Bento

My oldest son loves Japanese culture. At one point he was completely obsessed, watching animé, playing games and teaching himself to speak Japanese. He is 15 but in the future he would like to live in Japan for a while either studying or teaching English. As I love cooking and especially trying out new recipes and ways of using ingredients I was more than happy to experiment with Japanese cooking and ingredients, and of course buying Japanese cookery books 😉

Sushi has become a regular thing I eat now.The first time I had it I really wasn’t sure. I liked it but at the same time didn’t. I persevered and tried a few types and found I prefer the

Hosomaki Sushi Roll

Hosomaki Sushi Roll
Source – Jörn Menning [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

thinner type known as hosomaki. Sometimes I make it myself but have noticed recently that more and more shops are stocking little lunch packs which are perfect.

As I am vegetarian and also wheat, egg and milk intolerant they are also an easy way to find something to eat when out. The packages will say they contain wheat but this is in the soy sauce which is always in a small plastic container and so can easily be avoided.
One great thing about making your own is that you can include the fillings of your choice, traditional or otherwise. One we tried once was frankfurter sausages, ketchup and mustard. You can also colour or flavour the rice and add sauces such as wasabi (hot! you really do only need a little bit) or hummus.

Experimenting with sushi and other Japanese foods lead to me discovering bento lunches. Bento lunches are basically a Japanese packed lunch, only ten times better than the contents contents often found in the English version. They mainly contain rice, meats, fish and vegetables in various forms including fresh or as pickles. They are served in a bento lunch box and it is even possible to buy bento lunch boxes that can heat your food at lunch time. But what really caught my eye was the bentos known as “kyara-ben” and “oekakiben”. These are cute and fun lunches arranged with themes, often Japanese cartoons or games but also more simply such as cars, animals or flowers. They were originally devised as a way to get picky children to eat a wider range of foods but this has grown into almost an art and the creatively that goes into them is amazing!

Cute panda kyara-ben bento

Cute panda kyara-ben bento. The pandas are made using rice and decorated with nori (seaweed) sheets.
Source – luckysundae [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Cute polar bear bento

Another cute lunch made using rice and vegtables. The hard boiled egg in the background has been decorated with nori with a paw print.
Source – luckysundae [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Almost too cute to eat, right? 😀 So, of course I had to have a go at making my own and set off reading and researching, I’d been making shaped sandwiches for years but this was way cooler. I don’t make a bento lunch every day but generally do include elements into my youngest sons pack lunch every day, maybe a shaped sandwich or some sausage or other food cut into shapes with mini cookie cutters. I also pack his lunch differently, thinking more about how it will look when he opens the lid. My son has autism and we went through a really bad time of him literally only eating 3 or 4 foods. Granted they were mainly healthy like grapes and peas but not giving him much variety or nutritional balance. He is much better now but can still be picky so anything that makes foods attractive and fun is good by me. Plus I get to experiment with foods, cookery and creativity in one!

Here are some examples of my kyara-ben creations.

Fruit bento

Home made apple fruit leather hearts with banana and apple slices

 

Frankfurter  sausages shaped like octopus'

Frankfurter sausages cut to look like octopus – just snip the legs with scissors and then cook.

 

Dinosaur shaped sandwiches

Home made dairy free choc/nut spread dinosaur sandwiches (brown bread) with carrot letters

 

Egg and rice panda bento

Egg and rice panda with cheese slice and nori decorations

 

Princess bento with veg

Shepherds pie princess bento with cheese hair and salad

 

Shaped sausages

Smoked sausage cut with mini cutters, chicken chunks and brown bread and butter.

 

 

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