Bento boxes are the equivalent of a packed lunch. The boxes themselves come in all shapes and sizes, some with compartments or little plastic lidded containers to hold a multitude of food. Bento boxes can be utilitarian or they can be fun! I’m dying to own a really cute Hello Kitty bento box with matching chopsticks. Collecting bento boxes could easily be an obsession of mine. I really need to stay away from ebay.
In The Miso Cozy Mysteries Series, Mei not only eats plenty of bento boxes but she sells them in her tea shop. She inherited a lot of bento boxes from a deceased friend, and she displays them right next to all the tea she sells too.
In general, a bento lunch will have at least 3 items but most likely more. Noodles or rice, salad, fish or meat, vegetables, dumplings, sushi… The variety is staggering. And a well-prepared meal by mom or a significant other conveys their love to you through food. What’s better than that?
So, to get you started, here are my top ten bento box ideas:
10. Leftovers – I know this sounds like a cheat but it’s really the best way to get your bento started. You had beef stew last night for dinner, so put that in the box, add fresh carrots, a wedge of cheese, a packet of crackers, and a cookie and you’re good to go.
9. Onigiri – This is a Japanese staple food! Rice balls usually stuffed with something. You can stuff yours with cooked tuna or salmon, or try seaweed, or slice up some cucumbers and avocado to go inside. Buy an onigiri mold because they really help to get the ball into a shape for placing in your bento. Tip: place sheets of nori on the side to wrap your rice ball before eating. Don’t wrap them ahead of time! The nori will be wilted and tough to eat if it gets moist.
8. Hard-boiled eggs – And not just any hard-boiled eggs, get some egg molds! Ebay has hundreds of these and you can also buy them on Amazon. When you make your hard-boiled eggs, peel them while they’re still hot and press them into the mold. It’s important to do this while they’re still warm, otherwise it won’t work well.
7. Sliced meats – Or if you’re a vegetarian, your usual protein like baked tofu or even the fake deli meats, if you enjoy them. A protein in the meal that you can either handle with your fingers or chopsticks is a great addition.
6. Assortment of cut vegetables – Carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes. If you like Asian vegetables, go with seaweed salad, cooked lotus root, or bamboo shoots.
5. Veggie Sushi – Sushi is pretty easy to make at home. You’ll need sushi rice, nori, your vegetable of choice (avocado, carrots, cucumber, etc), and sushi rice seasonings (rice vinegar, sugar, salt). Cook your sushi rice in the rice cooker and add the seasoning. Then you can use plastic wrap and nori to roll it up. Here is one of many of great videos on Youtube to help.
4. Fried noodles – Go Asian and make fried noodles! I like these because they taste good cold. I’ll admit these fried noodles using packaged ramen look awesome. And these Supreme Soy Sauce Fried Noodles look like a winner as well.
3. Cut Sandwiches – Take you favorite sandwiches and cut them down to a more manageable size. Either slice them in half diagonally or use a large cookie cutter to spruce them up a bit.
2. A small dessert – I like to add a few packaged cookies or treats. Nothing too big. Fruit is also a good choice.
1. Create a theme – This is where it gets fun. Look through the Japanese Bento Box Ideas Pinterest board I made and get a feel for bentos that are themed. Lots of people do this as a hobby! Hello Kitty, Bunnies, Totoro, Cats, Hearts, Flowers, Ninjas… Whatever your passion, you can make it happen in a bento.
Hopefully these give you some ideas! If you’re wary of making your own, your local Japanese restaurant will usually have lunch bentos specials. Try one out!
Here are some great Japanese food blogs too, to get you started:
- La Fuji Mama – Rachael, an American woman that lived in Japan, dishes out fantastic and easy meals with a heavy emphasis on Japan (she also cooks many cuisines from around the world)
- Just Hungry/Just Bento – These two blogs will give you everything you need to know about Japanese food and plenty of recipes to make.
- Humble Bean Blog – I love this blog because it’s divided easily into the types of recipes available. You’ll find a recipe for each part of your kaiseki meal here!
- Happy Little Bento
- Bento Monsters