Monday, July 28, 2008

The Bentos Have Arrived!

This weekend I finally received my much anticipated bento boxes from Ichiban Kan. They are all exactly what I was expecting. I was a little concerned with the quality of the boxes considering how cheap they were, but everything is awesome.

The Men's Bento is a sleek black and gray which is a stark contrast to the thousands of brightly colored Hello Kitty and Anime bentos I see everywhere. It took a lot of searching to find this bento but it was worth it. It is fairly tight and after loading its first meal, I shook it (after putting on its belt of course) and it seemed to pass that test. The medium sized box (the smaller of the two) has a tight fitting divider that seems like it will be very handy since I am beginning my bento journey with not many supplies (including cups). I liked the fact that the plastic bags that the pieces came in color coded and numbered (well lettered really) the parts so you purchased a complete set. Very handy when choosing these items from a large store. Also, the slight indented groove on the lid of the larger box allows for the top box to fit snugly and securely to it. No budging there.

The second set (of which I actually bought 2 complete sets) is super cute and very neutral, no pun intended. They are the brown set and part of the "Natural Lunch Time" bento box series. Each set included a two tiered bento box, an elastic belt, a utensil case (with mini chopsticks, spoon, and fork), a travel drink container, and a tote-style lunch bag. It is all very cute and also fits together quite tightly. My only complaint is that the drink, bento, and utensil case doesn't all fit together in the bag. In order to fit them all you have to stand the bento on its end. Kinda odd, but if you don't always carry a drink, or if your bento is packed with relatively dry goods you can get away with this arrangement. Not to bad in the overall scheme.

The rest of the haul included a brown tray, jiwa jiwa cola candy, and a small pack of condiment containers for the bento lunch sauces. The tray is perfect for its need, the candy is exactly what I was expecting (and very fresh!) and the condiment containers are what I was expecting. They are a little hard to clean (and get stuff into) but they work all the same.

What I think is so great about all this is that it costed a mere $40.96 and that INCLUDED shipping (which was only 10.49)! The tray was the most expensive at a whopping $4.50. Everyone really needs to check out Ichiban Kan for their bento related needs. I'm going to check back when I need more goods. As for right now I'm quite happy with my goodies. Stay tuned for my first packed bento box!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Ordering New Bento Boxes!

While looking for our first bento boxes, I mentioned this whole idea to my mother. She thought it was a fantastic idea so she promptly insisted that I order her a set as well. Searching for a cheaper set (since this is all beginning so experimental) I stumbled upon Ichiban Kan. They have incredibly cheap bento boxes and all sorts of fun accessories! Because I needed a masculine bento box for my boyfriend, Jim, I ordered the sleek moderns black and blue double tiered bento with a belt, chopsticks (that fit in the lid), and bag.

Then I looked for feminine boxes for my mom and I and we both decided on the same box! They are a new "natural" design that is fun and super cute. The side of the bag says "Lunch time will make everybody happy!" which is always true. The bento box in double tiered and you can either place your utensils (fork, spoon, and chopsticks) in the convenient utensil case, or inside the lid (if you didn't tuck napkins or goodies in there). They also came with a matching tan drink bottle which was a nice addition. I am obsessed with things that match. These pictures are from the site that I ordered from. I will take more pictures when the package arrives in a few days.

I also purchased (from Ichiban Kan) Jiwa Jiwa Cola candy, which is a favorite in my family but we haven't been able to find it anywhere, a brown tray, and a pack of condiment containers. I can't wait until the package arrives!!

What is a Bento Box?

Bento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables as a side dish. Containers range from disposable mass produced to hand crafted lacquerware. Although bento are easily available in many places throughout Japan, including convenience stores, bento shops, train stations, and department stores, it is still common for Japanese homemakers to spend considerable time and energy producing an appealing boxed lunch.

Bento can be very elaborately arranged. Contests are often held where homemakers can compete for the most aesthetically pleasing arrangements. The food is often decorated to look like people, animals, or characters and items such as flowers and plants. This style of elaborate bento is called kyaraben.

From, "The base of any bento lunch is cold, cooked white rice, or sometimes noodles - the filling, carbohydrate-rich staples of the Japanese diet. (I wonder if anyone in Japan is willing to try the Atkins diet, or are they all too sensible?) In addition, there's okazu - side dishes, which can include meat, fish, eggs, tofu, fruit and vegetables, all presented in bite-size form for handy chopstick action. They all have to be prepared in such a way that they will taste nice cold (although sometimes bento is reheated). Okazu add colour and flavour, vary with the seasons, and round out the nutritional value of the meal with protein, vitamins and minerals.

For colour and dietary balance, try to have one 'protein' item and at least two from the fruit/veg category (remember, a healthy diet includes at least five handful-sized portions of fruit and vegetables a day). Of course, there are also different ways of dressing up the rice or noodles to avoid monotony. As well as seasonal items, bento may showcase regional specialties - this is true of ekiben, takeaway bento sold at railway stations around Japan. You can take an ekiben eating tour of the nation if you like!"