Jump to content


Welcome to the eG Forums!

These forums are a service of the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to advancement of the culinary arts. Anyone can read the forums, however if you would like to participate in active discussions please join the Society.

Photo

Bentos (2009-)


  • Please log in to reply
287 replies to this topic

#61 nakji

nakji
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 3,659 posts
  • Location:Shanghai

Posted 06 October 2009 - 08:07 PM

it's not like if I make a big batch I can give him the same thing for lunch every day.


Is it possible to work those kinds of dishes into your evening menus, so that you can set aside a small portion to go into lunch the next day? It doesn't have to be the mainstay of the bento, but it can help you round out the empty space. When I moved to Japan, virtually all of my bentos were constructed around leftovers, to help save money. Granted, my husband was better at sucking up the odd crappy lunch more than a pre-schooler would be, no matter what I said to him at the time.

#62 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 06 October 2009 - 08:14 PM

Yes I need to get into the spirit of the whole premeditated leftovers thing. Although for tomorrow I have a sinking feeling I'll be making him a cheese sandwich.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#63 MomOfLittleFoodies

MomOfLittleFoodies
  • participating member
  • 647 posts
  • Location:SF Bay Area- East Bay

Posted 06 October 2009 - 09:14 PM

I meant to say...keep the amount small for the first week! Even dedicated trenchermen seem to find the first week of kindergarten distracting.


I'm a lunchroom/playground monitor at our local elementary school, it generally takes the youngest kids about a month to get used to the routine of eating lunch at school, including figuring out how to balance socializing with friends and still eating your lunch.
Cheryl

#64 YSC

YSC
  • participating member
  • 9 posts

Posted 06 October 2009 - 11:56 PM

I just bought a book that might help you! It's an English translation of a Japanese bento book for kids, called "Kawaii Bento Boxes". ISBN 978-4-88996-260-4. I bought it at Kinokuniya and was really happy to find it. There are lots of ideas for tiny side dishes, and even groupings by colour etc. I noticed that many recipes are microwave friendly too, and they even have a little time stamp to tell you how long it takes to make a bento (e.g. 15 min/20 min). Of course, it does assume that you have access to Japanese ingredients, but I don't think that would be too difficult for you. If you have a Kinokuniya near you I'm sure you can find it, or you can order it on the internet. I must admit I've had a lot of fun reading this book over the last two days!

#65 Chris Amirault

Chris Amirault
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 19,626 posts
  • Location:Rhode Island

Posted 07 October 2009 - 06:03 AM

Started using the Zojirushi Classic bento box this week. Mornings are our most harried time, so I haven't gotten any good snaps, but tonight I'll try to get some pix up. The bento box itself has been a revelation: well made, tightly sealing lids, retains cold/heat. Andrea reports that it's a bit big to be carrying on the train, subway, around campus, and so on, but that's a minor quibble.

I've been working the appropriate dinner prep and leftover planning for a few weeks now, and I've had to adjust some of the basics of my leftover thinking. For example, I often toss small portions of a given item thinking that we won't serve it on the table at a four-person dinner. Of course, those small portions are perfect for the bento. In addition, I usually have little sauces, toppings, and accompaniments that linger for a while in the fridge and then get used in bulk. Now, that chili sauce, onion confit, beet pickle, and so on are nice little surprises.
Chris Amirault
camirault@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics Signatory
Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

#66 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 07 October 2009 - 06:19 AM

On Sunday night I made four hard-cooked eggs, using our four different Japanese egg molds. On Monday I packed one for PJ's lunch and on Tuesday he had one for breakfast. But by last night a remarkable thing had happened: the eggs mostly unmolded themselves. It was still possible to see some of the outline of a car and a fish, but as decorative objects these eggs left much to be desired.

bentos6.jpg

So this morning I decided to make them into egg salad. Another thing I was thinking about was what foods benefit from extra refrigeration. Borrowing a presentation tactic from my mother, who used to make sandwiches like these as hors d'oeuvres, I stacked three slices of bread and made mini sandwiches with striped patterns. I didn't do such a great job with the knife, or with evenness of spreading, but they look cool enough to entertain a kid.

bentos7.jpg

Also some grapes and strawberries, cut in half.

bentos8.jpg

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#67 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 08 October 2009 - 03:56 PM

This week is the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which in part is observed by eating meals in temporary hut-like structures (such a structure is called a sukkah) outdoors. So, this being a school in a synagogue, today after school was a pizza party in the sukkah. As a result we were instructed to pack a lunch that would be an appetizer. ("When packing food, think of the in-room eating as their "appetizer" course and their pizza in the sukkah as their main course.")

