The Most Compact and Suggestive Bento Box Ever

Takara Tomy Arts, a popular toy manufacturer in Japan, has come out with a new bento box called the Smart-Han スマート飯. Like smart phone, but smart ‘han’ (rice or meal). You are suppose to fill the cylinder with rice and fillings, close it, and it twists up from the bottom like a push-pop. Lets see this in action shall we?

Normal:
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Wishing it was an onigiri at this point

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Hmm…

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Help yourself to this Youtube video. Has some fun 70’s style cartoon people too 🙂

 

 

 

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Vikings- From Hairy Men to Delicious Smörgåsbord

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I recently discovered something rather interesting  on all-you-can-eat buffets in Japan with the help of my Japanese word-of-the-day. Although they can be called 食べ放題 tabehoudai, which is usually all you eat minus the buffet, バイキングbaikingu means smörgåsbord. This adaptation of the word “viking” seemed very strange to me, although I always assumed Vikings did eat a lot, and I set out to see if I could find the history of this word. Tofugu popped up the first result (I’m assuming this was how I got my word-of-the-day too).
In 1957, a restaurant manager from Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel traveled to Sweden and there he encountered his first smörgåsbord. (If he was anything like me, he dropped to his knees and thanked all of the food gods for this beautiful culinary invention). He took this idea back to his hotel, where post-war Japan was excited about anything that involved getting more bang for your buck. The problem being that smörgåsbord apparently isn’t very easy to say for the Japanese (sumougasuboudo スモーガスボード) and obviously would be difficult to yell in excitement if you ever found a smörgåsbord in Japan.

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This is where the story gets kind of unbelievable, but hey crazier things have been true. Apparently somebody from the restaurant went and saw 1958 film The Vikings (narrated by Orson Welles and starring Kirk Douglas), and that inspired them to call their buffet バイキング. The restaurant is now called “Imperial Viking” , which has validity since Google says it is true.

Of course this idea some popularity in Japan, and they even have dessert buffets! Oh still my beating heart…

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Studio Ghibli is for Foodies

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I’m sure all of the foodies out there are always struck by the mouthwatering images of food in Studio Ghibli’s movies. These delicious food items appear over and over again; they are remarkably true to real life food. Although this is especially evident in ‘Spirited Away’ (where gluttony leads to all the trouble to begin with), it is a common theme throughout every one of their movies. From savory to sweet, food is the highlight of Ghibli’s films. I know I enjoy watching food reappear again again in the films.

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This image from ‘Spirited Away’ showcase Japanese dishes such as green peas rice, New Year’s vegetable stew, pork cutlet, dumplings, grilled fish, and fruit (a hot commodity due to its expense).

If you want to learn how to make some of your favorite Ghibli show dishes, check out this website for step-by-step instructions:

http://www.annathered.com/2010/05/17/ghibli-feast-5-my-neighbor-totoro/

Kyaraben

ImageKyaraben or character bento is a type of bento that is a step above the status quo. These amazingly elaborate bento feature designs that look like people, characters from anime or manga, animals, plants, or whatever amazing idea pops in the creators head. These fascinating bentos are used to encourage children’s interest in their food, and to interest them in a wide variety of food. I can say that I’d be willing to eat most of these without hesitation, despite what the actual food might be. Although I do wonder if they taste as good as they look….

Reguardless, the skill, patience, and creativity put into these lunch boxes is something to marvel. Especially the patience.

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Kyaraben Contest Winners 2012

There are two contests celebrating people’s skills in Kyaraben, Sanrio Kyaraben Contest and the Yokahama Kyaraben Contest (sponsored by Sotetsu Group 150 Project).

Sanrio Golden Grand Prix Winning Bento:

This bento followed the theme of spring and was submitted by Harumi Sugiyama from Saitama prefecture.

