Bento is an art form, using food, and it originates in Japan. Bento means lunch in Japanese. It is very common for the children to take a bento lunch to school with them often consisting of a pressed rice (Onigiri) or some sushi, some kind of egg omelette roll (tamagoyaki) and plenty of brightly coloured fresh fruit and vegetables arranged and cut carefully into flowers / shapes / animal forms for decoration. Decorations can also be made from cheese, processed meats, sausages and a kind of pressed fish called Kamabuko which is similar to Surimi crabsticks.
Some bentos are called Charaben or Kyaraben and this means Character bentos. This is where the food is not only arranged very nicely and packaged into a small box, often a double layered box to keep the fruits or desserts separate from the main dish, but also the bento will be personified, literally, with the Onigiri being decorated with facial features and sometimes arms and legs. There are many different personalities that can be shown through careful consideration of which kinds of facial expressions to use. The facial features are almost always made out of dried/toasted seaweed sheets (Nori) which is very dark and sticks well to the other foods especially the sticky rice.
Use of silicon muffin cases is also becoming more popular, as these are great for using as separators/dividers (Baran) as they can be squashed and moulded as you pack as much nutrition into the box as possible.
Strict bento-ists will tell you that the bento must follow a rule of thumb such as The 4-3-2-1 rule: 4 parts rice, 3 parts protein, 2 parts vegetable, and 1 part fruit or dessert but there is some confusion as to whether these are the correct proportions as other schools of thought mention a 1 -2 -3 rule or a 1-2 -4 rule, so it seems that whatever you fancy can go in there as long as it is healthy and looks good! (I won’t tell the Bento police don’t worry! LOL) Some bento boxes are now being sold with dividers already in, to help with the portioning and dividing of the foods. Another “rule” is to try not to leave any gaps, and don’t let the container show if at all possible – so greenery such as lettuce leaves to line the box make a good canvas.
There are many positive reasons for creating bentos such as:
- Saving money on buying lunch out by making and taking your own.
- Wasting less food by using up the left overs from last night’s dinner.
- Encouraging kids to eat their fruits and vegetables by making funny characters for them and making unusual and surprising arrangements.
- Learning a new hobby or craft, releasing your creative side.
- Losing weight through portion control and healthy foods.
- Learning about Japanese culture and food.
Things you will need to make a bento:
- Food, such as some left over dinner, or if starting from scratch, some rice or pasta or potato salad
- Some protein, such as cooked meat, chicken, eggs, fish
- Lots of brightly coloured vegetables and fruits such as carrots, brocolli, tomatoes, peppers
- Something to fill the gaps with such as lettuce.
- Tools and props such as: a rice press/rice mould in different shapes (though you can press the rice into shape using saran wrap or cling film.) Food picks (usually with fun and interesting shapes and themes on the end, like pencil toppers!) to skewer food or secure things in place, dividers such as silicone muffin cases or small containers or partitions. Nori punch to make facial features and other small shapes from the Nori seaweed. You can try without a punch and just using scissors but it is very fiddly.
- A lunch box or container to put it in, preferably something with a lid, if you are planning transporting it. You will possibly need some small bottles or containers with lids if you will be taking sauces or dips)
- Some time, patience and a sense of humour if things go wrong!
Get help and support from fellow bento makers in the online community – subscribe to bento blogs (check out the Bento Blog Directory), Tweet with other bento-ists on Twitter (look up the hash tag #bento or #bentobox or #bentoblog) and join in the discussions on communities/groups on Facebook such as “Bento” and Livejournal such as “bentolunches“. You can swap tips and see how other people around the world are bento making, and see some great photos and videos that are being uploaded to their blogs. There are some really inspirational ones, and you’ll find a lot of friendly and supportive people with great advice and encouragement.
About the author of this site
I’m Jacqueline, a mum of 2 children and I love to make bentos of all kinds, speedy bentos, kids’ bentos, toddler bentos, charaben / kyaraben. I started making bentos in Jan 2010 after coming across the word “bento” and looking it up on Google. From that moment I was hooked!
Here is my bento making site where you can see the bentos I have made in my blog posts and my gallery, and see how the professionals do it on videos and other bento blogs that I am a fan of. My love for baking and all things creative and popular demand has led to my homemade handcrafted personalised celebration cakes now being offered on this site.
Please don’t forget to subscribe to my site, or bookmark it in your favourites so you can continue to see my newest and latest Bento creations!
You can also buy your bento supplies here such as the Thermal Stackable Bento Box, a hit best seller!