So lunch today was some hummus, cheese, crackers and fruit. PTA-provided pizza in the sukkah followed.

bentos9.jpg

No lunch on Friday on account of noon dismissal for the Sabbath.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#68 snowangel

snowangel
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 8,140 posts
  • Location:Twin Cities, MN

Posted 08 October 2009 - 09:50 PM

Steven: Stupid question. Do you have more than one bento box? Can you run them through the dishwasher? If Young Master Peter doesn't eat all of his lunch/snack, I assume that what he didn't eat comes home (from reports at the top of the page). Do you prep the night before or the morning of?

And, does anyone have any idea for a bento box for an almost 14-year old Older Master Peter? The one that Chris referenced is too big. It can't look dorky.
Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

#69 prasantrin

prasantrin
  • legacy participant
  • 5,468 posts

Posted 09 October 2009 - 12:05 AM

Do any of these look more acceptable? I'm going to be putting in an order shortly, so I could easily tack on another item to my order.

#70 andiesenji

andiesenji
  • society donor
  • 9,301 posts
  • Location:Southern California

Posted 09 October 2009 - 04:56 AM

My grandson (age 16) carries one like this http://www.amazon.co...5089196&sr=1-21
None of the other kids bother him about it but he is 6'4" and 200+ lbs. :laugh:
"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett
My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

#71 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 13 October 2009 - 08:05 AM

Yesterday was Columbus Day so no school and no lunch. Today is another short day where he'll have a partial meal soon after pickup. So, I packed mozzarella-and-tomato salad. When I arranged the bottom layer, it consisted of nice cubes of mozzarella and cherry-tomato halves in a very nice pattern. Then when I did the top layer the ratios were off, many of the pieces were deformed, etc. -- so it looks bad. Also some pita chips, and some grapes and apple slices.

bentos10.jpg

Tomorrow we begin the full school day, so my intent is to pack lunches with more structure. We'll see if I muster up the energy, though.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#72 Shaya

Shaya
  • participating member
  • 859 posts
  • Location:Halifax, NS

Posted 13 October 2009 - 12:41 PM

On Sunday night I made four hard-cooked eggs, using our four different Japanese egg molds. On Monday I packed one for PJ's lunch and on Tuesday he had one for breakfast. But by last night a remarkable thing had happened: the eggs mostly unmolded themselves. It was still possible to see some of the outline of a car and a fish, but as decorative objects these eggs left much to be desired.

bentos6.jpg


That is really strange. Is this typical? Have others noticed their eggs losing their shape?

#73 helenjp

helenjp
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 3,232 posts

Posted 14 October 2009 - 12:03 AM

Egg molds - I used a small egg, molded it while hot, and left it overnight in the refrigerator...no difficulties with shape retention.

Bento boxes - we have one of those classic Zojurushi bento pails, Chris, and it is a bit heavy. I have used it mostly to leave a complete dinner on the table when one kid needs to come home, eat, and go out again in a hurry while I'm out! Son1 occasionally took it when he didn't have much else to carry, or far to walk.

Our standard winter bento is like #4 or #8 in Prasantrin's link...an insulated container for rice, with two separate containers for side dishes. There are many variations of this type - they are lighter than the pail type, and the hot rice makes more of a difference than whether or not the side dishes are hot or cold. In fact, it is more useful to be able to pack fruit etc. when you DON'T want it kept hot!

During warmer weather, we use #22 in Prasantrin's link...some reviewers complain that the side-containers are too small in relation to the rice container, but I often layer the rice with something like egg soboro, salted salmon roe, or Okinawan andansu miso-pork. That container has an aluminum rice container (cools faster than plastic in summer, when rice spoils easily), with two separate lidded plastic containers.

One good thing about this type of bento box is that the containers tend to be a little deeper than the old-style bento boxes - making them more versatile. A shallower top layer (like those below) is a little harder to pack large items in, though it makes it easy to arrange bento foods attractively and helps to KEEP THEM FROM MOVING ROUND.

