2010 Holiday Gift Guide For Bento Fans Part 1: $10 and Under
I haven't done a Holiday Gift Guide since the year JustBento was born, way back in 2007 (yes, JustBento is 3 years old and a raving toddler!) The guide back then focused on the practical side of bento-ing, but this time I'm going to go all over the place and pick out items that are just fun, weird or cute as well as practical. I've picked up some items from around the internets that might appeal to bento lovers of all ages and tastes, and arranged them by price range (excluding shipping).
Things have changed quite a bit for bento gear fans in the past 3 years. Back then, you had to This year, I found so many great things available that I've divided this guide into parts based on price. First up: $10 (US) and under stocking stuffers! It's a bit hard to find good quality bento boxes in this price range, unless you go for something plain and practical. But there are lots of gift-appropriate accessories that would appeal to bento fans.
You always need portable chopsticks or cutlery to eat your food with, and there are plenty of those in the under-$10 range. For toting along in your bag, you want a set that comes with a carrying case or bag for hygenic reasons.
This Natural Lunch chopstick, fork and spoon set comes in its own case, and is neutral enough to go with any bento box. It's on sale for only $4.87 at Japanistic. (Note that Japanistic is having a Free Shipping (for US customers) offer on Monday November 29th.)
If you just need chopsticks, and want them to be as compact as possible, there's the very stylish My Hashi Benetton (yes, that Benetton). These collapsible chopsticks come in 5 colors and fit into a clear plastic carrying tube. Available from Bento&co for 5 Euros or around $7.
Speaking of chopsticks, every Japanese cook owns at least one pair of long bamboo cooking chopsticks called saibashi. I own 3, which are in constant use (see my list of essential Japanese cooking equipment.) They're great for stir-frying, turning food over, mixing things, and arranging food in a bento box. (Also handy for reaching into high-up kitchen cabinets and nudging things forward so you can grab them. The handle part can be used as an emergency back scratcher.) Here's a pair of saibashi for only $2.80 from J-List/JBox.
Little cups and dividers are also within this price range. These days you can get cute little silicone, paper or foil cups from many places, both specifically made for bento use and bigger ones meant for baking cupcakes in. These are a bit more unique though - Hiragana Study Bento Cups, also from J-List/JBox for $2.80. Each little cup has a cute illustration of an object with its name in hiragana (one of the base phonetic character sets in Japanese). Brush up on your Japanese skills while you eat lunch!
A lot of bento decorating tools are available in this price range too. Very popular amongst cute-bento fans are egg molds. Here's one that makes a Mickey Mouse shaped egg! Available from CasaBento for 6.99 Euros or around $10 (maybe a bit more based on the current exchange rate).
Once you bring your bento box home, you'll want to wash it out as soon as possible. For this task and many others around the kitchen, From Japan With Love sells a variety of too cute for words kitchen sponges, all for under $3.25. This banana-shaped set is good for getting into the corners and giving your box a good but gentle scrub.
And finally, what about a cute bag to carry your box in, or to use as a shopping bag? Ecobags are Japanese shopping bags that are lightweight and fold up into tiny packages, and usually come with a small carry case. For a bento fan what could be more perfect than this Onigiri (Omusubi) Ecobag? It comes with its own attached carry case that's shaped like an onigiri. When you need an extra shopping bag, just fold out the bag contained within. Available from Japonmania for 8.17 Euros, around $11. (Okay a bit more than $10...the extra $1 is for the cuteness ^_^;)
In my next post I'll have a roundup of bento gifts in the $10 to $30 $50 price range. Stay tuned!