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

 

 

Bento Knowledge Market

Bento Marathon 4

No.110

There is something called “online knowledge market”, it is a web site where you can write questions to be answered by other users and I am an occasional user of Tripadvisor and a couple of knowledge-sharing markets for photographers. It is usefulI, in my limited experience my questions have been relatively quickly and accurately answered by kind fellow users and I wish we had something like this for sharing bento knowledge. In Japan as bento is so integrated that there are many bento knowledge markets, one of the large ones is on Yahoo! Japan and there many questions and answers like “Which okazu do you like best in bento?”  “Is an oval bento box easier to use than a slim one?” etc. are being actively exchanged. Not only sharing knowledge but also encouragement and compassionate comments are many. One woman was asking for easy and fast recipes for her bento cooking (she had to make 5 bentos everyday…) and really people had good advise for her!

Tonight I was reading a bento knowledge market in Japan and found this question. Both my husband and I thought it was quite funny, so here I like to share it with you. 🙂

Q. Hello. I make a bento for my husband everyday but he took my favorite bicycle the other day and left it somewhere and it got stolen. i am going to punish him with bad bento next week. Monday I will put rice and soup together in one box, Tuesday I will put rice and bread together, Wednesday will be rice and a piece of small ham but on Friday I will make a nice bento for him and I will forgive him completely.  Do you have any idea for a bad bento on Thursday? Thank you for your answer! 

There came 1600 answers (!) in total. Some answers were a little bit too much and mean and many were so sympathetic to her husband, It is not strange if you got as many as 1600 answers the reactions will be varied. I am glad she made a nice bento on Friday and they are happy together again. If I were her, I would make this bento and leave a note “Thanks for the new bike! I love it!!”  🙂

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Rie

Bento Contest

Bento Marathon 3

No.109

Really I am writing this because of a bento contest. All started after I participated in the Bento&co’s contest in 2011, I had no idea that I would be doing what I am doing now three years later. Some of you who are reading this post may have participated in a contest before and maybe you are curious to know what I think of a bento contest? What I am going to write here is my personal opinion and it has nothing to do with any bento contest or organization. Having said that, I hope you could kindly let me talk for a moment.

When you are participating in a bento contest, of course your bento presentation is the most crucial thing.  The level is getting higher and higher these days, you are required to present a good competitive bento to the judges. Specially when one is entering into a bento contest in Japan, remember she is the mother land of bento, the level is notably very high. If you have been to Japan I think you saw. Everywhere you go you see beautiful food. The Japanese culinary world sets a high value on its beautiful food presentation and people are so used to see it so in their daily life as well. So how do we survive? My advise for you will be :Take your time and plan your presentation very well. In order to plan well you do need to understand the theme of the contest well (here is the previous post about understanding contest rules). In the framework of the theme, how can you present a nice bento which will stand out and get attention of the judges? It is a big question but I think we all should think about that. If the theme has not been announced, just keep calm and make bento 🙂  You don’t have to make a fancy bento everyday, just an ordinary bento will be fine. If you have no time to make bento, visit your favorite bento blog or web site to keep yourself motivated and inspired. Although a bento blogger on Internet is not your personal friend, in most cases she lives very far away from you. But I think those of you who have good bento friends to share the common interest together progress very much.

Bento photo shooting
Bento photo shooting

Taking a nice photo is also important. You do not need to run to a camera shop and buy an expensive professional camera but it is a fact that the quality of your photo speaks a lot at a contest. Taking a good photo of food is a profound thing, I take more than 10,000 photos of food a year and I am still a learner. ” Rome ne s’est pas faite en un jour” (Rome was not built in a day)”, food photography is not mastered in one day either. If you know someone who can help, that is very nice. You can make a good bento for him/her to say thank you and that will be a fun party. You and your camera man can look at the weather forecast and decide the photo shooting day. I hope you won’t find only the sign of umbrella then because good natural light is necessary to take good photos, last but not least I remind you that using direct flash light will only damage your presentation. Once again I recommend you to go back to the contest rules and find if there is any special mention about the orientation of the photo. Is a portrait shot allowed? or do I have to take it in horizontal aspect? Make a note and get yourself prepared. If you know what you are going to cook for your contest bento, write a shopping list. If I were you I would have all the grocery shopping done the day before I plan to cook. Maybe you will do the shopping on Friday and use your weekend to cook and take pictures? It is all up to you and the goddess of the weather!

On the cooking day, have a good breakfast and just enjoy cooking to make YOUR bento. You do not have to imitate a Japanese bento in the Japanese style, we can have our own style. I think bento outside Japan has come to the point to start developing its own style and that is so exciting.

TapasbentoRie

I really wish you all good luck and I hope to see you listed among the finalists and winners, but even if you tried hard and did not win, don’t get discouraged. I hope you will keep your chin up and try the next opportunity. I am sure it will show your challenging attitude and spirit in your bento. Although I did not win in 2011 either, I am so thankful for the fun and the people I have been blessed. A bento contest can change your life pretty much regardless of who took the title.

Surely I have said this post has nothing to do with Bento&co, but I write here the theme of this year’s Bento& co’s contest will be soon announced. I don’t know what it will be, I am as anxious as you are. While we wait, we have many things to do, and I hope you are ready.

Rie