It includes:

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  • Homemade mini apple pie
  • A hollowed out apple cup (the center was used to make the pie) filled with potato salad
  • Hello Kitty family shaped onigiri
  • Hello Kitty jelly cups

Yokahama Kyaraben Winning Bento:

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This bento represents the landscape of the Yokohama area (with blue jelly cups as the ocean).

It includes:

  • Apple slices
  • Kanten or jelly cups
  • Beef and asparagus rolls
  • Vegetable flowers
  • Vegetable maki
  • And a bunch of other things I can’t identify

Oden- Mystery Food at Its Finest

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Oden is probably a rather unknown Japanese food item, but it is one of my favorite. Oden is a very popular winter dish in Japan. It is essentially a fishcake stew that is made in a donabe, or a clay pot. Although it is possible to make oden from scratch, it is more popular, and easier, to buy a frozen pre-packaged set or if you’re in Japan, buy it in a konbini. Like many Japanese dishes, oden varies from region to region. For example, in Nagoya, it’s sometimes called Kanto-ni, and is made in a miso-based broth. In the Shizuoka, they use a beef stock and soy sauce as a base.

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Personally, I find it much easier to by a prepackaged set at Sage Market in their freezer section. The sets are fun to make with a variety of strange fishcakes (chikuwa, ika balls, hanpen), and frozen vegetables (daikon and burdock). Most of the time it’s hard to identify exactly what you’re eating! But of course, that’s half the fun.

                 

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Recipes for Oden can be found here (some of my favorite sites) if you’re feeling particularly ambitious:

http://norecipes.com/blog/oden-recipe/

http://umamimart.com/2009/03/oden-japans-ultimate-comfort-food/

http://justonecookbook.com/blog/recipes/oden/

http://www.littlejapanmama.com/2011/08/oden-recipe.html

http://rasamalaysia.com/oden/

What is this “B-kyu Boom” business all about? And how it’s giving the word “mediocre” a whole new meaning.

Most people wouldn’t wait in line for the best cheap food they can find, but the Japanese would apparently. B-kyu gurume, or B-class gourmet, is a Japanese term for someone who loves good, cheap, Japanese food. Which I guess I am technically, I’m just not as willing to wait in lines like these…

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Although the B-kyu craze originated with B-kyu movies, B-kyu gourmet has taken the scene by storm. Grade B gourmet is suppose to have an ‘A-Grade’ taste, without the price tag. However, the food included in this B-class gourmet is fantastic, in my humble opinion. Ramen, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, gyoza, sushi, curry, soba, yakitori, hanbaagu, and udon are all included in this class. That cheap price tag in Japan is amazing, since these are many people’s favorite foods or are considered just straight up comfort foods.

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The love for this food even encourages one of the best events ever, in my opinion, the B-1 Grand Prix or B-kyu Gotochi Gurume Festival. Beginning in 2006, locals compete with each other not necessarily for the best taste, but for recognition of local tastes. Here are some winners from the 2011 competition and all I can say is that me and the fat girl inside me are beyond jealous of everybody that got to go sample these delicious dishes.

#1 Hiruzen Yakisoba from Hiruzen, Okayama

Miso sauce Japanese fried noodle with chicken and lots of cabbage

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#2 Tsuyama Horumon Udon from Tsuyama, Okayama

Pan fried udon with beef organs

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#3 Hachinohe Senbeijiru from Hachinohe, Aomori

Rice crackers in clear soup with veggies and chicken or fish

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#4 Namie Yakisoba from Namie, Fukushima

Fried noodles with bean sprouts and pork

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#5 Imabari Yakibuta Tamabomeshi from Imabari, Ehime

Fried eggs over rice with chopped Japanese BBQ style pork in a bowl

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Japan and Some Their Tasty School Lunches

I found this article particularly interesting since it goes into some depth on the school lunch system in Japan. From what I remember of grade school lunches, it seems Japan takes nutrition and student education in nutrition a bit more seriously.  Not only does a nutritionist help plan the meals, but the kids help serve the food, therefore becoming part of the process. This process is supposed to help teach children about food, and give them a sense of responsibility. Considering the problem in the U.S. today with childhood obesity, and the controversy over how healthy our public school lunches are, it seems like we could take a cue from Japan in this arena.

