The other day I received the following mail from Miss S. in Hong Kong
and I am writing her my reply in this post :
I have been reading your blog. I love your bento. They are so lovely. I read your blog every day.
It can cheer up my day! There are some questions about making bento I hope you can help.
1. If I cook the food in the morning before work, it takes time (maybe more than an hour for humid
and warm weather in hong kong) for it to cool down before I put it in the bento. I find it difficult
because I have to go to work early in the morning. Is there any advice for me?
2. If I cook the food the night before then put it in the fridge, should I heat it and cool it down
again in the morning to put it in the bento?
Thank you very much and have a nice day!
Sunday March 24, 2013
Dear Miss S. in Hong Kong,
Hello Miss S! Thank you so much for your mail and thank you for following my Facebook page and blog. I was very glad to hear you are also a bento maker, we are far away from each other but it makes me happy to know we are sharing the joy of bento! I understand you have 2 questions regarding packing food in your bento box and of course I would like to offer my help and advice if I may.
1. From your first question I could see your morning looks like a busy part of the day and I would like to recommend you to make your bento the night before or you should consider packing something that does not need to cool down.
To me the most important thing of making bento is whether you enjoy it or not, and whether you will continue it or not. In order for you to enjoy making bento for a long time, it is very necessary that you find your own style that suits to your daily schedule. If you have to go to work early and if you find it difficult to make your bento in the morning, I think you can prepare your bento the night before. But at the same time I also like to stress that there is no laws in the bento world, You can allow yourself some variations and try and enjoy different kind of cooking. A good and full meal bento is something we all enjoy very much but it is also nice to make an easy, light and cold bento, for example sandwiches, a salad with fruits and crackers and cheese, an assortment of cold cuts with bread, they all make wonderful bento and it does not take so much time to pack and no need to cool down the food before you pack it. These food can be packed in the morning and for you living in a warm country it will be also helpful to cool your bento box, silicon cups etc. in your fridge before you pack your bento in it.
This issue of cooling down the food before you pack it is all about food safety. As you already know, when we talk about food safety for bento, it is usually about one thing, Bacteria. It is said bacteria grows rapidly when they have water (including humidity in air and condensation in bento box), food and favorable temperatures. The range of their favorable temperatures is called “Danger Zone” and according to the info fact from USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) it is said to be between 4 to 60 ℃ (40 – 140 F) and we know food keeps better either colder or warmer than this range. (So, in this theory your good Cantonese Chicken Congee in a thermos pot that can keep it warmer than 60C can be a good and safe bento!) As long as you use clean hands, fresh ingredients and bacteria-free kitchen/bento tools and you can eat your bento within reasonable hours, I think it usually goes fine. If you have a long commuting time to work, I am sure you are already aware of using an ice pack or two in an isothermal bag. My favorite bento shop Bento & co has many useful goods, specially one that has an ice pack built in the lid will be very useful for you. (They have three sizes) http://en.bentoandco.com/products/gel-cool-standard-m
2. About your second question, I think my answer will be No. To me it does not make sense that you have made the bento the night before to save time in your busy morning and here again, you are waiting for the food to cool down. It just does not make sense to me. If you will make a bento the night before, I think it should be a type of bento that you can just take out of the fridge and go to work with you. But then it means your food was heated many hours ago. It is also recommended to keep your bento cool in your office until your lunch time comes.
Have you thought about making some food for your bento and freeze it in small portion in a silicon cup? It might be an idea for you. You can just take them out from freezer and pack in your bento box in the morning. It will be ideal if you have a microwave in your office. Now many of the bento boxes we see are microwave-safe and I think it will be more and more standard to have microwave-safe bento boxes and reusable silicon cups. When I lived in Japan, I used to pack some rice and boiled vegetables like broccoli or green beans in my bento box the night before and keep it in fridge until the next morning. Then I pack some frozen gyoza or korokke in it in the morning. It serves a kind of ice pack as well. They get defrosted by the time I eat my lunch and I just heat the whole bento in the microwave in my office. It was a very convenient and tasty bento! Remember our food in our bento box is usually a small portion and it will be good to know reheating it repeatedly in microwave will also change the texture of the food (it will make the food like meat tougher).
In addition, vinegar and some spices are helpful ingredient. In Japan some people cook rice with a drop of vinegar in summer time. Vinegar is supposed to kill bacteria and so are some spices. Take the spicy curry and food in India. They also have a kind of bento culture there and I believe they do not use fridge as much as we do. I have not studied so much about it yet but I believe it will be useful for you to learn some special effects of spices in other warm countries.
You can make the following food and divide into small portion in silicon cups.
Wrap it with plastic wrap and freeze. You can take it out and put into your bento box in the morning. I am curious to know how you are keeping your bento in your office (Do you have a fridge?) but it will taste even better if you could reheat it in the microwave oven right before you eat it.
Deep fried fish
Meat balls in tomato sauce
Cooked beef in soy sauce
I hope my advice will be helpful for you and Have a fun bento life!