of recipes here, but I thought it would be useful to address how to deal with tofu when you’re using it for bento recipes.

Types of tofu

If you go to an Asian/Chinese or Japanese store, you might be confused by the variety of tofus on sale. continue reading...

Summer bento safety

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I’ve noticed that several kyaraben/charaben (cute bento) oriented Japanese bento blogs are scaling back on the intricacy of their bentos recently. It gets very warm and humid in the summer throughout most of Japan, so food safety is a big issue. Complicated charaben require a lot of handling of the food, which should be avoided when the weather is warm.

I have already put together a comprehensive list of bento safety tips, but here are some top summer bento safety tips. continue reading...

Quick tip: Cubed bento rice

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‘Cut’ your packed rice into cubes for function and looks! continue reading...

Making onigiri with a plastic bag

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Reader Samantha sent in a great way to make onigiri that cleverly uses the corner of a plastic bag, to make these perfectly triangular or cone-shaped rice balls. continue reading...

Animal sausage magnets!

Just how ubiquitous are decoratively cut wiener sausages in Japan? Well recently, Suntory, the Japanese distributor for Pepsi, included some plastic magnets made to look like wieners (specifically ones from Nippon Ham Co.) made into cute animal shapes as giveaways with 1.5 liter bottles of Pepsi NEX (aka Pepsi Zero).

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The animal sausage magnets are 2.3 cm - 3.9 cm in size (around 1 to 1.5 inches), and they come in 8 shapes: elephant, lion, octopus (with a headband), sheep, bird, seal, hippo and penguin. Each one came with instructions for making the same animal out of a real wiener.

I’m not sure if these were aimed at kids or at their kawaii-things mothers, but judging from the blog reactions in Japan they seem to have been a big hit with the mothers in any case. This blog entry has photos of all 8 figures and how they come packaged. (The Silvania bunnies are there to demonstrate the goods.)

The figures are already showing up on Yahoo! Japan Auctions and such. continue reading...

Losing more than 50 lbs as a couple with bento, and dealing with an omnivore's needs

Reader Suzi no miko left this great comment:

I am a vegetarian and my husband is not (slight issue…). When I make Bento for the two of us I end up making a bunch of different things because he wants meat in his Bento almost every day. He’s also on the South Beach Diet thing and won’t eat rice, carrots, corn, potatoes, soba, fruit, etc… This page had been very helpful to us (more specifically me) and thanks to our bento boxes making portion control easy and the tips on packing from you we have collectively lost about 50 pounds.

That is really great - congratulations to Suzu no miko and her husband! Bentos are a great weight loss aid, as I’ve written before, because portion control is much easier than with large or more open containers.

One point that Suzu no miko brought up is something I have to deal with too: how to make a vegetarian-based bento that an omnivore, or a bigger eater, would feel satisfied with. I often show the bigger-portion version of each complete bento, but here are some general tips. continue reading...

Kyaraben (charaben) how-to links for all skill levels

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Whenever I post about kyaraban/charaben (cute bentos) from Japan, there are often comments bemoaning the lack of how-tos on those kyaraben sites. There are how tos out there, but in many cases you need to read Japanese to follow them. But here are some links to how-tos with a lot of photos that you could follow along even without understanding the accompanying Japanese text. continue reading...

Natural ways to make your bento colorful

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If you love character bentos (kyaraben), you may wonder how the creators manage to color some of the elements. Do they use food dyes? Not necessarily. Bentobako.net, called Ranchi-ryuu Obentoubako Community (Lunch-style Bento Community) is an attractive and very useful bento resource site in Japanese. One of the most interesting sections that they have recently set up is the Bento Coloring Dictionary, a reader-contributed section with lots of ideas for making various bento elements colorful without resorting solely to food dyes. Here are some of the ideas listed there, arranged by color, with my notes in parentheses.

I’ve added the formulas for deriving 3 (or 4) different colors from one ingredient - red cabbage juice! continue reading...