Shokado Bento

No.168

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Shokado Bento is a bento served in a classic Shokado-style bento box which is usually square and is divided into 4 sections by a separable cross-grid inset and genuinly or imitatively lacquered in black or red. Now I have 7 Japanese Shokado bento boxes at home, 5 are square that came in a set and the remaining 2 are a bit different, they are rectangular with 3 divided sections. I love these boxes and their differences, I enjoy arranging my food in these boxes for parties and lunches. I once served dinners in these boxes and it made a very memorable evening with our friends. You can maybe easily imagine how my guests looked like when they opened the lid of their Shokado Bento box…. a beginning of food entertainment!

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Shokado Bento boxes are quite larger than our regular bento boxes of daily use. While we try to be very space-effective to pack food rather tightly in a small space of our usual bento box to prevent the food from moving around while carrying to work and school, it seems to me each section of Shokado Bento box is like an individual universe in which we can freely create our own food creation. If you like to fill all 4 sections of Shokado Bento box fully with just food, you will need almost 2-3 times as much food as a regular bento box. It is indeed a big bento box and the volume of the food is much more than a normal adult can eat for a lunch. Just like many of you, I hate to waste food. When trying to pack an usual volume of food in a big box like Shokado Bento box, you will need to deal with extra space.  If you are a very experienced skillful cook and can use the space as a garnish for the food in your presentation, it is fine.  But to most of you beginners or intermediates,  I like to recommend to use small bowls, glasses and plates in Shokado Bento, they are not only helpful to fill the space but also they will make your presentation look more special.

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I have 2 wooden mini bowls with lid, one in black and the other in red. It is very fun to use this bowl to serve a simmered dish and its delicious broth together in it. The lid will keep it warm as well and I just love this little open-the-lid excitement to give my guests.

Shokado Bento was originally created to be served at tea ceremonies in Japan and it has a very close relation to the Japanese culture of tea ceremony. I think Shokado Bento started originally as a humble bento and the portion of the food in each section was usually small as the main feature of Japanese tea ceremony is not the food but something else, even invisible spiritual thing.

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Based on the common rule of Shokado style bento arrangement, I arrange rice in the lower left section and grilled or fried meat or fish in either or both of the upper sections. When I use all 4 sections to serve side dishes for a party dinner, a bowl of rice and a bowl of soup will be served alongside.  I usually prepare different dishes paying attention to the colors and the season. Green, yellow, red, brown, white and orange are represented by seasonal vegetables and savory meat and fish dishes.  As my Shokado Bento box is entirely black in color, I like to brighten up with light-colored plates and bowls. We eat with eyes, and that is more true about Shokado Bento.  Even if the section is not completely filled with food and there is much space around the food, you may not necessarily feel it is scarce. Probably because your eyes were so well fed by the beautiful presentation and you were touched by the cook’s spirit behind the work?

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Shokado Bento is a special bento, it goes beyond cooking a meal and eating it. It is almost so spiritual that I am so sure you will feel the hospitality which the cook has put into the food and the arrangements. When you have a chance to make a Shokado Bento, please take your time to plan the bento well. My advise for you is to use your all creativity and hospitality and make a special Shokado Bento.

xxx Rie

 

The first bento

No. 157

This post is also available in Japanese はじめて作るお弁当

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Now I have 2 blog sites, one is here in English and I started one in Japanese 4 days ago. To my happy surprise, my Japanese blog has been visited by more than 1,000 people in last 4 days. I was wondering where in the world these people were coming from?? It is always nice to get a good communication through blogs and today I received a wonderful comment from Canada! She is Anna, a Japanese girl studying there, and I want to share it with you :

Hello Rie-san (* ^^ *)
I am writing a comment for the first time. I am now in Canada studying at an University, soon my first year will end. The most painful thing to me in this first year was food. I really missed my Japanese food. I realized that my ordinary food I was eating in Japan was such a great treat and I did not know it until I left Japan and came here. I missed Japanese food so much that I lost weight in the beginning but now I have found delicious food here as well, I am very healthy! Lol

Recently I was looking at great food photos on Instagram and I found you! The food you create looks so beautiful and healthy, it is really amazing! Now I am living in the schools dormitory and can not cook as there is no kitchen attached in my room. But I will move into an apartment from this coming spring and I am looking forward to cooking. Then I will refer to your recipes♡

Your photos reminded me again bento is great! Thank you!
Anna

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Thank you! I was so happy to receive such a nice comment! Maybe some of you may know I have 1 daughter, she is also an university student studying in the United States. As another Japanese-food-lover and as a mom, I could understand Anna’s feelings and her missing Japanese food. My daughter is in the senior year now but I remember she had the same problem in her first year. She then just realized that she had to cook it by herself if she wanted to eat something she liked. 3 1/2 years have passed and now my daughter is cooking and baking very much.

