Li Ming Lee, the author of Yummy Kawaii Bento, makes intricate character bentos that are practically too adorable to eat.
In Japanese, bento simply means "meal packed in a box." It is very popular in Japan and is in fact an integral part of the culture. Bentos can be bought in many places throughout the country, including convenience stores, bento shops, railway stations, and department stores. In Japan, it is common for children to bring bentos to school and for adults to bring bentos to work for lunch. Over the past few years, bento culture has gained popularity worldwide and there has been a global spread of bento to different parts of the world. It is especially interesting to see how bentos have evolved and adapted in different countries, cultures, and communities.
Character bento, or charaben, is a type of bento that features food decorated and styled to look like people, animals, characters from cartoons, etc. Character bentos started as a way for parents to encourage their picky kids to eat a wider range of foods, especially healthy food. Mothers in Japan often pack character bentos for their children who go to kindergarten.
Bentos help me to control the kind of food that my boys eat, as well as the portions. I believe in packing wholesome and nutritious food in my boys’ bentos, with occasional treats. I also believe that packing lunch is a way of showing your love for the recipient. Lastly, the more aesthetically pleasing the bento, the more attractive it is to kids.
I believe that in making a character bento, the taste of the bento should not be compromised for its presentation. It is important to prepare a wholeseome meal so that the bento tastes as good as it looks.
Find the recipe for Penguin Onigiri—and more—in Li Ming Lee's book, Yummy Kawaii Bento, which comes out September 1.
Photo by Li Ming Lee