Sunday, July 4, 2010

Obento: My Newfound Curiosity

Just a quick note:  
On many of my blog posts you'll see little icons which are part of a really cool application I use for links to items of reference pertaining to the subject matter.  Many of these you don't even have to click on.  You can often just place your cursor over it and a small box will pop up with the relevant information, video, photo, or website so that you can explore without actually leaving my blog post.  Ain't that special? Try it out here!

Anybody who knows anything about the Butterfly Queen knows that cooking is a passion.  I love cooking even more than I love eating.  Really, it's true.  During these last few weeks, I've gone silent pretty much here on the blog space for several reasons you can read about here: Domo Arigato Mr. Obento.  For the sake of not boring those of you loyal friends who subscribe, I won't re-hash all of that here.
Suffice to say, I've been rather busy.  Too busy to have the brainpower to write, too busy to have the patience to check-in, and too busy to have the desire to cook!
But a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a recipe that let me to a blog site on cooking written by a Japanese woman living in Switzerland.  She specializes in recipes from Japan and Korea, with a lil' bit of fusion mixed in for good measure.  Fascinated by her lovely photos and recipes, I found myself cruising her site for hours at a time, night after night...into the wee hours when my guys were happily sleeping.  There were many recipes which she specified were perfect for Bento.  Recipe after recipe I kept seeing the phrase "perfect for Bento", with a link to her other blog site where she touted she writes specifically for the art of Obento.

Obento (the "o" is optional and denotes the respected or honored reference to the art), in summary is the Japanese tradition of artfully packed boxes containing single-portion meals usually carried for lunch, picnics, etc... The foods packed revolve around the traditional "anatomy" of a Japanese meal.

What appeals to me on first impression, is the idea that preparing lunches in these boxes is a great way to practice portion control if you're on a diet.  You can only fit in these Bento boxes what fits in them.  You can see quite easily the size of your portions and the proportion of one course to the other... for example 1/4 of a meal should be protein, 1/2 vegetables, 1/4 grains.   On a plate, it is much harder to eyeball these proportions.  I love the idea of having a fun way to be more conscious of what we consume without feeling like I'm on a diet.  Diets suck.  I don't do them anymore.  I'm also on a personal mission to enjoy my life, just as I am, with what I've got instead of being on the perpetual treadmill of "If only I were thinner, If only I were richer, If only I were more successful..."   I am healing myself of that oh-too-common illness that seems to be plaguing most people these days.  I'm going to enjoy this life, rejoicing in each day, and all that it brings.  Can I get an "Amen" or an "Ashe'"?

The next thing that appeals to me is the idea of Umami... which is a term now used in the west, but borrowed from the Japanese... it is the 5th taste experience besides those we are commonly familiar with (sweet, salty, bitter, sour).  It is best described as "savory"  I suppose.  Umami is said to be the one universally loved taste sensation and is said to be found in all of your favorite foods.  My own personal theory is that it is a combination of the other four tastes... a perfect balance of the four.   I just love to say it... "Ooh, Mommy".  Ain't that good???  I love it! Ha!

Thirdly, it just looks like so much fun!!!  Anybody can do it.  You can pack them however you like, with whatever you like, with a few practical precautions.  It's a fantastic way to use up leftovers which is a wonderful way to live a little greener and a great excuse for cooking at home without worrying that you're only feeding yourself. It's fashionable, exotic as you want it to be, artistic, and will save money by avoiding all those calorie packed, sodium packed, sugar packed, fat packed lunches bought out!  They can be hot, cold, or both in multiple tiered boxes. There's the more traditional style lunches which are beautiful to the eye (they consider this just as important as the taste and nutrition),

and then there's the Kawaii (this means cute or adorable)versions which I know the Austrian and the Pyrate will boycott but Miss Scantlebury will no doubt be head over heels for.   Either way, I've found another way to express my creativity and I'm very excited to give it a whirl.

Anyway, are you inspired?  I'm going to start my first Bentos this week.  They will not all be traditional Japanese ingredients. But there will be lots of Japanese influences, and some recipes I've borrowed from the Just Bento site, while I'm learning how this works.  I'm already marinating some chicken skewers in a soy/ginger/lemon/pepper flake marinade which will be grilled, and a pork shoulder with will be slow-roasted with a fresh red chili salsa.  These will be used throughout the week in different ways.  Salads, sandwiches, pastas, omelettes... you'll see!  It's gonna be a fun week!!


If you are planning on giving this a try, I suggest you do the following:
1.  Visit the Just Bento site and read the following: Bento Basics and when you're done read the first few links at the bottom of that page to find out what equipment you'll need.  There's not much... a bento box, a rice cooker, a few inexpensive accessories.
2.  Start to acquire your equipment.  There are four of us, so I've got 6 boxes of varying sizes. If you decide to use regular plastic food containers, look for BPA free please.  Yes, I am still going to try to practice healthy, organic, sustainable living while on this adventure. We already have a rice cooker.  I'm going to get a pressure cooker this week.  I also got some optional accessories such as silicone muffin cups, little plastic picks. Miniature sauce bottles and mayonaise cups are also handy lil' things to have.  You can find most rare Japanese accessories for bento online here or here. Try the first link first because the prices can't be beat.  Be sure to get microwavable bento boxes please so you have more versatility with what you can put in it.
3. Take a look at basic pantry staples to have on hand:  Soy Sauce, Mirin, Japanese Sushi Rice (brown and/or white) are commonly used in almost every traditional Japanese or Japanese inspired Bento lunch.  No other rice will substitute. (more on that later...)

One more thing I should mention:  I have a seafood allergy... a challenge in regards to any Asian cuisine... But feel free to browse the other web blogs for seafood recipes... you won't find them here!

I'll be back in a couple days with my first attempt and a couple recipes to add to your arsenal!  Have a great holiday!!!

1 comment:

  1. Hahah, the woman's face with a green mask - awesome!!! Made me laugh! It looks great and all, but soo much work.


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