Bento tools, part 1

0 Posted by - January 12, 2011 - Bento Art, Tutorial (English)

Please click here for the Indonesian version of this post.

This is the first of my bento tutorial series. The tutorial will be available in English and Indonesian, the material will be the same but the English version will be shorter since there’s so many bento or kyaraben tutorial using English out there but still I want to do my version of it. The Indonesian version will be longer with more explanation since I haven’t found any bento tutorial articles around the web using Indonesian, so I want mine to be a good reading source for all Indonesian bento makers.

The best way to start is writing about the tools we need to make bento or kyaraben. There are tons of bento tools out there and if you’re a bento addict or a bento tools avid collector, then be prepare to spend lots of money collecting those since there are hundreds of them to choose. Those tools, while most of them are cute and can make your preparation faster and easier and certainly can make your bento more beautiful, are not essential in bento making.

So if you’re a bento newbie, and want to start making bento for your family, you don’t need to buy all those fancy tools first because all you need to make a nice bento mostly are already in your kitchen.

Bento boxes

This is the most important thing you need to make a bento. I don’t think you can make one without these boxes. There are tons of lunch boxes out there in groceries stores. You can get a simple one tier boxes, two tier boxes, or even a three tier thermal food containers to keep your food warm for several hours. These boxes come with different shapes, like standard rectangle, circle, ellipses, or fancy shapes like penguin, bus, car, and Hello Kitty shapes.As with shapes, these lunch boxes also come with different sizes. Most Japanese bento boxes have their volume or capacity (in milliliters – ml) written down on the bottom of the boxes. As I learned that the simple rule for bento packing is that calories correspond directly to capacity, so a 600 ml box roughly equal with 600 calories meal. The easy way to measure the box capacity is filling the box with water until full and then pour those water into a liquid measuring cup and check the milliliters or cc there.

Here’s the quick chart on choosing the right size of bento box based on gender and age from rakuten, a Japanese bento boxes maker:Legend:
– Left chart is for women and right chart is for men
– Columns from left to right: ages, average heights (cm), calories per meal (kCal), bento box size (ml)

Another important thing about these boxes is that please choose box that has a tight lid so it can hold your nicely done bento without food spilling all over the places after took some trips. The other thing if you prepare bento for little kids is to choose box that can easily be opened and closed, I find that most Tupperware’s (very good quality container) lids are very hard to closed down (even for adults) so we don’t want our kids to spend most of their lunch time just trying to close their bento boxes or later having us to clean their bags from spilled leftovers when they couldn’t close the box properly.

Cutting boards

We use the board to cut food that we want to prepare for our bento. The best way is having multiple boards so we can split cutting meat, fish, vegetables, and cooked food into separate boards. If you only have one board, try washing it after cutting different types of food.

For kyaraben making purpose, we use this board as a base for putting parts of our characters before we place them into bento boxes.

Kitchen knives

Another basic item in all kitchen. We need another long post just to covering knives but for bento making purpose all we need are mostly chef’s knife to work with all kind of meat, fish, and vegetables, and also a paring knife, a small knife to decorate things like slicing sausage into flower shape or making cherry tomato basket.

The Japanese have their different set of knives but nowadays their also available outside Japan, the most common we knew is santoku knife, a general purpose kitchen knife equivalent to chef’s knife but have shorter blade.

Art knife

Used by art students to work their crafts, and since kyaraben making considered a craft then we need it also like those art students. If you’re only planning to make a simple bento then probably you won’t need this but for kyaraben making this is the most essential item we need, usually use to cut egg sheets or pasta sheets to create customized shapes.  It’s pointy tip and short blade can be hold like pencil to make very precise cutting.

Scissors

For bento making, we use scissors mostly to cut parchment paper, plastic wraps, and nori since we use knife and art knife to cut most things. If available, we can use the small curved scissors to cut nori making some curve and ellipses shapes.

Tweezer

Another essential tool we need for kyaraben making, used for putting tiny parts like sesame seeds and nori parts into the characters we’ve prepared.

Plastic wraps

Useful items to wrapping meat, vegetables and fruits before refrigerated them, also use to make onigiri (rice ball) or wrap some egg/pasta sheets character for tomorrow’s use.

Straws and bottle caps

Store different sizes of these to help cutting circle into cheese slice, carrot slices, egg sheets, ham, bread, and other vegetables. We can use knife or art knife to cut circles but these items can make thing lots faster. And if we press the tip of straw with our fingers we can create ellipses too.These are the essential tools that we need to make most bento and kyaraben. I strongly suggest that we all have these tools before we start bento making. Most of these tools are almost available in all kitchen and most of them can be bought in groceries stores while we can get art knife and tweezer in some local art supplies stores or maybe book stores.

Of course we still need things like stoves, cooking pan, and other kitchen utensils to prepare the food for our bento like we usually do our cooking. But if we only make bread and jam for our bento then we won’t need those stoves and pans, or if all the food was bought and all we do is putting them into the bento box :D but we still need most of the bento tools mentioned above.

Other things that related to kyaraben making are parchment paper or white paper to make template of your character and a computer with printer to print your character templates.

I will try to make a bento example using only these tools later, but for tomorrow I will post more about bento tools.