My personal biases about kyaraben (charaben)

In response to the picnic bento I posted yesterday, Zoé asked:

Really cute! Hey, I read on your blog that you aren’t keen in cute cooking…was it a joke ;)

Good question! I thought I'd qualify what I meant when I said that cute kyaraben (charaben) are not really my style.

First of all, I am in awe of those bentoistes who make the time and effort to create such amazing visual masterpieces. I've featured many of them here in past posts, to pay homage to them.

What I do have a bit of problem with is the tendency of quite a few Japanese kyaraben makers to go a bit overboard with the visuals. In many cases, it seems that taste and nutritional balance take a backseat to the way things look. If the bento were just made for exhibition purposes that wouldn't be an issue, but if they are real bento that are meant to be eaten, usually by kindergarten age kids, that doesn't quite seem right.

A lot of kyaraben rely too much on the infamous wiener sausage. Wieners and franks, especially if they have certain chemicals and dyes in them, have that wonderful pink color, which can perk up a bento quite easily. Using them sparingly isn't a big issue - I use them sometimes myself (ones without any dyes in them though). Using them all the time, is a bit of a problem. The same goes for other processed meats that are astonishingly pink or red, or using food dyes to color foods, or bright yellow plastic processed cheese. I guess it's a matter of how often such things are used. I sometimes makes cupcakes with colored icing, but that's maybe once or twice a year.

For me, food is first and foremost about taste; nutrition comes a close second, and how it looks after that. I know that a lot of readers are very interested in kyaraben information from Japan, and I'll continue to report on the subject, as well as how-tos and tutorials that I can muster. But, I guess you should know my biases; this is why I like to dig out information like natural ways to add color to bento.

For the bentos I make myself, my aim is for them to be attractive and colorful without over-relying on dyes and unnaturally colorful foods. The bright red of tomatoes, the natural pink of shrimp, the sunny yellow of real egg, the bright green of snap peas - my sometimes inadequate technique aside, I can't think of anything prettier.

(Check out Zoé's blog for some examples of healthy but cute kyaraben/charaben.)