There is more to bento than just cooking and packing. Because there is going to be some time from when you cook the food to when you actually eat it, it should be made so that the food is still delicious when it’s not hot. You’ll also need to make sure the food doesn’t go bad while you have it stored in your bento box. I will show you the top 10 tips you MUST know to make a truly wonderful bento. Nowadays, there are many heat-retaining bento boxes on the market that these tips might not apply to. I will be writing assuming that you are using a regular bento box.
Making a Japanese ‘Bento’ Lunch
But before we even get started on this, there is one thing you HAVE TO do. PLEASE WASH YOUR HANDS! This should go without saying, but make sure you do it. OK, now let’s get down to business.
Top 10 Tips for Bento Making
4. Cook your food well
Make sure your food is cooked adequately to prevent it from going bad. It is absolutely fundamental to NEVER cook the meat rare in a bento, to maintain food safety and avoid food poisoning.
2. Season the food a little more than usual
When food cools down, the flavor becomes weaker. It is better to have your bento seasoned a bit more heavily to ensure a great-tasting meal.
(If you are using an insulated bento box, or you are going to reheat your bento before you eat it, you will not have to worry about this.)
7. Allow cooling time before packing
This is another basic tip for packing your bento. If you pack your bento while the food is hot and seal it with the lid, it may cause the bento to go bad pretty fast.
Don’t pack anything straight from the pan when it’s still hot. Instead, move the food onto a plate or a tray and pack it after the heat has dissipated.
1. Use vegetable oils
Salad oil, sesame oil, and olive oil are good for bentos. Avoid animal oils such as butter, because they will harden when they cool down. However, using them moderately to add a little bit of richness to the flavor is fine.
6. Remove excess oil
For deep-fried food, make sure you get rid of the excess oil, again by absorbing it with a paper towel. Deep-fried food tends to become somewhat sticky and chewy when it cools down. When you deep-fry something, move it to a plate or a tray with a paper towel on top, and wait until it cools down before you place it into your bento box.
3. Season the bento for an appetizing aroma
A bento really tastes great when it also smells great. Effective ingredients for creating a good aroma include ginger, garlic, curry powder, sesame, and mustard.
5. Drain the juices
If there are juices from the food you’ve cooked for your bento box, make sure you clear them away. Juices will make the food deteriorate faster, and you also risk having liquid leak from your bento box. When packing a freshly rinsed salad, use a paper towel to absorb any moisture.
8. Make it colorful
The biggest tip to make your bento look delicious is to make it colorful. When you’re making a bento, aim to have a balance of white, black (or brown), red, green, and yellow. Here are some of the most common ingredients that are used in a bento to provide color.
Black (brown): sesame, ‘nori’ (seaweed), meat, etc.
Red: tomato, salmon, carrot, etc.
Green: broccoli, green leaf, spinach, etc.
Yellow: egg, squash, corn, paprika, etc.
By keeping your bento colorful, it will not only look good but automatically be healthy!
9. Pack your bento in order
There is an order to follow if you want to optimize your bento. By packing your bento in the correct order, you can avoid situations like not being able to fit everything you wanted, or opening your bento to find it all leaning to one side.
Here is the order:
2. Food that you cannot change the shape of.
3. Food that consists of many small pieces, or food that has a flexible shape.
4. Smaller items such as mini tomatoes – to fill the gaps.
It is important to fill the gaps at the end to avoid having the food move around in your bento box while you are carrying it. If you don’t want your rice to suck up the flavor from the side dishes, use a divider if your bento box has one. If it doesn’t, a piece of lettuce is a good alternative. It will even add to the color as well!
10. Take care of your bento, especially in the summertime
During warm seasons, your bento has a higher risk of going bad and causing food poisoning. In Japan, some people add an ‘umeboshi’ (pickled plum) to the bento, which stops the food from going bad so fast. It also goes well with rice. Another tip is to wipe the inside of your bento box with vinegar before you pack your food. Or, you can use an ice pack to keep the bento cool. You can even freeze a pack of Jell-O to use as the ice pack and eat it as dessert afterwards. It will probably be defrosted by lunchtime.
Having said that, sometimes you just can’t prevent your bento from going bad. If you feel your bento smells strange or tastes sour, don’t eat it – just throw it away. I know how sad it is to have to throw your bento out, but it’s better than getting sick from eating it.
Did you know all these essential tips?
There are more tips on making bentos, like using colorful divider cups and character design picks to decorate your bento. If you’re making bentos for children, these tips can be really useful to encourage them to eat everything, even if they don’t like a particular ingredient.
In Japan where bento is part of everyday life, we have come up with so many ideas to keep our lunch time fun and delicious. We have a wide variety of bento boxes, including a specialized case for ‘onigiri’ (rice balls). We will go over all types of bento boxes in a future post.
If you found this article is useful, please share with friends who are also making bentos.