Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bento 101: TOOLS

One of the first few bentos I made for A.
My love for bento started in August of 2007. A and I were in Hong Kong for a vacay, when we chanced upon the City Super store in ShaTin. I had discovered the wonders of the egg mold, and thought I'd research more on it when I got back to Manila. Alas, I purchased the mold (along with some rice molds) and forgot I had them until we were back in Hong Kong in December of that same year. By then, I had decided I'd give it a try and purchased more tools.

In 2009, Saizen, the official Daiso distributor in the Philippines, opened their first store in Robinsons Galleria. Needless to say, I went nuts. I started collecting bento tool after bento tool (I think I over-hoarded, if there's such a thing, LOL).

From Wikipedia: Bento (弁当 bentō) or Obento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento holds rice, fish or meat, with pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container. 

Basically, a bento is a boxed lunch. In the Philippines, we call it baon. What makes Japanese bentos different is that Japanese mothers lovingly put these boxed lunch together as an expression of love and dedication. That versus stuffing everything in your kid's lunch box without any thought. LOL. And yes, bento-making takes a lot of skill and dedication.

If you want to start bento-making, you have to make sure you're in it 100%. I say so because it takes time to plan and put a meal together. I know of mothers who wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning just to put together awesome lunch boxes for their children. When I started making bento for A, I'd do it for a month, tops, then I'd get tired. But that's because I was into Charaben (or Kyaraben), the more complicated and elaborately-decorated bentos that are decorated to look like popular cartoon characters. With basic bento, however, all you need are a few basic tools. If you think you want to start making bento (or imBento, as I've coined it), you need to know what you'll need.

Here's a list of tools you'd need to get that bento thing going:


2-tiered Onigiri-type bento box.

You're going to need a sturdy, spill-proof bento box. Its size is dependent on who shall use it. My 11-year-old daughter uses a multi-tiered box, whereas her little brother, a 4-year-old, uses a smaller one. I prefer using a regular, rectangular one. It is easier to plan bento meals that way. And easier to fill. Hehe.


Assorted Silicone Cups.

If you would ask me, I would say that one of the most important tools for bento (aside from the box) would be Silicone Cups. They keep food separated (if using a box without dividers). It is also a great way to regulate portions.


I love picks! 

My favorite bento tool! And I have all sorts - food picks, cocktail picks, cupcake picks and toppers, bento picks, plastic ones, wooden ones, homemade ones, etc. You can't have too many picks! Besides, if you're bento-making for preschoolers, they are sure to lose a pick or two. A has lost over a dozen picks. RL hasn't lost a single one, so far. But yes, I usually keep the whole pack. I love trading picks and buying extras. If there is one tool to buy to spruce up your bento, it is this. Picks are sure to add a little touch of sunshine to your bento meal. Use them to hold food together, for eating, or for fun.


Silicone Barans are my preferred type of divider because they can be reused!

Barans are food dividers that come in a variety of shapes, designs and sizes. They come in food-grade plastic or silicone. Use them to keep food and flavors separated. I use them mostly to spruce up my bento box.


Have your kids bring ketchup or sauce in bottles and containers without
worrying about them spilling the contents all over their lunch box.

Small sauce bottles are perfect for soy sauce, vinegar and the like (or even milk for cereals!). They come in different shapes and sizes. I like stocking different sizes for different needs. Droppers or plungers are essential for easy transferring of sauce to these small bottles.  Little containers hold condiments like mayo and ketchup. I love these, but RL has lost two already. Boohoo.


When I was starting out, these were the molds I used the most.
Saizen has a wide variety of Onigiri molds!

Because I make bento lunch for my little boy everyday, I am more comfortable using my hands when molding rice. I use food bags or cling wrap to mold them to my desired shape. However, Onigiri molds are very useful, especially for specific shapes like stars, hearts, bears, etc.


Simple bento need not be plain and boring, spruce it up with small cutouts
using assorted vegetable cutters! Cut ham, carrots, cheese, etc. and decorate your bento!
Invest in different cookie cutter shapes in different sizes. They always come in handy!
Cute bread cutters!

Cutters always come in handy, and it won't hurt to invest in different kinds! There are stainless cutters that are perfect for raw vegetables like carrots, then there are plastic kinds that are used for soft food like bread, cheese, meat, etc. I have all sorts of cutters, from character-shaped ones that are used for easy charabens, to assorted shapes in different sizes that can be used for just about anything!


Nori Punchers are the way to go when you want clean cuts for faces and details.

A great way to decorate your bento is to put faces on your food. I know right, but that's how it goes with bento-making. Now, the easiest way to do so is with some Nori or dried seaweed and a good face puncher. Punchers come in different shapes as well. You can even use paper punchers or scrapbooking ones, as long as you make sure they're used exclusively for food. When using punchers for Nori, you have to make sure you clean them well after each use, or else they will get dull. I shall save the how-to for another post.


From left to right: Fruit Baller, V-shaped cutter, Blade, U-shaped cutter and Tweezers.
Not pictured: Scissors

One of the tools I use a lot, especially with charabens, is the hand-held blade. It is perfect for specific cuts, and I have at least 5 reserves! LOL! I also appreciate the tweezers because it makes Nori-handling easier, especially when applying eyes and small pieces. If you have to choose just 3 hand-held tools, I suggest getting the blade; a nice, sharp pair of micro-tip scissors for cutting Nori; and a handy pair of food tweezers.


The condiment pen is used for writing or drawing with sauces.
You can also use a squeeze bottle with a fine tip.

Another way to decorate your bento is by drawing or writing using thick sauces like mayonnaise and ketchup. The best way to control what goes into your drawing or writing is by using a condiment pen or a squeeze bottle with a fine tip. Saizen has nice Okonomiyaki 2 or 3-tip squeeze bottles that I love to use. They make drawing grids and squiggles easy and fun.


Aside from these tools, you can also stock up on egg molds, sausage shapers, hand-held hole punchers (in different sizes), small bento boxes (that can go into the bigger boxes - to hold soup), plastic wrappers, toothpicks, small spoon and fork sets, chopsticks, straws, etc. It also helps to keep a bento diary so you can plan your bento for the next day. I always find it easier to have a game plan, especially when making charabens. Don't worry, once you've invested in some tools, the planning and execution becomes easier, and then, bento-making becomes a fun and fulfilling adventure.

Charabens need not be complicated. 
A bento lunch is a great way to get your kids to eat fruits and vegetables.
Birthday platter. That's a cake made out of rice and mayo. Yes, rice.
Oink! Oink! Easy, piggy charaben!
Smurftastic lunch!
Something for my Carrot Fantasy friends and readers. Teehee.


If you're looking for tools, Saizen is a great place to start. They have almost everything you would need to create your own bento. Plus, they're highlighting bento this month! The best part about Saizen is the price - only P88 for anything! 

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  1. Hi! Where do you buy the silicone cups, picks and the nori punchers? I tried saizen market market but pretty much they just had molds :( thank you

    1. I get most of my tools from Saizen. Try their Robinsons Manila store. They just reopened and I heard from other bento moms that it's well-stocked with bento stuff. ;)

  2. Thank you for your reply :)


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