Bento boxes of the week: Stainless steel
After a brief hiatus, Bento Item of the Week is back! This week the spotlight is on bento containers made of stainless steel.
There was a discussion on Just Bento recently about getting rid of the plastic taste or smell of bento boxes. Most bento boxes nowadays are indeed made of some form of plastic. But perhaps you want to avoid the use of plastic, for aesthetic or environmental reasons. Wood is the traditional material, but wooden bento boxes do need some special care to keep them in good condition. Aluminum is another option, but you might be wary of putting some acidic food in aluminum bento boxes (though the kind of alumunum used for Japanese bento boxes is claimed to be non-reactive.)
Enter stainless steel. It's the material that's used for tiffin containers. It's easy to keep clean, sturdy and non-reactive. It is a bit heavier than plastic or aluminum but not too much. And if it's well made, stainless steel implements are very durable.
You can get tiffin containers fairly easily - they're often listed on eBay, and Amazon.com carries them. I got mine from a local Indian grocery/kitchenware store. However, they are usually too big for a single-size bento. I don't use mine for bentos, but it's great for long car trips and picnics. The smallest looking tiffin-like container I could find online is this To-Go Ware two-tier container on Amazon.com. It might be ok for a salad bento, but for a Japanese style tightly packed bento it would be much too big I think. It looks very cute though!
The main drawback of stainless steel is that it's not microwaveable, but better quality containers are supposed to be durable enough to heat up by placing on a stovetop. I've never tried this myself, but one of the people featured in Watashi Tachi no Obento (Our Obento) heats up her bento lunch every day like this.
There is a company in Japan that is well known for making very high quality stainless steel items, Kobo Aizawa （工房アイザワ）, a company that's been in business since 1922. (Kobo or kohboh means workshop or studio.) They make great stainless steel bento boxes, as pictured at top, which are the perfect size for Japanese style bento. Some come with clip-on lids, others with the usual bento box band. They are not cheap (prices range from 1800 yen for a small single-tier box to nearly 5000 yen for a two-tier box), but should last for a long time. I love the sleek look of them too. Here is their lunchbox lineup.
Update: Bento&co now carries several of the Aizawa Kobo stainless steel bento boxes.
I've put together a page on the aStore with the capacity in milliliters of each box. Buying things from Amazon Japan using a shipping service is a snap, so if you are serious about getting away from plastic, you might want to give one a try.
(If you are interested in buying any of these featured Japanese bento boxes or accessories and you don't have a relative or friend in Japan to help you out, try the overseas shipping services listed on this page. Note this is not an endorsement of any one of these services, but they do get positive reviews from Just Bento/Just Hungry readers.)