This Shokado-style bento is also a family favorite...we use an older model, but it's much the same: plastic deep bottom layer has a removable divider, allowing you to pack less rice if you prefer. A press-down mold (wet first) allows you to mark bite-sized divisions in the rice, not only pretty, but easier to eat during short lunch breaks. The top layer in our model at least is sometimes a bit shallow, but the removable H-shaped divider is very handy - you can have 4 divisions much the same, or none, or slide it along so that you have one large, 2 medium, and 1 small division. If you scroll down the link page, you can see another variation with an avocado-green lid. These two are a bit smaller, better for women or "normal" adults...the one with the black lid (swirly design on top) is the one we have, and it's just a bit bigger. Too big for my husband, fine for teenage boys.

Some of my son's friends like this type of donburi bento - rice with topping, for the kid in a hurry - just open wide and inhale! Those with particularly large appetites for for a Tupperware lidded salad bowl...

Flat bento with insert containers this type of box is out of fashion, but is what my husband takes each day. He likes the fact that the rice container isn't too big in proportion to the side dish containers, and the two containers keep items in place and separated...no sneaky movement of sloppy ketchup from the meat to the omelet! Snag - all these bentos with clip-on lids will eventually need to have the silicon rubber packing replaced - we keep a small supply (in the appropriate size) of


Slim bentoboxes are popular with women - too narrow for sandwiches, but the smaller ones are enough for a woman, and narrow enough to fit into a big purse easily. I had a particularly skinny one that I found very easy to pack (just line different items up in a row!) and easy to eat from.

Round bento boxes with a soup bowl for a lid are also especially popular with women. You can't carry soup in them, but they are handy if you like to make instant soup at your workplace.

#74 prasantrin

prasantrin
  • legacy participant
  • 5,468 posts

Posted 14 October 2009 - 01:15 AM

[quote name='helenjp' date='14 October 2009 - 04:03 PM' timestamp='1255503796' post='1704961']
Our standard winter bento is like #4 or #8 in Prasantrin's link...an insulated container for rice, with two separate containers for side dishes. There are many variations of this type - they are lighter than the pail type, and the hot rice makes more of a difference than whether or not the side dishes are hot or cold. In fact, it is more useful to be able to pack fruit etc. when you DON'T want it kept hot!
/quote]

I have that type, too. I don't use it much because it doesn't suit the way I eat. I bought it in part because I thought I could use the rice container for soup, but you definitely can't. I learned that the hard way.

[quote]
Some of my son's friends like this type of donburi bento - rice with topping, for the kid in a hurry - just open wide and inhale! Those with particularly large appetites for for a Tupperware lidded salad bowl...[/quote]

This is my next purchase. Most of the time I prepare donburi-style lunches, so it just suits me better.

And I'm planning to get this one because you can definitely carry soup in it.

#75 Hayley Casarotto

Hayley Casarotto
  • participating member
  • 52 posts
  • Location:Perth, Australia

Posted 14 October 2009 - 03:20 AM

Some of my son's friends like this type of donburi bento - rice with topping, for the kid in a hurry - just open wide and inhale!


I have this exact model and can vouch for its usefulness. I have also used it for soba in summer - the strainer insert ensures no sogginess.

On a completely non-practical note, this is my latest bento purchase :laugh:

Posted Image

Wooden and handmade, I love it, but it is really not great for just throwing into a bag. I had to be *very* careful getting it to work the other day. All my other bento boxes have good seals, so I have to force myself to be careful for the sake of aesthetics :rolleyes:

#76 prasantrin

prasantrin
  • legacy participant
  • 5,468 posts

Posted 14 October 2009 - 03:25 AM

I have this exact model and can vouch for its usefulness. I have also used it for soba in summer - the strainer insert ensures no sogginess.


How does the strainer part work? Would it carry soup without any spillage?

I wonder if I'd be able to use it for something like pho. . .

#77 helenjp

helenjp
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 3,232 posts

Posted 14 October 2009 - 05:06 AM

Prasantrin, I forgot to make that exact point... I really don't understand why they didn't make a better seal on the insulated container. It's just fine for carrying rice, but it would so be very handy for wetter dishes plus sides.

