We’re kicking off a new series on our blog where we interview some of our favorite bento gurus on their bento tips and tricks!
The Challenges of Bento-Making
Making bento can be such a satisfying hobby because you can continually experiment with different food, techniques, preparation methods, and styles of arranging. And when you open up a bento box at lunchtime to find a meal made with care and intention, it brightens up your day!
With busy schedules though, it’s easy to get stuck making the same thing over and over....
The result? Boring, less than healthy or unappetizing lunches. Here are some common struggles that we encountered among bento makers:
- Getting stuck in a rut with the same foods
- Drab looking meals (not enough color variety)
- Lack of time
- Unable to create a nutritionally balanced meal
Difficulty arranging foods neatly in the bento box
To help find some solutions to these problems, we reached out for advice from some bento experts.
Tips from Japanese Food Artist, Shio
Kicking things off today is Shio (@shio7769), a Japanese food artist and influencer. Shio makes vibrant and whimsical bento boxes and meals that incorporate seasonal ingredients and reference Japan’s changing seasons.
Shio kindly answered our questions and gave some super helpful tips! (translated from Japanese) Read on for her suggestions:
1. How to get out the "same foods" rut
Shio says “In my case, I sometimes get stuck in a rut, especially with side dishes but I try to break out of that by changing the cooking method and seasoning, even if the base ingredients are the same.
For example with carrots, carrot rapé salad can be enjoyed in a variety of flavors: plain, with cumin, or curry flavored! You can also really create variety even with the same ingredients by changing cooking methods, such as by deep frying like with Tatsuta-age (marinated chicken/fish coated in potato starch and fried) and stir-frying like with Kinpira (sauteed and simmered vegetables seasoned with soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and chili peppers).”
2. How to transform drab looking bento
“Simply adding red and green to a bento with brown foods will make it more colorful. If you are wondering what to use for red and green, searching for「お弁当赤いおかず」 "bento red side dish" just on the Internet can also give you some ideas. When I think of a side dish, I always consider the color combination as well as the balance of flavors.”
3. How to save time
“A little prep in advance saves a lot of time. For example, if you season meat the night before all you need to do is grill it the next morning.* If you have difficulty preparing the meal the day before due to time constraints, I recommend making a Donburi (seasoned meat, fish or vegetables served on rice) bento!”
*Note: Instead of making bento the night before, many bento makers in Japan will prepare bento the morning of to maximize freshness and flavor.
4. How to improve the nutritional balance of your bento
“Our family's bento consists of one main dish (meat or fish) and two or three side dishes. I always try to include vegetables and eggs in these side dishes, even if it’s a donburi style bento. For example, with a Bibimbap donburi bento, it’s made up of Soboro (seasoned ground meat) + Namul (Korean seasoned vegetables).
For an Ebi Chili (Chili Shrimp) donburi bento, I will include shrimp + fried egg + asparagus, broccoli, bok choy, etc.
For a Loco moco donburi bento I'll include Hambagu (Salisbury Steak) + fried egg + lettuce + potato salad + carrot rapé salad”
5. How to arrange foods in your bento
“I often think about what I want to show off most in the bento, and pack that first. In the case of the Loco Moco donburi bento, I pack rice, then hambagu at the front of the bento, then fried egg on top, and finally side dishes around the hambagu.“
Example of a donburi style bento by @shio7769
Thank you to Shio-san for these amazing tips! It’s fascinating to hear what goes on behind the scenes of these talented bento makers and helpful to hear their personal techniques to make beautiful bento creations.