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I absolutely love the Japanese art of Kyaraben Bento boxes. A Bento box is basically a Japanese lunchbox containing a single meal. A Kyaraben is a character bento box where a chef or enthusiast has prepared the food to look like popular characters. They can be extremely elaborate and there are many tools available to help in their preparation (such as cutters or egg shapers).
While I have admired them from afar I have never attempted to make one, partially because I know nothing much about Japanese cuisine or cookery and partly because they just look too difficult! However I finally decided to take on the challenge, while adding my own spin (this isn’t an authentic or traditional Bento, just my take on it).
My favourite place to visit for inspiration is Pinterest and this page in particular has some awe inspiring designs. I’m a huge Studio Ghibli fan (if you do not know their movies you’re missing out!) and I immediately gravitated towards the Totoro designed Bento.
This was designed and created by Bento blogger Anna the Red. Aside from a whole collection of Bento images, she also includes several brilliant tutorials if you’d like to give this art form a try.
With my research done I headed down to Sainsbury’s to do my shopping, you can see how I got on and failed (there was no sushi rice!) here.
I didn’t want to copy any of the Bento boxes I’d seen, because they weren’t my designs. Despite my lack of experience I assumed I’d be alright trying out my own idea; I’m not overly convinced this turned out to be true but I’ll let you judge that later. I wanted to make a Bento inspired by another Studio Ghibli film ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. The story has quite a steampunk design throughout, so rather than make an individual character I decided to make a Steampunk Bento box. I wanted to make a mechanical heart complete with cogs, pipes and wheels.
I couldn’t work out how to make pipework in a Japanese style, so instead I made Cheese Straws! Obviously this is not authentic Bento but they worked. I rolled them out as you would normal cheese straws but instead of cutting and twisting I used a knife to cut out ‘C’ shapes to make my pipes. Once cooled I used a little edible Gold lustre to make them more metallic in appearance. I also made a key shape out of the cheese straw mixture.
Cogs & Wheels
For my cogs and wheels I cut out Leerdammer cheese, radishes, ham and cucumbers. I thought they looked quite sweet
The heart was made from cooked and cooled rice, moulded by hand in cling film. I sort of wish I’d added some colouring to the rice but I didn’t think of this until afterwards.
The Finished Bento
I lined my box with lettuce before assembling the various parts. As a creative person with a somewhat perfectionist personality, it’s always my intention to strive to improve and I can’t wait to give Kyaraben another try soon! For a first attempt I don’t think I did too badly.