Japanese Bento – Kyaraben!

We’ve saved the best for our final post in our Japanese Bento series… kyaraben!

Character bento, or kyaraben, are famous for their style, originality, fun and creativity. Initially created to entice children to eat their lunch, kyaraben focus on the concept of “kawaii”, or cuteness, to present a well-balanced meal in a convenient, portable bento box.

Kyaraben come in an endless variety, all depending on the creativity and wherewithal of the maker. The simplest kyaraben showcase cars, trains, airplanes, stars, hearts and flowers. As the kyaraben artist makes more sophisticated bento, they add cute animal shapes to the bento, including grinning panda bear patties, smiling penguin rice balls, octopus-shaped sausages with flapping arms, porky pigs and small rabbit-eared eggs.

The most popular types of kyaraben, in Japan and internationally, are ones that showcase characters from Japanese anime and manga as well as from Western animated TV shows and movies. Imagine eating a nutritious lunch with Hello Kitty or Gudetama! And how about Doraemon and Pikachu, stacked with fried chicken and sausages! And let’s not forget Totoro and Anpanman on a bed of fried rice surrounded by colorful carrots and edamame! And for kids who love American cartoons, Disney’s Tsum Tsum characters and Winnie the Pooh are big favorites!

Kyaraben artists use both everyday kitchen tools along with special tools made for creating character bento. Plastic wrap is generally used to shape rice balls, but special shapes can also be made using rice molds. Vegetables can be julienned with a sharp knife and also cut into flowers, stars and clouds using miniature veggie cutters. And meats, poultry and seafood are served in bite-sized pieces. Rice and other items are decorated with cutouts of nori seaweed or with designed using powdered seaweed sprinkled through stencils. So elaborate are kyaraben designs that numerous books have been published and popular blogs such as Little Miss Bento are visited by foodies from all over the world!

Ready to try your hand at kyaraben? Check out our ideas for these beautifully-shaped fun bento. And as always, be sure to share your pictures with us!

What’s for Lunch?

lunchjar01Salmon teriyaki with seasonal mixed vegetables over rice. Jambalaya with cornbread and sautéed greens. Chicken vindaloo with mint yogurt sauce and papadums. Japanese dry curry with rice and boiled eggs.

Sounds mouth-watering, doesn’t it?

More and more people have meals like this for lunch. They’re fresh, healthy and balanced. They satisfy the belly and the heart. They make us pause, enjoy lunch (even if it’s just for 10 minutes!) and feel refreshed. A meal like this feels like it was made with care, with attention to flavor, comfort and nourishment.

A meal like this deserves to look as good as it tastes, to be crisp and clean, not mushy or soggy or mashed together. The best way to bring these homemade lunches to work orlunchjar02 slxd school are to take them in a lunch jar, like the Classic Stainless Lunch Jar (SL-XD20) by Zojirushi.  The Classic Stainless Lunch Jar is perfect for transporting gourmet lunches, and has some remarkable features. The outer container is made of durable 18/8 grade stainless steel with superior vacuum insulation, which keeps food hot or cold for up to six hours. The jar also has three generously sized inner containers – one for a side dish, one for a main dish, and one for soup. The main dish container has an insulated lid that prevents room temperature items placed above it from becoming heated or chilled, while the soup and main dish containers are kept hot or cold by the insulated jar! Each inner container is microwaveable and BPA-free. The jar also comes with chopsticks, chopsticks case, and a detachable carrying strap. You can find out more on our product page.

We’ve got great ideas about what to have for lunch.  What are yours?