Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bento 101: Charaben

From Wikipedia: 
Kyaraben or charaben, a shortened form of character bento is a style of elaborately arranged bento (Japanese boxed lunch) which features food decorated to look like people, characters from popular media, animals, and plants. Japanese homemakers often spend time devising their families' meals, including their boxed lunches. 

Originally, a decorated bento was intended to interest children in their food and to encourage a wider range of eating habits. It has now evolved to the point where national contests are held.

With all these bento photos that I've been uploading both here on the blog and on Instagram, I've received many requests to do tutorials on how charabens or decobens are made. These are very popular in Japan, and I suppose it is the same way here, with bento-making on the uptrend.

Recently, I've had the chance to teach Michelle (Momma N' Manila) and Mia (my soaperstarmama friend and stalker) how to make owl charaben, and I think I've pretty much mastered (well, sort of) the art of molding onigiri without the mold. In fact, the girls were thinking it would be easier to mold with just their hands, but I guess this bento momma proved them otherwise (didn't I?), hehe.

So anyway, here's what we made that day.

From left to right: Mia's, Mine and Michelle's. Hoot! Hoot!

I shall save the retelling on what went on during our mini-workshop for another post. Today's all about making charabens, and I will teach you how to make a bear-y simple one. Haha, get it? Bear-y easy bear charaben. This will be a photo blog, as there are a lot of photos to help you with the step-by-step procedure on how to put this one together.


Main Dish
Vegetable Dish
Side Dish of Fruit or Vegetable
Nori/ Dried Seaweed
A stick of Uncooked Spaghetti

We had pork adobo leftovers, and that basically influenced my choice of which charaben to make. I was thinking I could use the sauce to make brown-colored rice, and it would make a nice bear. Charabens need not be complicated. You can use leftovers! I always do.

Here's how I made my bear-y easy bear...

I took some sauce and mixed it with my rice.

You don't need adobo to make this. Use brown rice or seasoning mixed with white rice.

Scoop enough rice in a food-grade bag to mold the bear's head.
Make sure rice is packed such that it doesn't break when taken out of the bag.

Place directly in your box or in a large, round silicone cup.

For ears, scoop about a teaspoon of rice into the bag and mold.

You will need two. Break off about an inch of uncooked spaghetti noodles.
Dip ends in mayonnaise or sauce to make it stick to your rice balls.

Push your noodle halfway through the small balls to make ears.

Attach ears to head like so.

Using a bear cookie cutter, punch out some cheese.

Once you get the bear punched out, reverse the cutter and punch again.

You will then have an oval for the bear's face, and ears for the bear's... uh... ears. Hehe.

Attach to rice like so.
Take a piece of bread and flatten it with a rolling pin or glass jar.
You don't need the whole slice, just a tiny piece. But my kids love eating bread scraps. Hehe.

Using a small circle cookie cutter, punch out two circles for eyes.

Attach to the bear's head like so.

Punch out two nori circles using a single hole puncher.
Attach to the bread circles using mayo and tweezers.

Using the HapuMogu face nori puncher #9 (available at Saizen), punch out a couple of half moons.

If you don't have this puncher, just use scissors to cut out those shapes.
The nori puncher just helps with precise shapes.

Attach those half moons to the ears like so.

Using a smaller single hole puncher and a HapiMogu face nori puncher #8, punch out more nori circles.
Apply to face to add details to the bear's cheeks.

Using the nori I used to punch out the half moons, I took a pair of scissors and cut out the bear's mouth.
I followed the shape of the half moon to help me get the right curve.

I wanted to serve vegetables and a side of cherry tomatoes with the pork adobo,
so I used three mini oval silicone cups.

Voila! My bear-y easy bear charaben! Nothing to it, right?
Served my bear-y serious bear with pork adobo, fried zucchini slices and some cherry tomatoes.

I used the following bento tools to make this charaben.

These tools are available at Saizen!
Rolling Pin, Hapi Mogu Nori Punchers, Single Hole Punchers, Silicone Cups, Cookie Cutters, Picks and Tweezers.

Because I hardly get to make my not-so-little girl bentos anymore, she got this bear-y cute bento for lunch today.

Pleased with her bento, although I doubt it filled her tummy. This is RL's small bento box after all!

For more bento fun, follow me on instagram!

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Have you submitted your photo entries for Saizen's Create Your Own Bento Photo Contest? You have three more days to make them and beat their September 30 deadline! Hurry! Make those bentos and send in your photo today. You can win upto P3,000 worth of Saizen Gift Certificates!

To those asking, the photo entry should contain three elements: 
1) Your finished bento, 
2) The Saizen tools you used to make your bento, and 
3) A photo of you making your bento.

Edit these photos together to make one photo like so...

Pretend A made this bento and that photo is of her making it.

For detailed mechanics, check out Saizen on social media:



  1. Nice! I have been wanting to make a bento for Erin. What is Onigiri? I keep seeing that word along side Bentos. Thanks.


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