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The chart below is curtsey of http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/world/japanese-school-lunch/index.html

U.S., Japanese school lunch menus

A sampling of what elementary-age children typically eat during the week:

United States                                                        Japan

– Submarine sandwich (1 oz. turkey; 0.5 oz. low-fat cheese) on whole-wheat roll
– Refried beans (1/2 cup)
– Jicama (1/4 cup)
– Green pepper strips (1/4 cup)
– Cantaloupe wedges, raw (1/2 cup)
– Skim milk (8 oz.)
– Mustard (9 grams)
– Reduced-fat mayonnaise (1 oz.)
– Low-fat ranch dip (1 oz.)

– Rice mixed with Kiriboshi daikon dried radish strips
– Japanese-style omelet (with sautéed minced chicken and chopped vegetables)
– Ohitashi (boiled Japanese mustard spinach, carrot, hakusai cabbage and other vegetables in dashi soup and soy sauce topped with toasted sesame seeds)
– Miso soup (with wakame seaweed, potato and onion)
– Milk

– Whole-wheat spaghetti with meat sauce (1/2 cup) and whole-wheat roll
– Green beans, cooked (1/2 cup)
– Broccoli (1/2 cup)
– Cauliflower (1/2 cup)
– Kiwi halves, raw (1/2 cup)
– Low-fat (1%) milk (8 oz.)
– Low-fat ranch dip (1 oz.)
– Soft margarine (5 grams)

– Spinach bread
– Fried squid, sweet and spicy peanut soy sauce
– Mixed mashed potato (mashed potato with other boiled vegetables)
– Tofu and egg soup (with bacon and vegetables in chicken broth)
– Milk

– Chef salad (1 cup romaine; 0.5 oz. low-fat mozzarella; 1.5 oz. grilled chicken) with whole-wheat soft pretzel (2.5 oz.)
– Corn, cooked (1/2 cup)
– Baby carrots, raw (1/4 cup)
– Banana
– Skim chocolate milk (8 oz.)
– Low-fat ranch dressing (1.5 oz.)
– Low-fat Italian dressing (1.5 oz.)

– Cream soup spaghetti (with garbanzo beans, shrimp, squid, chicken and vegetables)
– Boiled vegetable salad (lotus root, cucumber, carrot, and ham)
– 1/4 Apple
– Milk

– Oven-baked fish nuggets (2 oz.) with whole-wheat roll
– Mashed potatoes (1/2 cup)
– Steamed broccoli (1/2 cup)
– Peaches (canned, packed in juice, 1/2 cup)
– Skim milk (8 oz.)
– Tartar sauce (1.5 oz.)
– Soft margarine (5 grams)

– Rice with barley
– Grilled salted salmon
– Ohitashi (boiled Japanese mustard spinach, cabbage, carrot)
– Miso soup (leek, wakame seaweed, tofu and potato)
– Flavored dried laver (seaweed)
– Milk

– Whole-wheat cheese pizza (1 slice)
– Baked sweet potato fries (1/2 cup)
– Grape tomatoes, raw (1/4 cup)
– Applesauce (1/2 cup)
– Low-fat (1%) milk (8 oz.)
– Low-fat ranch dip (1 oz.)

– Indian-style spicy chicken curry (carrot, onion and potato)
– Healthy boiled salad (konnyaku—devil’s tongue—noodle, wakame seaweed, carrot, cucumber and cabbage)
– Strawberries (two each)
– Milk

SOURCES: USDA Food and Nutrition Service; Umejima Elementary School, Tokyo. GRAPHIC: The Washington Post. Published 

Bento boxes, a common lunch in Japan, can be found at the Sage Market Place or the Bento Truck on campus Tues-Th

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