Streamlining the bento making process: Preparation and washing up

As you read about making bento, you might wonder how this is all possible to do in the busy morning. It is possible, since millions of Japanese people do it every day - and no, not all of them are stay-at-home mothers (and who is busier and more time-constrained more than a mom anyway?) Practice makes perfect, so the more you make bento the faster you get. But a little bit of preparation and forethought goes a long way towards streamlining your bento making. continue reading...

How to: Make Salted Salmon (shiozake)

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Salted salmon, called shiozake or shiojake (塩鮭), is so ubiquitous in Japan that when people just talk about “salmon” (sake or shake) they are usually referring to the salted kind rather than the raw kind (which is specifically called namazake(生鮭)). Salted salmon is a staple ingredient of bento, used as an onigiri rice ball filling, flaked on top of or mixed into rice, or just grilled.

shiozake_cooked.jpgSalted salmon is cheap and easily available in Japan, but not so outside of Japan. So I’ve been making it myself for some time now, and it’s quite easy. All you need is a typical refrigerator that has low humidity. (If yours doesn’t have excess condensation in it, and old leafy vegetables get dessicated in the corner of your vegetable bin, then it’s ideal.) continue reading...

The keys to bento calorie control: the box, the rice and the salt content

In Selecting the right bento box, I talked about how important it was to select the right size of box, especially if you are using bento lunches as a tool to lose weight. The other critical factor is to control the amount of rice you put into the box, if you are making Japanese style bentos. continue reading...

How bento calories are calculated on Just Bento

Each complete bento presented on Just Bento has a calorie count. This is derived from the following information:

  • Official nutritional information labels on packaged foods
  • Online nutrition information databases, such as the ones at Calorie Lab and CalorieKing
  • English language nutritional databases often have inaccurate or misleading information about Japanese foods, so I rely on the official food nutrient database (五訂食品標準成分表) which is published by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and is the standard nutrition information text for dieticianss and other food professionals in Japan. (There are several consumer-friendly versions of this very useful publication available in Japanese. I use one with lots of cute pictures.)

Keep in mind that all calorie counts are approximate, since portion sizes may vary.

Most of the complete bentos (the numbered ones) are around 500 to 600 calories or lower. They can easily be made bigger or smaller just by increasing the volume of each component. (I frequently show larger “Guy” variations.)

Cup measures and weight and such

The capacity of “1 cup” varies from country to country, in a maddening way. In the U.S. it’s about 240ml (236.588238 ml); in Japan it’s 200ml; in the UK it’s 436ml. I use 240ml (standard U.S. cup measure) as an approximimate middle ground, especially for rice. If you are very concerned about every single calorie, it’s best to invest in a good kitchen scale.

Bento no. 2: Chicken and vegetable donburi-style bento

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Bento Contents:

  • Brown rice (1 cup, 220 calories)
  • Chicken and vegetable stir-fry (250 calories)
  • Glazed baby carrots (50 calories)

Total calories (approx.): 520 calories (how calories are calculated)

Time needed: 15-20 minutes

Type: Japanese continue reading...

Johbisai or Joubisai: Building up a bento making 'stash'

Anyone who does any kind of art or craft work is familiar with the concept of a stash. A knitter for example has a stash of different kinds of yarn. This really helps to get the creative juices flowing. In bento making terms, the equivalent of a stash is joubisai (or johbisai) (常備菜). Literally this means ‘always available food’. They are stored foods that can be kept for a while, which can be pulled out and used on short notice, and enrich and streamline the bento making process. continue reading...

How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

When I got married to a Swiss guy more than a decade or so ago, one of his friends in Germany sent him a letter congratulating him for ‘catching a beautiful Asian gazelle’. The Swiss guy told me this while rolling on the floor laughing, where I kicked him hard. Ah, the point is not that I’m a spouse abuser, but that I’m nowhere near being gracefully gazelle-like. Going against the stereotype of the skinny Asian chick, I’ve always been on the round and cute side rather than sylph like.

This has bothered me of course off and on over the years, but I’ve never been good at sticking to any kind of diet. I just love to eat tasty food too much, and I also love to cook. This is where bento lunches come in. continue reading...

Bento no. 1: A basic bento in 20 minutes

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Bento contents:

  • Brown rice (1 cup, 220 calories)
  • Atsuage tofu (deep fried tofu) with green onions and oyster sauce (250 calories)
  • Quail egg (30 calories)
  • Blanched carrots and green beans (40 calories)
  • Black sesame seeds (5 calories)

Total calories (approx): 545 calories (how calories are calculated)

Time needed: 20 minutes

Type: Japanese continue reading...