I think there are things you can only see when you leave your home nest and take a look at it from outside. Especially in a country like Japan, there are so many convenient and useful things around you and people take them for granted. But I believe those things you rediscovered while you were away will certainly change your point of view when you come back and make you appreciate more things you have not normally been paying attention to before. What a great living study!

If my bento or cooking can be of any help, I am very glad. Please take good care of yourself and have a wonderful student life in Canada, Anna-san.

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Soon it is March (time flies!). In Japan a school year ends in March. Graduation ceremonies are many, people start a new life with the arrival of cherry blossoms. Those who will leave home and start living on their own are preparing their new life, a cute cooking pot, 1 mug cup and 1 plate, a small electric rice cooker for 1 person. There are school cafeterias and company cantinas, but why not try a bento time to time?

Norwegian universities do have school cafeterias too but I heard from my daughter that it was very expensive. A dinner costs more than 100 NOK (13 US dollars/11.6 Euro) and it is not the best taste. The school she is attending now in US has larger selection, they have pizza, chinese food and even sushi but you get tired of them if you eat it every single day and the portion is rather large and you have to watch your weight! There are many good things about bento and I think one of the most important one is that you can control both the amount and the quality of the food you eat.

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This photo shows you my daughter’s bento box collection. Right, she loves Hello Kitty.

In order to enjoy a good bento life, I think choosing a right bento box for you is very important. If it is too small for you, you will still be hungry and end up buying something. If it is too large you may find you spending time and money to fill the box unnecessarily. If you are a women with normal appetite, I think a box with a volume around 600-700 ml might serve well. Like this set of 3 boxes in different sizes is also very convenient as you can combine and be flexible.

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If you are a beginner of cooking, it might be hard to begin with. But what I want to recommend you is that you try anyway and start with a food ingredient that is very familiar with you. Ham, tuna, I think it is not such a bad idea to use sometimes frozen food or ready-made food. Most people have eggs in the fridge? You can make scrambled eggs with butter and add green onions, a sunny side up on a hot frying pan is good, you can put a slice of cheese on top and melt it. When you master Tamagoyaki in Japanese way, you are getting very good! When you fry an egg on a frying pan, you can sautee green peppers and ham beside the egg. Another dish will be completed in a minute! (It goes very fast so don’t forget salt and pepper!)

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Don’t be discouraged by mistakes. Never mind and just keep on going. Some people may be so good and can make a successful bento on the first day but if you are getting better gradually through your failures and mistakes I think you will be a person with rich experiences.

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Your first bento. Are you wondering when you will start?
I hope you will give a try!

xxx Rie

2-door, 5-door, bento box

No.63

A Happy New Year! 

5 days has passed since the entry into the new year and I am still saying this phrase, but I really wish you all who kindly follow my blog and facebook page once again a happy new year in 2013. It was a busy and challenging and yet a good year for me in 2012 and I thank you for giving me encouragement and support. Without you readers I will not be able to produce at this speed. I hope this new year will be another year of many fun activities and exciting adventures!  How was your 2012? I hope you enjoyed the past year and are looking forward to this new year as much as I do! We live in many different parts of the world, but I hope you will enjoy cooking and bento making with me through 2013.

So, here I am sitting and writing this first blog post of 2013. The title is a bit puzzling but I just wanted to give you something to read when you are choosing a new bento box sometime in the course of this new year.