Beautiful but impractical bento - I have a lovely theater-going lacquer set...you can imagine how much use that DOESN'T ge, but they are beautiful to hold as well as to behold.

#78 David A. Goldfarb

David A. Goldfarb
  • participating member
  • 1,307 posts
  • Location:Honolulu, HI

Posted 14 October 2009 - 06:54 AM

Flat bento with insert containers this type of box is out of fashion, but is what my husband takes each day. He likes the fact that the rice container isn't too big in proportion to the side dish containers, and the two containers keep items in place and separated...no sneaky movement of sloppy ketchup from the meat to the omelet! Snag - all these bentos with clip-on lids will eventually need to have the silicon rubber packing replaced - we keep a small supply (in the appropriate size)


This is the kind we are using for my son's preschool lunches. Ours has a more domed lid, so there is some problem with food migrating, but today I tried putting a layer of plastic wrap between the food and the lid, so we'll see how that works. I like it, because I can put little sticky notes on top to tell the teachers which sections to warm up in the microwave, and which should stay cold.

#79 Hayley Casarotto

Hayley Casarotto
  • participating member
  • 52 posts
  • Location:Perth, Australia

Posted 14 October 2009 - 04:49 PM


I have this exact model and can vouch for its usefulness. I have also used it for soba in summer - the strainer insert ensures no sogginess.


How does the strainer part work? Would it carry soup without any spillage?

I wonder if I'd be able to use it for something like pho. . .


As Helen said, the seal probably isn't good enough for soup. I just use a regular thermos on soup days. The strainer is a little legged disc that sits about 1cm above the bottom of the bowl, so that when you put noodles in, they don't sit in the inevitable pool of water that appears. It's a little hard to describe, I'll take a photo when I get home from work.

#80 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 15 October 2009 - 03:34 AM

Do you have more than one bento box?


I'm not 100% clear on the definition of bento box. I may have none. What I do have are about a half dozen small containers, a couple of which have dividers. I don't have any multi-compartment bento boxes like I've seen at Japanese stores (everything I have so far is from H-Mart, a Korean chain).

Can you run them through the dishwasher?


Yes but I usually don't. The timing is such that if I want to have the containers available early every morning I'm better off hand washing during the week. Also I'm led to believe the containers, especially the gaskets, last longer if you hand wash. Not that I care -- I doubt these things will stay in use long enough to wear out.

If Young Master Peter doesn't eat all of his lunch/snack, I assume that what he didn't eat comes home (from reports at the top of the page).


Yes. The school's practice is pack-it-in/pack-it-out. The lunch bag and all its contents come home just as they went in.

Do you prep the night before or the morning of?


I prefer to prep the morning of. I generally wake up before he does, in which case I can pack the lunch then -- it's really only a <10-minute process if you have all your ducks in a row. We also allow plenty of time in the morning for him to sit and have breakfast, and if I don't wake up early enough to pack his lunch before he wakes up I can pack it while he's eating breakfast. Having only one child is also helpful in this regard -- having three would surely affect all these logistics. One morning -- this morning -- I packed lunch the night before on account of unique circumstances. But I think the food is more appetizing when packed the morning of, so I prefer to do it in the morning.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#81 Hayley Casarotto

Hayley Casarotto
  • participating member
  • 52 posts
  • Location:Perth, Australia

Posted 15 October 2009 - 03:37 AM

Photo time!

So, it comes in two great colours:

P1010768.JPG

Complete with reflections of my kitchen cabinets! I bought both colours because you just don't know how each colour will compliment your bento :rolleyes: In all seriousness, I bought two so there would be one for my husband as well, but he finds the portions too small, so be warned. I'm not sure of the capacity but I find it perfect for my needs.

Here is it in all its pieces.

P1010769.JPG

The little black bowl sits inside the red one, which is the seal for the large outer bowl. You can put your toppings in this bowl, which also fits a small sealed container and a little sauce bottle. The outer bowl and this smaller inner bowl are both microwave safe.

And here it is partially assembled:

P1010772.JPG

Hopefully you can see here how the strainer insert keeps the contents off the bottom of the bowl to prevent sogginess. I've only ever used this bit with noodles, I can't see how it would have much effect with rice.

