My sister does bentos: charaben (kyaraben) for a girl and boy

As I wait for The Guy to sort through his bento photos so I can post about them (cough) or try to get my cooking mojo back after all my annoying health problems (sigh), I thought I'd post some photos my sister Mayumi sent me recently. Mayumi is the mother of two rambunctious kids, Lyoh and Lena. Since they are in elementary school, she usually doesn't have to make bentos for them since they get school lunch. (This is the usual thing in Japan by the way - for some reason, most elementary schools have lunch programs, but many kindergarten and higher level schools (midde and high school) don't. So Japanese moms get a six year break of sorts from bento making.) However, she's had to make some bentos recently for various reasons; Lena has been on some school outings, and Lyoh's school's kitchen had a problem so the kids had to bring their own lunch for a while. Mayumi says that most of the bentos she made for them were plain and practical, but she did manage to put together a couple of charaben. (Apologies for the quality of the photos - they were taken with a basic cellphone.)

Here is one she made for Lena. Lena-chan is a girly girl who loves her cute characters, so her mom made her four of her favorites. Clockwise from top left they are Snoopy, Mamecchi, Mameshiba and Rilakkuma. Mamecchi is a slice of tamagoyaki, and the other characters are onigiri (rice balls) decorated with cut nori seaweed and other things. They all use white rice, but the Rikakkuma one is colored with a littie soy sauce. She didn't use any molds, just did them freehand. Pretty good I'd say for someone who is not a dedicated charabentoist! I especially love the edamame used as Mameshiba's ears. The other part of the bento has some chicken, meat rolls (nikumaki), asparagus tips, a quail egg, and so on.

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I think it's rather easier to make charaben for a little girl than a boy, so i really love this charaben that Mayumi made for Lyoh. Lyoh's hobby is public transportation - he loves buses and trains and anything that runs on schedule. He can recite bus routes for hours, and knows the timetables for local trains and such by heart. His mom made a representation of the local Kanachu bus (Kanagawa Central Bus System) using tamago (egg) soboro, carrot slices, cut nori seaweed and imitation crabsticks on a bed of rice.

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Here's the real Kanachu bus to compare with the portrait-in-food version. (Lyoh's cellphone is filled with photos of buses.)

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The rest of the bento has mini burgers, simmered sweet potato, edamame and carrot and burdock kinpira. (Note that this bento has quite a lot of rice, because Lyoh has a prodigious appetite.)

Mayumi, like other Japanese moms, manages to put together two bentos like this in about 20 to 30 minutes in the morning as the kids have their breakfast. She uses leftovers and freezer-stashed items when she can to save time. She says she manages by doing only one charaben per day at most, so if one of the kids gets one one day the other may get one another day.

If you're a fan of Japanese bento blogs, you may find some of them rather intimidating. They are so neat and gorgeous with nary a grain of rice out of place. (Not to mention some of the absolute tour de force bentos featured in a recent BBC report which has been making the rounds.) I tend to think that bentos made by most Japanese moms look a bit more like Mayumi's - very pretty but a wee bit messy (sorry Mayu! ^_^;) but still made with care and love.