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The other day my husband was saying that we need a new car soon. “Really?” I said, as I could not believe the fact as the car is kicking just fine with me everyday, but my husband is much more experienced when it comes to vehicles and there is no harm for me to shop around and visit beautiful car showrooms and talk to knowledgeable sales persons who offers free coffee and candies before I pick up another catalog to add to my collection. So far I have driven cars with reasonable space in the luggage room. All of them are 4-door cars, one car was a Japanese car, the other was an American and now I am driving a German car. They were all my good friends and went through different phases with me, driving and picking up a school girl to and from her school, bringing players to soccur games, doing grocery shoppings and commuting to my office. But now I maybe in a new phase again, the school girl has left her home and I do not buy so much grocery as I used to, no passengers in soccur uniforms. I stopped and thought “Maybe now a smaller car with 2 doors will serve my need? ,I always liked Mini Cooper, what about a yellow cute Mini Cooper?” I imagine my daily driving to work in a yellow Mini Cooper will add more excitement and reduce our gas costs!!

Maybe it will shape up my body and make me look prettier too! Or am I too hopeful? 🙂

But I can not help comparing this car to my 4-door car. A Mini Cooper seems so small and the luggage room is so too. We hope to be traveling time to time and you know me, traveling means shopping! and I will be carrying at least 2 bags. The school girl has inherited my shopping DNA for sure, and it will be MANY bags when we travel together. Then a Mini Cooper won’t be so ideal, and maybe we should have a wagon car of 5 doors with a spacious luggage room?



The school girl will be VERY happy and my husband will be VERY sad! Ughhh, well, I don’t think I want to risk my happy marriage for a practical but over decorated Hello Kitty 5-door car, so I may not be driving this in 2013 and we really do not have the need for a car of this size.

Buying a car is not a small shopping. You have to know what you want. To find what you want and what you need, we need to ask ourselves 1) Who will use it?  2) How many people will use it? 3) Can you afford it?  4) Can you maintain it? 5) Do you have a garage for it?  etc.etc. Get a pen and a piece of paper!!

Don’t you think this really applies when we choose our bento box. Sometimes I am asked to help someone choose a right kind of bento box. It is very nice to receive such a request and I thank them for their trust in my opinion. I will try to help as much as I can in 2013! Specially to you bento beginners, I say it is really easy to be attracted to pretty bento boxes by its appearance, I know it as I was also a bento beginner once. But don’t let your decision be carried away by the appearance too much.  Rather it will be more helpful to get to know your lunch style well, do you know how much is the adequate volume of food that satisfies you and carry you through the day? What kind of food do you enjoy at your lunch time?  And how much time can you spend for preparing your bento? Some people say they have to choose a small box as they do not have time to cook so much of food for bento. To me it is not a very persuading reason for choosing a small box as I strongly believe your cooking will come along eventually. It may take some time until you get used to your new way of bento cooking but nothing is achieved as long as you don’t try! I think we are quite better at adopting new things into our daily life than we think, so I really recommend you to try a new way in 2013 and challenge an adequate sized box and don’t stay hungry after eating a too small portion of bento everyday. Getting a bigger box may encourage your cooking and teach you new lessons. Maybe it will reform how you use your time everyday. But hey, it’s a new year and it will be fun to be able to say at the end of the year that you have had a change in your life style and it was a good and healthy change!

Luckily a bento box is not as expensive and it does not need as large garage space as a car. I have now more or less 50 bento boxes in all different sizes and shapes. My required volume of food for a lunch has not been changed so much but I just enjoy making bentos in different styles. If you are an advanced bento maker, I recommend you to try a bento box of a size you normally don’t use. You may sometimes see me make a tiny bento for a kid or a rather larger bento than usual. This I do to give myself lessons and trainings to keep up my flexibility and techniques. And I believe the origin of bento lies in giving someone else than yourself a meal to go. To become an advanced bento maker, I really recommend to make bentos for different people of varried volume of appetite.  How about making a bento for your father? your brother? or your child’s friend? Get yourself a small bento box and a big bento box in addition to your usual one, then I am sure your bento year 2013 will be full of experiments and lessons.

We probably end up with another 4-door car one day. If I had a larger garage and more money, it would be fun to drive a 2-door car to my office and a 5-door wagon from the airport. But I smile as my kitchen drawer is full of Toyota, Honda, Porche, BMW, Isuzu, Volvo, Peugeot, Ford and ……

Happy New Year!

xxx Rie, your Bento Specialist at Bento & co.