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

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Evolving from a fad to be BENTO

Bento Marathon 5

No.111

This is my 5th and the last post of the blog marathon for now, I hope I am not tiring you out of reading everyday, my nerdiness of blog posting might be there but I hope I am not on the way to becoming a bento hypergraphia by all means.

2 days ago I wrote “Bento outside Japan has come to the point to start developing its own style” and I like to probe deeper into this today.

There are several reasons why I emphasize it, the increase of both awareness of bento and its enthusiasts is the main reason and even this little blog of mine is showing it has been viewed by people in 25 different countries in the world since the start 1 week ago.  It seems many of my readers are in France and USA but I get so thrilled to see countries like Brunei, Jordan, Israel, Brazil, Barbados on the list of top views by country. Wow, our beloved bento IS spreading! While I pray the spreading phase will continue, I see it is integrating deeper into people’s hearts and daily life in many countries. Some countries are more advanced than others, so called character bento is very popular in many asian countries (I wonder if they will take over the Japanese “Kawaii” bento culture in some years as the birthrate in Japan continue to decline), in France, specifically in Paris, which is said to be the mecca of bento outside Japan, there are bento restaurants and bento schools, the word BENTO is now a french word. I see many bento blogs and books from USA and I believe there are so many things bento can contribute to ordinary American people’s diet to make it healthier.

The increase of awareness is also happening in Japan, they are more and more aware of that their own meal style is expanding abroad. I think this we owe Bento&co a lot. I say this not because I like them very much but because it is fair to say so. If you have been following their coverage in Japanese media you know how much PR they have done in Japan for our bento growing outside Japan. Thanks to their reports and hard work, Japanese people are more aware of the trend. I am still in some bento circles and clubs in Japan and often get questions about the status quo of bento in Europe. I try to explain what I observe and I can tell you they are very happy to hear about you.

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I hope this tendency will continue in both in Japan and outside Japan and long live, Bento! Bento has not problem to survive in Japan as it is a part of their life and soul, but I hope it won’t die out just a short-life fad in foreign countries. Bento is so closely associated with our essential need and healthy life style, that is something many people are interested wherever they live? and I really wish bento would become a future mainstay in many countries. As food is a so daily and fundamental thing it should be genuinely accepted and adopted in the local land. If I may adopt a term definition of 弁当, the Japanese word for bento, to mean by the Japanese meal in bento box in the mother land Japan including its history and culture associated with it, whereas BENTO is the exported form of Japanese bento including its fast-growing trend outside Japan, we are on the right course of evolving from 弁当 to BENTO adding our own features and understanding into the development. Please take a look at these bentos.

Aurelie Valentine

Marie Valentinee

Aurelie (above) and Marie’s bento on Velentine’s Day 2014.

These bentos were made by 2 lovery ladies from France. When I saw their bentos for the first time I was very impressed and happy. Later I wanted to share this happiness with others and we together started a project called “Collaboration Bento”. Especially I was very curious to see the Japanese people’s reaction. How will they say? Do they know where bento is at in Europe now? Reactions varied. Some were very impressed by the level and surprised to see the so uniquely different style, I may have chosen a bit too dramatic examples of their bento showcase but I think it was successful as an eye opener and an ice breaker. Most of the people I showed these bentos mentioned about the different way of using colors in bento. Well, people in france are known to be good at colors (Merci, monsieur Yves Saint-Laurent!) they are maybe more bold to use colors. As the traditional cooking of Japan is based on dark-color seasonings like soy sauce or miso, it tends to make their bento dark. I think colors are the definite feature and difference of bento abroad and I am looking forward to finding many more special features.

One day I like to go back and write this as my thesis. It is my dream. I don’t know if my dream will ever be realized one day, but if it really did it would be wonderful.
Dr. of Bento Ethonology, quite something, isn’t it?

Rie

 

 

It was made for me

Bento Marathon 2

No.108

I travel around the world and I ABSOLUTELY love eating local food of the places where I visit. It is hard to pick the most memorable meal I have ever had, there are so many memories I can not forget. If I may name one or two, we were in Monaco and Nice 2 years ago and coming from a cold country like Norway you can imagine how I felt, the color of the Mediterranean Sea was so blue, the fresh vegetables and beautiful fruits at the local market are still vividly staying in my mind. Once driving in Tuscany in Italy we stopped at a small restaurant for lunch, it was between a winery in Chianti and the old city of Sienna in spring time. When we arrived at the restaurant there was nothing but vineyards as far as I could see. I must admit I was more sure we came to the right place to drink, but my skepticism was blown away already by the starter…I still can not forget the food they served!!

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Mmmm… it was delicious!  But I know my list of the most memorable food is always changing. As I continue to travel and keep myself curious to try new delicacies of the world, old dishes will be replaced by the new ones. We say we Japanese like new things and I am not an exception. But when I look at my list, the food which has been on the list for awhile all have some friendly stories behind it. The food itself was of course delicious but I see some people’s faces around the dish. I can not help thinking the experience is being strengthened by some personal touch.

Our 20th wedding anniversary dinner in Italy. The chef came out and signed his name on the menu for us

Our 20th wedding anniversary dinner in Italy. The chef came out and signed his name on the menu for us

Unless you know the chef personally, the food they serve at restaurant is not so personally prepared for you only. No matter how beautiful the dish may look, the chef usually does not know you personally and he probably does not need to. He is a professional restaurant chef whose job is to produce equally beautiful food to his customers constantly and consistently. But have you not seen a chef coming out of the kitchen to greet his customers who wanted to praise the work well done and convey gratitude for the happy evening? If you experience something like that, I think the evening will stay on your list for a long long time.

There is no problem to find nice stories when it comes to putting personal touch into bento. As it is usually made by someone you know and there is a bond between you and her/him who made it just for you. I was reading an article the other day, it was written by a Japanese working mother who had to work during Japanese Golden Week holidays. Her husband took the children to his mother’s house while his wife was at work but he came back alone with a bento in his hand. “Here! My mother made a bento for you!”  The food consisted of only the ingredients she liked and loved. Mother-in-law remembered all… Working in her office in Golden Week was not fun at all but she said the bento really made her cry… for joy and happiness.

A bento box is a real wonder, you can put food and heart in that tiny space.
Enjoy both, as it was made only for you.

Rie