- What is "bento"?
- Why make a web page about box lunches?
- What kind of stuff can you put in a bento box?
- Where can I get a bento box or
special cooking tools?
- Where can I get the stuff listed in your recipes?
- I have a recipe. Will you use it?
- Can't you get better pictures?
- Do you eat with chopsticks?
- Why don't you use many spices?
- Can I link to this site?
- Why is the "message board" a LiveJournal?
- How do you keep the food from going bad?
- How can I help with this site?
1.What is "bento"?
Simply put, "bento" is "boxed lunch." Most people think of it as a specific style of boxed lunch, with Japanese-y food inside, but not necessarily. It can be any kind of boxed lunch. Even a Happy Meal is, essentially, a bento lunch. But it's a lot more fun to make ones with a touch of the exotic, isn't it?
2. Why make a web page about box lunches?
Because I think they're cool, and that's not a bad reason to put together a site. I started out on a whim by buying an inexpensive bento box and packing it with some teriyaki leftovers - I frequently cook teriyaki - and, wow, it beat the heck out of my usual lunches! When I mentioned it to friends they were very interested, and even asked for photos. In my office, some people ask to see my lunches - what odd stuff has she packed today? I've looked online for inspiration,
and found some basic info and Japanese bento blogs, but no pages with "bento for dummies" instructions. So, I made one, and I hope it will be useful to others.
(Since I started this page other bento blogs have appeared.
Did I start a trend?)
3. What kind of stuff can you put in a bento box?
It depends on your box. Mine have trays that are not sealed off from each other, so it's a good idea not to put anything "wet" in them. Sauces and dressings can go
in little containers. Other boxes may have little sealed containers inside them which will allow for soups or anything else. But the bottom line is that, as stated in answer one, a bento lunch is simply a boxed lunch. You can include anything you want to eat.
4. Where can I get a bento box or
special cooking tools?
The first place to check for a bento box is your local Asian grocery. I've only found small kiddie bento boxes in mine, though, and I don't want no Dragonball Z or Pikachu cartoons staring at me as I eat a teeny little serving. The black,
compartmentalized one I use in the pictures came from the
late Bigairplane.com. I've also gotten some from Asian Food Grocer. The ones they have aren't as ornamental,
but they're practical and sturdy, ready for the fridge or microwave, and at $3 to $5 are quite inexpensive. (The
white one I use in the photos is the $5 model, and it's
well-made enough I can even use it for stews and soups.)
There are the "Mr. Bento"
lunch jars, which I've heard great things about
but haven't tried myself, as they're a tad above my
price range. And there's always eBay, of course, and you're just about guaranteed to pay much more there, but you might find something good.
I don't use a lot of special cooking tools, but there
are a few I'd recommend, and thus have linked to the
sellers thereof: bamboo steamers
and taiyaki makers.
I would especially recommend the steamers; they're easy
to use, stackable so you can cook different dishes on
different layers, and I'd simply find it difficult to
live without 'em!
5. Where can I get the stuff listed in these recipes?
Anything that you can't find in a regular grocery store ought to be in the average Asian grocery store. Shop around, get familiar with what's on the shelves. Look at the packages - they'll nearly always have descriptions of the contents in English on a sticker on the back. (My guess is that the FDA requires it.) If you are stuck for something, then check online. Asian Food Grocer is a good place to start. They're in the US,
have reasonable domestic shipping rates, and they ship fast.
If you live in Atlanta, Georgia, I recommend 99
Ranch Market on Buford Highway, the Buford Highway
Farmer's Market at 5600 Buford Hwy NE, and Tomato
on Peachtree Industrial boulevard. I get just about
all my Asian-y food from these two places.
6. I have a recipe. Will you use it?
If I try it out and like it, sure! If you want to send a recipe
to me, see the Contact Me page.
7. Can't you get better pictures?
a decent digital camera, one with flash and autofocus
and all them newfangled thangs. All I need now is the
skill to use it decently. I'm working on it.
8. Do you eat with chopsticks?
Yep. Whenever I eat Japanese or Chinese food I use chopsticks. That's just what I'm used to. It feels strange for me to eat Asian food with a fork. Really, chopsticks are very easy to use once you get the hang of it, and using a fork in a bento box can be awkward. I don't even want to think about using a knife! But there's no rule that says you can't use a fork and knife, or a spoon, or your fingers, or a sand
trowel, or anything else you want to. Whatever works.
9. Why don't you use many spices?
I've never been big on spices. Not because of my lack of expertise, but because I have anosmia. Basically, I have almost no sense of smell, thus spices don't have much impact for me. All of the recipes here assume flexibility; if you like something with pepper or garlic or wasabi or whatever else, go to
10. Can I link to this site?
By all means, please do if you find it worth recommending to others! I have directions and a banner image on the Links page.
11. Why is the "message board" a LiveJournal?
I've had requests for a message board on this site,
and I do like the idea of sparking discussion about
bento lunches. However, whenever I've managed message boards
I've found them to be headaches. LiveJournals
are much easier to manage. So, I'm trying that first,
posting the lunch images and descriptions on LJ as well
as the main site so people can reply to the posts and
start discussions if they wish.
12. How do you keep the food from going bad?
This is the single most frequently asked question.
It's a valid concern, as food left out can cultivate
all sorts of nasties. However, children have been bringing
sack lunches to school for hundreds of years, and millions
of Japanese children (and adults) eat bento lunches
daily, and neither group suffers frequent outbreaks
of food poisoning. I've been eating bento lunches for
over a year and they've never made me ill, despite
my lunches sitting on my unrefrigerated desk for six
hours before lunchtime rolls around.
First, pack lunches cold. If you cook food in the
morning and pack it hot, you're creating a very friendly
environment for unauthorized microorganisms. If you
pack food that has been in the refrigerator, then it's
not so hospitable. (Plus, if you pack hot food, steam
will condense inside the box and make things soggy.)
Myself, I pack my box the evening before and leave it
in the fridge overnight. I also wrap my lunch box with
a furoshiki - a carrying cloth - which insulates it
Second, consider what you're packing. Consider leaving
mayonnaise off sandwiches that are not going to be refrigerated,
or include a sealed packet of the kind fast food restaurants
have. Avoid other items that are known for going bad
Third, use good food handling practices. Clean hands,
clean working surfaces, a cold enough fridge, fresh
food, and refrigerating cooked food rather than letting
it set out will greatly cut down on any risk, bento
If you still feel uncomfortable about packing a lunch
in a box that will warm up over the course of the morning,
you might consider Zojirushi's "Mr. Bento"
They're like giant thermoses that hold several smaller
containers for various dishes. I don't have one myself,
as they're pricey, but I've heard high praise from those
who have them.
13. How can I help with this site?
Ain't you nice! There are plenty of ways you can
help. Feedback is always appreciated. Let me know what you
like, what questions you have, what typos you've found,
and so on. If you have recipes that you think would
work here, those are welcome too!
If you'd like to help with the costs of running the
site but don't like cheesy Paypal "pleeeeze donate!"
buttons, the next time you plan to buy something from
Amazon, how about getting there by using that search
box on the right, my
Amazon.com bento store, or any of the other Amazon links
on my site? It doesn't matter what you buy, if you reach
Amazon.com through one of my links I'll get a little
bit of store credit. (It won't cost you anything; it
comes out of Amazon's pocket.) Who knows, maybe I'll
get enough to buy a memory card for the digital camera
I got to take pics on this site!