Hope that informs your purchasing decision :)

#82 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 15 October 2009 - 03:45 AM

Yesterday's lunch included avocado maki, pasta with pesto, and fruit.

It seems that Wednesday is becoming sushi day. Because PJ spends Tuesday afternoons at my mother's apartment, and because there's a pretty-good cheap-sushi place across from my mother's apartment, and because it's hard to prepare dinner on days when he has to be picked up across town just before dinnertime, I'm getting into the habit of picking up takeout food for Tuesday dinner and getting an extra roll for Wednesday's lunch. If this pattern holds, Wednesday will be sushi day. The restaurant is a Chinese restaurant which, as is common these days in the US, has a sushi bar and offers a lot of non-Chinese Asian hot menu items (Japanese, Thai, etc.). The restaurant's name, which has evolved over the past couple of decades, is currently Empire Szechuan Kyoto Sushi. Not the world's best sushi, but entirely adequate.

With an order over US$10 or $20 (I can't remember which) at Empire you get one extra item included at no additional charge. I usually get the cold sesame noodles and ask to have them packed with the sauce on the side. Yesterday morning I briefly considered saucing and including some leftover cold sesame noodles with PJ's lunch, but then I remembered the nut-free policy and, because the sesame sauce probably includes peanuts, quickly ruled that out. But I still had some of my nut-free (made with toasted pumpkin seeds) pesto left, so I mixed leftover undressed cold noodles with the pumpkin-seed pesto, then cut up the noodles for easier eating.

bentos11.jpg

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#83 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 15 October 2009 - 04:02 AM

In the Jewish mourning tradition, after the funeral the family of the deceased "sits shiva." This is a process where a lot of meaningful reflection occurs, people visit the home of the deceased's family and an incredible quantity of food is consumed. Our friend recently lost her mother. Yesterday, we paid a shiva call to her home in New Jersey and the spread of food was extreme even by Jewish-American shiva standards. It was as though a delicatessen had staged a grand opening in their home. As we are inner-circle friends, we stayed until almost everyone else was gone. At that point we were implored to take food home. Had we taken enough food home to feed 25 people, we wouldn't have made a dent.

I immediately thought about school-lunch opportunities for PJ. Unfortunately, because of the no-meat rule, deli food is not the best marriage for PJ's school. There were also some nut issues and other concerns. However, I did manage to pull together a lunch. And, because we had proceeded directly from school to the shiva call, I had all of PJ's lunch containers in tow. It was possible to clean them out and pack the next day's lunch in one seamless process. (We also took home a ton of deli meat in zipper bags.)

Here are the non-meat items I was able to pull together for today's lunch:

bentos12.jpg

That's a crustless double-decker egg-salad sandwich; a tray containing pickles (pickled cucumbers), olives and tomatoes; pasta salad with peas; and dessert of honeydew melon, pineapple and rugelach (a cookie-like pastry that I hope doesn't contain any nuts -- I ate about ten of them to make sure and I think these ones are nut-free).

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#84 nakji

nakji
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 3,659 posts
  • Location:Shanghai

Posted 15 October 2009 - 04:26 AM

I ate about ten of them to make sure and I think these ones are nut-free).


That's an excellent excuse. If PJ likes olives, they make excellent fillers to plug up any gaps in the lunch box.

Empire Szechuan Kyoto Sushi


This? made me laugh out loud. Nevertheless, having systems like this are key bento strategy. But doesn't the maki get rubbery overnight?

#85 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 15 October 2009 - 06:16 AM

The nori seems to get rubbery within a few minutes of making maki. It doesn't seem to get a whole lot worse overnight -- no worse than the nori on sushi sold out of refrigerator cases even, I am told, in Japan. It's not my preference but it's probably better than nothing.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#86 helenjp

helenjp
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 3,232 posts

Posted 15 October 2009 - 08:49 AM

The winter bento - it is a challenge. For a start, Japanese winter bentos have been revolutionized by the office microwave and the thermos bento sets aimed at schoolkids. My husband's boss decided they didn't need a microwave, so he has a cold lunchbox even in winter (refuses to lug a heavy thermos lunchbox around). But then, he grew up in Hokkaido, and apart from keeping their lunches by the classroom stove, he doesn't remember being bothered by their naturally "refrigerated" lunches.

