In the summer of 2011 we, my girlfriend and I, bought two bright green bento boxes. Since then I have lovingly prepared what the Japanese would perhaps call an aisai bento (“Loving Wife Bento”, basically a boxed lunch that a newlywed Japanese wife would make her beloved husband to take to work) a total of seventeen times for her. I am not the perfect Japanese wife to make it for her every single day after all… *しく しく*
You see, making my beloved a boxed lunch is just a few health potions short of an epic quest. Oftentimes it starts with just an austere want to make one for her, although in some cases stumbling on a thus far unknown recipe has been enough of a trigger too. Still, most often the first hurdle is devising the singular elements to fill the small lime container. I strive to bring something new every time, to surprise, to prepare a satiating balanced meal that will survive her commute and approximately five hours without refrigeration. I toss and turn, losing sleep. I search the world wide web for simple recipes even a kitchen rookie like me could manage.
Shopping for needed ingredients is a breeze. I enjoy imagining what the cashiers think of a girl buying such varied lineups of miniature portions – a single potato, the tiniest bunch of grapes, a bit of fish and a packet of candy. Well, they are probably unconcerned about my purchases.
Then in the “early” hours of the morning I pull myself out of bed and rush to the kitchen, not taking care to wash up or dress. I rinse the rice and switch on the rice cooker. I whisk the eggs with a fork. I whittle away at the vegetables, fruits and other food stuffs – cutting hearts out of carrots, grating cucumbers, pureeing apples,… The sink fills with discarded utensils, the counter is overflowing with foods in progress and slowly my girlfriend’s lunch inches towards completion with every stir of a spoon, with every chop of a knife.
I glance at the clock as I set the finished bento on the kitchen table. There are still 10 more minutes left before she wakes up. Leaving the food to cool a bit more I set out to find a piece of paper to write a short message on and my 6-year-old camera. I fumble with the batteries, take a several point blank photos. Documenting the bentos is a very important part of the whole undertaking – I look through the photos remembering the feedback, attempting to put a revolutionary spin on an egg omelette or wondering when I’ll have the courage to try those caramelized onion rings.
Then the alarm goes off in the bedroom and I have to hurry. The contents of the bento must be kept secret until lunchtime! The piece of paper with words of undying love joins some candy or nuts under the lid, which snaps onto the upper tier placed upon the lower, and a dark green band holds the whole piece of work together. What remains is to hand it over to the intended consumer…
…and to clean the kitchen.
If you want to learn more about bento-making, I recommend Maki Itoh’s website justbento.com (and also her other site justhungry.com focused on Japanese cuisine and home cooking in general) or The Just Bento Cookbook. After reading Maki-san’s blogs for several years for free, I finally bought it this October and I guarantee it is 100% worth it.
Maki-san also founded a flickr pool for bento lunches, if you’re fond of food porn. I chose a teaser of five bentos for you below. (Click the annotations for full photos and their respective authors’ commentary. 80% of the links will take you to Flickr.)