Bento Basics

From Just Bento

Type 1: The regular bento, basic bento

This is a homey bento with no particular aim or philosophy behind it beyond being tasty, filling, reasonably nutritious and attractive. They use meat, fish, and prepared foods that have been used in bento lunches for decades: fried korokke, frozen shumai, the ubiquitous wiener sausage, and so on.

Example Japanese bento blog: Bento. This has helpful ingredient listings in English, though it’s mostly in Japanese.

Type 2: Highly decorated ‘art’ bento

Also known as “cute bento”, “character bento (kyaraben)”, “entertaining bento (entaatein-bento), etc. This type of bento has garnered the most interest outside of Japan on the web, because they are so visual. This is really more of a hobby rather than an everyday thing that most Japanese mothers do, contrary to some misconceptions out there.

Example Japanese bento site: the famous e-obento – not a blog, but updated frequently.

This site, by a mother of a kindergarten age child is a slightly less extreme example. She decorates a bit, but not always, and all the bentos are quite pretty even without smiley faces.

Type 3: Simple bento, soshoku bento, healthy bento

Health-conscious bentos have been around for a long time, but in the last decade or so there has been a lot more attention being paid to bentos made with soshoku in mind. Soshoku means plain, simple food that is respects the ingredients. Much, though not all, of the focus is on traditional Japanese foods. Organic food, fresh vegetables, and whole grains are emphasized. Not all of it is vegetarian, since fish is used sometimes. There are offshoots of this category that are vegan or vegetarian: some go back to traditional sho-jin cooking, vegan cooking developed by Zen Buddhist monks. Macrobiotic bentos are quite popular too. While they appeal more to adults, some health-conscious mothers focus on this for their kids’ bento lunches too. It’s interesting that even e-obento is focusing on things like sprouting brown rice these days.

Example Japanese bento blog: C’s Blog, a mostly macrobiotic bento blog.

I work on the 1st type for my Men bentos and am working very slowly on Type 2 for my Kids.

As I’ve mentioned before, I got on the bento bandwagon because of the second type of bento-making, which promises that my picky eater would eat when food is made fun to look at. I find the right kitchen tools helpful to achieve the purpose of decorating my kids’ food. In terms of ‘design’ however, I am a long way from making Hello Kitty at the moment. Right now I try to add some colours and some shapes just to make the food look pretty. I also tend to focus on apportioning the recommended ratio of carb, proteins and veg.

I am happy to report that my picky eater has since become less picky.

No decorated food art for my Men bentos however. As long as there is plenty of rice and plenty of meat, doesn’t matter how lunch looks like.


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