It might be worth checking out Korean lunch foods, because they meet most of the following criteria...although your kid's classmates might want to keep their distance after lunch!

* season food that will be served cold more highly, and add a little sugar (helps retain moisture and keep food softer).
* Stay away from fried food - oil/fatin panfried food will congeal, and deepfried food will get hard and dry (if you must deepfry food, roll it in a sauce of ketchup/worcestershire, lemon or ginger plus a little chicken flavoring etc, sweet & sour sauce, etc. The moisture will improve the texture when it's cold).
* winter is sauce and dressing season - a little dab of mayonnaise or of any kind of sauce will provide flavor and texture to help that dried out, flavorless, rock-like winter bento syndrome. Japanese sesame-dressing, miso dressings, Korean namul (toned down to kindy palate!) all help keep food moist and tasty.
* tofu is an ideal winter bento good, and turnip/carrot are good too... they can be cooked ahead, they absorb flavor easily without needing fat, and they are juicy to bite into. If you want to make simmered dishes, add a tiny portion of cellophane noodles to help absorb any stray juices without making the dish too dry.
* beans in Japan are often simmered in a savory broth, then finished "glace" style. However you serve them, simmered beans are a good winter bento food.
* mashed potato or potato salad, sweet potato, pumpkin, beans, (and even omelet) can be seasoned and mixed with snippets of ham, whole corn, peas etc, and spooned into a square of wrap. Twist the top of the wrap to create a swirly peak, unwrap and pop in into the bento (ideally in a paper or foil case). A sprinkle or dab of something on top is pretty.
* eggs and eggy foods - especially the Japanese savory omelet or the Korean jeons and related dishes - these really come into their own in winter. Boiled carrot in a bento vs. boiled carrot strips bound with just a little egg or egg/flour batter plus onion/seasonings - no contest!
* Steamed dishes (even microwave steamed)...a steamed mini-cupcake dessert is a good winter treat, and you can make similar things in tiny containers with either "almost sweet" flavors and a few raisins or a square of soft cheese or cubes of cooked sweet potato, or you can go downright savory.
* Mini-gratins...you can have these in the freezer and run them through the toaster or microwave in the morning...a veg or two, and a dab of white sauce, surface clutter to taste, and you're done. Japanese books often top with cheese, but I think that's a mistake in winter...crumb topping would be better.

I must admit, it's easier to make an entire meal's worth of bento food for three big boys and men than it was to make tiny portions of kindergarten bento food all those years ago.

#87 nakji

nakji
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 3,659 posts
  • Location:Shanghai

Posted 17 October 2009 - 11:26 PM

As ever, Helen, amazing bento tips. I like to use Bulldog sauce to toss my fried items in - it's cheap and easy, as it doesn't mess up another mixing bowl in the morning. I can't believe I forgot pajeon! You can make a bunch up, freeze, and microwave them off as needed, with a little squirt bottle of soy/vinegar mix to brighten them up at lunch.

The nori seems to get rubbery within a few minutes of making maki. It doesn't seem to get a whole lot worse overnight -- no worse than the nori on sushi sold out of refrigerator cases even, I am told, in Japan. It's not my preference but it's probably better than nothing.


Does PJ like inarizushi? They seem to suit the school's requirements, and they stay pretty delicious as the mirin and soy keeps things tender. Also, they pack up pretty neatly in a box, and can be eaten with fingers. If you want to make them yourself, you can freeze them. And you can tailor the rice stuffing to include vegetables like mushrooms, carrots, etc. to make them more interesting.

#88 prasantrin

prasantrin
  • legacy participant
  • 5,468 posts

Posted 17 October 2009 - 11:46 PM

The nori seems to get rubbery within a few minutes of making maki. It doesn't seem to get a whole lot worse overnight -- no worse than the nori on sushi sold out of refrigerator cases even, I am told, in Japan. It's not my preference but it's probably better than nothing.


You could use individual packets of strip nori that can be wrapped around the rice just before eating. You'd have to change the shape of the makizushi to match the shape of the strip (you wouldn't have to, but it's nicer when it fits). That might be too much work for a little one, though.

