Kyaraben (charaben) how-to links for all skill levels
Whenever I post about kyaraban/charaben (cute bentos) from Japan, there are often comments bemoaning the lack of how-tos on those kyaraben sites. There are how-tos out there, but in many cases you need to read Japanese to follow them. But here are some links to how-tos with a lot of photos that you could follow along even without understanding the accompanying Japanese text.
- All About has a couple of articles about using common household items to cut out pieces for bento. How to use bottle caps, medicine cups (the kind that come with cough syrup or Nyquil) and straws to cut out parts from cheese and make simple onigiri from the parts; also a bear shaped onigiri how-to.
- Youchien-net, a site for parents of kindergarten age children, has several _kyaraben_ tutorials for beginner to intermediate levels with step-by-step photos. The most recent one is for the bunny face bento in the picture above, by the winner of the recent Sanrio bento contest, Mihochin-san. This one looks doable even for beginners. The pink stuff on top of the rice used for the face is pink soboro (or sakura soboro), flaked semi-dried cod that has been dyed with food coloring. You can buy this at a Japanese grocery store, but if you want to avoid food coloring you could use salmon furikake instead. On her blog, Mihochin-san shows a bear bento variation that uses meat soboro on rice for the face, and meatballs for the ears (you could use tofu tuna burgers instead). The eyes are circles cut out from large black beans (otafuku-mame) - you could cut out kidney beans, or just use whole beans.
- Asami-san, the creator of the kimono clad Hello Kitty in the Sanrio bento contest, has two tutorials for making penguin bentos. The second link includes instructions for making goldfish-shaped wieners, which I tried out:
Very easy to make, though I had a bit of trouble with the eyes (made of cheese and nori). We can't get those day-glow red wieners that she uses in her tutorial here, so I sautéed mine in a little oil with some paprika. The oil is probably why the cheese didn't stick, and the paprika did speckle the surface. (The fish in the foreground just has a hole made with a skewer for the eye.) I think the fish still look cute and I like the way they curl up as though they are dancing in the water.
- Mihochin-san (who also seems to be a serial bento contest entrant - winning a lot of them too) has another tutorial, for making an amazing Naruto bento. She uses pale pink ham for the face, thin omelette or _usuyaki tamago_ and sliced processed cheese for the two-tone blond hair and eyebrows, some cooked kombu seaweed, fish sausage and nori for the hair band, kamaboko (dyed blue with something called "Blue Hawaii" for the pupils) for the eyes, darker pink ham and more white kamaboko for the mouth, and nori for the line details. She says that while it takes her about 30 minutes to make such a bento, for a beginner "it might take a lot of time". No kidding!