Bento no. 69: A Day At The Farm: Riceless charaben


Bento contents:

  • 5 small Sweet Potato and Carrot Oyaki filled with ham and cheese, 250 cal
  • Sausage bunnies and cauliflower sheep using 2 cocktail franks, 70 calories
  • 1 Tbs. mayonnaise, 60 cal
  • Blanced broccoli, carrot butterflies and other vegetables, 30 cal

Total calories (approx): 410 (how calories are calculated)

Time needed: 15 minutes the night before; 20 minutes in the morning

Type: Quick, not-rice-based charaben

It's been a very long time since I've posted a complete bento! The truth is, all of my new-bento creative energy has been going into the recipes for that book, and for my personal consumption I've been falling back on old reliables like grilled salted salmon and kinpira - things I've already shown you how to make. But now it's time to rectify that situation. This is actually a bento I made for the book, but decided not to use. I was trying to come up with a cute bento (charaben) that a beginner could make and was not based on rice. This does fit the bill. It manages to be vegetable-filled and fairly low in calories too.

So let's look at the each component.

I've already given the Sweet Potato and Carrot Oyaki recipe. All I did was to sort of cut them out with a pig shaped cookie cutter after cooking. (The extra bits went into my mouth.) I know they are not the best looking pigs. For looks only, I might have cut them out of plain sweet potato slices or pink ham (oh, the irony) or something.


The bunnies are very simple to make. Cut a deep V into a frankfurter or wiener sausage - or in this case, cocktail franks. Boil the bunnies for a minute or two - this makes the 'ears' spread out and curl a bit. Boil the leftover bits too - the other rounded end will be used for the sheep, and any leftover bits are chopped up and mixed with the broccoli. When the bunny heads are cooked and cooled, poke in black sesame seeds for the eyes.


The cauliflower sheep consists of a well formed cauliflower floret, boiled, and a precooked end of a frankfurter or wiener sausage or cocktail frank. Attach the bit of sausage to the cauliflower, using two short pieces of uncooked thin spaghetti, pierced into the cauliflower and the cut end of the sausage. Press the sausage firmly into the cauliflower so the edges don't show. The spaghetti will soften and be edible by lunchtime. Poke in black sesame seeds for eyes.


All of these rest on a bed of cooked broccoli and cut up bits of carrot and sausage left over from the other components. And there is some mayonnaise in the red apple shaped cup, to put on the broccoli.

So there you have it. It is quite simple to make, yet ultimately still time consuming, as all charaben are really. I think I will stick to limiting myself to a one-point of cuteness in my bentos. Any of these elements can be used as a one-point cute feature in a bento, of course. Or go full out and make a farmer, a scarecrow, cows etc...for a party spread!

A bit about franks and wieners for decorative bento use

I have to say that prior to this year, I've never looked so closely at franks and wieners for the way they appear, rather than how they taste. As you probably know, wiener sausages are used a lot in Japanese charaben (cute bentos), cut into various shapes, the most famous of them being the octopus frank. Japanese food manufacturers make cute little franks and wieners specifically aimed at the moms who make charaben. However, depending on where you live, you may not have the same small, cute sausages at your disposal. (See: Lots of Japanese wiener sausage recipe links.)

I've been in the New York area for most of the past month, investigating the State Of The Sausage at regular supermarkets. Standard size franks (say, Ball Park to take an example) are way too fat and bulky to make a small, cute sausage character. Your best bet is probably to use those small cocktail franks. The brand I've had the most success with - purely for decorative purposes, though they taste fine too - is Boar's Head Beef Cocktail Franks. The ends come squished flat due to the vacuum packing, but they plump up once you boil or otherwise cook the sausage.

In Switzerland I use the end bits of Wienerli, which I you can also get in Germany, France, and of course, Austria. In French super markets they also have little kiddie franks, which are useful.

People often ask if veggie franks will work. You can certainly cut them decoratively, but they may not curl as much as meat franks do when they are boiled, so your octopus legs may hang straight rather than curling up perkily.

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