You could also do filled onigiri rather than makizushi and use the individual strips of nori. A lot of my students' mothers make their onigiri that way. At stores in Japan, onigiri come in special packages that separate the nori from the rice and when you unwrap it, you just pull off the packaging from each side, and the nori wraps itself around the rice. I like that best, because the nori never gets soggy, so if I have to buy sushi-like things from the store, I stick with those. You can buy the plastic wrappers for homemade onigiri, too. amazon.jp

#89 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 29,303 posts
  • Location:New York, NY

Posted 20 October 2009 - 03:46 AM

On Sunday I was at the supermarket where I do the big weekly shopping (Fairway, in New York City) and I saw a couple of things I figured I'd try out for school lunches.

First, they had some surprisingly appetizing sushi made with brown rice. As I've found that brown rice, in other contexts, holds up under refrigeration better than white, I thought maybe this property would extend to maki. I bought a roll for PJ and a roll for me. When I tried my roll after a night in the fridge, I thought it was pretty good. Also, because of the size of the roll and the thinness of the cut, the rubberiness of the nori was less of an issue than with normally proportioned maki.

I also saw some nice little mozzarella balls that I thought would be great with cherry tomatoes on account of their near-identical size. So I got a small container of mozzarella balls, only to get home to find that Ellen and PJ had just eaten all the cherry tomatoes as a snack. So I just packed the mozzarella balls without tomatoes this time around.

Our friend Shaun, who's an amazing baker, made us an apple crisp the other day. I've been snacking on it direct from the refrigerator, so it occurred to me that I could pack a little bit for PJ in his lunch.

Also some grapes and some rice crackers.

bentos14.jpg

In the post-lunch inspection, only a few grapes and a couple of mozzarella balls were left over. I ate them in Central Park on our walk home.

This week there may only be two lunch opportunities, because we have admissions stuff (for the schools we're looking at for kindergarten next year) on Wednesday and Thursday that will likely require missing lunch, and there's no lunch at school on Fridays on account of the early dismissal. So I just have to make today's lunch, which will be a light one because this is the day he goes to grandma's house after school and he's typically well-fed there.

The light week in terms of preparation duties will give me time to consider a new issue: I think I may have successfully negotiated a way around the refrigeration policy. In a conversation with PJ's teacher, I learned that we might be able to get away with not submitting the entire lunch for refrigeration, and instead storing some components of the lunch (like an insulated container for a warm item) in the bottom of PJ's classroom locker. If this plan works and doesn't bring down the wrath of the authorities, it will require that I rethink the whole lunch strategy for the year.

To answer a few queries from above: At the moment, what you see in today's photo represents the universe of lunch containers in our possession. They're all from H-Mart, a Korean supermarket/superstore, in New Jersey. I've been meaning for weeks to make a run to Mitsuwa, the Japanese equivalent of H-Mart, also in New Jersey, but the opportunity has not arisen. Mitsuwa, as I understand it, has a broad selection of Bento-type stuff. With respect to the various methods of preserving the nori in a non-rubbery state, I'm thinking about options. The most commonly utilized option, at least here in the USA, by the way, is to make the maki inside-out (uramaki). This makes the texture of the nori a lot less relevant. In terms of the inarizushi question/suggestion, that sounds like a great idea and I need to look into it.

By the way what is the actual definition of "bento"?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#90 Hiroyuki

Hiroyuki
  • participating member
  • 5,124 posts
  • Location:Shiozawa area of Minami Uonuma city, Niigata, Japan

Posted 20 October 2009 - 04:55 AM

By the way what is the actual definition of "bento"?

Good question! The word bento comes from the Chinese word bento (便當), which means convenience. Bento is defined as a meal made so that it is portable. (Let me add that as a native Japanese, I tend to say o-bento, which sounds more polite than bento.)
It is said that the reason why bento, or portable meals, have developed in Japan much more than in other countries is that Japonica rice tastes good even when it has turned cool, unlike Indica rice. As you may know, a "shio musubi" (rice ball with some salt on the outside) with some slices of pickle such as takuan can be a very satisfying meal.
I'm old-fashioned, and I tend to think of bento as room-temperature cold rice plus two or three side dishes, but with the advent of conbini (convenience store) bento and other commercially available bento, a bento can now be any meal packed in a way it is portable. A "Curry bento", for example, was unthinkable when I was small.