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.
Bento Tip 1
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.
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.
Bento Tip 2
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 Tip 3
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!
Bento Tip 4
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 Tip 5
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.
Bento Tip 6
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!
Bento Tip 7
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.
Hello Tokyo is officially available on March 28.