03/17/2017

Hello Tokyo: The Ultimate Bento Box Guide

Tokyo has the energy and sense of humor of a child who collects all things Pokemon or Hello Kitty. It is loud, bright and doesn’t take itself too seriously, where it’s okay to dress in colorful rain slickers or style your hair in Minnie Mouse buns. Dining also has that pop art appeal, even eating a bento meal makes you feel like you are part of a graphic novel. In Hello Tokyo author Ebony Bizys features crafts and ideas to animate your home in this quirky style. Here, she shares her tips on how to on create a bento box like a native.

A bento box is a fun craft that will get a lot of play.

Bento Tip 1

FIVES

You might be aware of the “five color rule” that says each bento (lunch box) should contain at least five colors; however, you may not know that the ideal bento should be constructed according to five sets of five rules. These are:

+ Five colors: aka (red), kiiro (yellow), midori (green), kuro (black), shiro (white)

+ Five cooking methods: niru (simmer), musu (steam), yaku (grill), ageru (fry), tsukuru (create).

+ Five flavors: shiokarai (salty), suppai (sour), amai (sweet), nigai (bitter), karai (spicy)

+ Five senses: miru (see), kiku (hear), kyukaku (smell), ajiwau (taste), fureru (touch)

+ Five viewpoints or outlooks (gokan no mon): a set of Buddhist principles on the appropriate state of mind when consuming food I have a little “bento” drawer in my mini Shimokitazawa apartment. It’s full of cute accessories that inspire me to make bento boxes: bento dividers, bento belts, bento patties, sauce containers, and onigiri (rice ball) wrappers.

Follow the five color and idea rule to a successful bento.

There is another entire cupboard dedicated to furoshiki (wrapping cloth) used for bento wrapping. I also have a collection of bento lunch bags and bento freezer packs. When you buy refrigerated goods from fancier supermarkets in Tokyo, you often receive little refrigerator packs taped onto the cold goods. These reusable packs are great for keeping your bento fresh. You can also buy cute versions of these, such as heart shaped cold packs with sparkle dust inside and so on.

A bento is composed with a thoughtful assemblage of accessories.

Many Japanese stores, such as Daiso, sell a large range of bento accessories and essentials, such as seaweed punches, picks for small vegetables, and other obento items.

Look for Bento pieces online or make a trip to Japan where they are plentiful.

Bento Tip 2

BENTO DIVIDERS

Separate items in your bento with colorful dividers. Colored faux grass? So cute! This little fake lettuce divider has small perforations, allowing you to fit the divider perfectly to your bento box. For a more eco-friendly version, pick up silicone dividers such as the lilac doily option shown below.

Bento dividers are a colorful way to keep foods separated.

Bento Tip 3

ONIGIRI WRAPPERS

There is nothing more pleasurable than biting into an onigiri with crunchy seaweed. In order to keep the seaweed crunchy, you’ll need to pack your onigiri in one of these wrappers, which keep the rice and seaweed apart. Imagine this cheery little face waiting to greet you at lunch!

Even a bento box can benefit from styled accessories, like this onigiri wrapper that keeps rice fresh.

Bento Tip 4

BENTO PATTIES

Bento patties are a fantastic and colorful way to keep your obento ingredients separated and fresh until you are ready to enjoy your obento.

Divide each little osozai (side dish) with a bento patty. Try mixing a variety of colors and patterns. I’ve found some in sweet patterns such as gingham, stripes, and polka dots. If you have a green osozai, such as spinach or lettuce, try using a contrasting patty for aesthetic effect. You can also find silicone versions of bento patties, which can be reused without any reheating issues.

Bento patties act as miniature plates and are can be reused.

Bento Tip 5

BENTO PICKS

Bento picks can help to arrange little items—such as a cube of cheese, a small roll of ham, a mini tomato, or a pickled vegetable—and keep them in place in your bento. They also make eating these items a lot easier. The variety of bento picks available in Tokyo is enormous, but you may also be able to find some at your local Japanese market.

Stylish picks for smaller items jam in more color without taking up space.

Bento Tip 6

SUPERMARKET OBENTO

A delicious and convenient obento is never too far away in Tokyo. Most supermarkets and convenience stores sell colorful and inexpensive obento at all hours of the day. Many department stores have a basement food level where you can find delicious obento. These are called depachika obento: depa is short for “department store,” and chika means “basement.”

It’s ridiculous just how tasty, cheap, colorful, and presumably healthy(ish) these obento are!

An obento fix can easily be granted in Tokyo, where supermarkets and convenience stores offer them at all hours.

Bento Tip 7

OBENTO FUROSHIKI

Furoshiki are cloths used to wrap many objects, particularly obento. They are such a pretty way to transport your lunch, and provide a lovely little impromptu tablecloth, too. There are many types of furoshiki and various ways of wrapping them. In true Japanese style, there is an entire art to furoshiki wrapping, and you can find many tutorials on the Internet.

Furoshiki wrapping cloths is another accessory to add more style and function to your meal.

Hello Tokyo is officially available on March 28.

Hello Tokyo is your guide to this spirited lifestyle.

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  8. Margaret Davis says:

    What a healthy, stylish approach to lunch!

  9. Pete Weller says:

    This is so neat. I like how you can pack healthy foods other than a sandwich.

  10. Rachel Stenson says:

    Keep up the writing! Always come here for great ideas and inspiration.

  11. Benji Westerhouse says:

    I come here everyday and it keeps getting better.

  12. Melissa Nelson says:

    Great idea over sandwiches and chips in a standard lunch box. A healthy trend.

  13. Hannah Bergen says:

    Pretty and delicious. Great tips, what style.

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