I wonder what possessed me to attempt character bentos. I’ve never even made a proper bento before! According to this website, there are several skill levels in making bento:
Yours truly here was too eager to start making BAMMMM cute bentos right away without mastering the basics, so this post is about my attempt at the “Advanced level”. Explains why perhaps my bentos arent as awesome as some out there but oh well, its my first go at it!
I’ll try to share how I made the bento as well to the best of my knowledge. There are a lot of books out there on Bento-making, but the best are always in Japanese. I bought them anyways, I find that you can still follow the pictures. Good bento-making books include a step-by-step, so head down to Kinokuniya for books on 弁当!
- a cutting mat (for seaweed)
- cutting board (for bread, ham and cheese)
- 2 binder clips/paper clips (for gripping the seaweed and the cutting mat
- a cutter (the blade has to be small enough to be used for intricate detailed cutting)
- small and sharp scissors (very important that it be sharp and sharp ended, not those safe and clumsy round tip blades that could wreck your seaweed)
- tweezers (life savers)
- pencil, pen, eraser
- Baking paper/tracing paper
- Bento box
- Cute toothpicks and wooden toothpicks
- Small brush, thoroughly cleaned, for painting the food colouring on
- 2 slices of bread with the brown edges cut off to fit into the bento box
- Sliced cheese
- Tamago bought from the Japanese supermarket (just because it was a nice bright yellow and I was lazy to make thin Japanese omelettes. I should have… because this tamago that i bought was really hard to use!)
- Ham (light coloured ham and darker coloured ham) – as thin as possible, so yours doesnt turn up too thick and chunky like mine. Also makes it easier to cut
- Cherry tomatoes (1 for each bento)
- Blue food colouring
- Roasted seaweed (comes in large squares), get the unseasoned ones, those are easier to cut.
- Fruit and cooked meats and vegetables of your choice
- Cooked rice
- A dab of mayo to act as a sticking agent
Below, my loot from collecting bento making tools. The bento boxes can be bought from takashimaya, Japanese supermarkets or online. I bought some of the cutters from Takashimaya, some from Daiso. Tweezers are from Daiso as well.
Below: Different ham (and thus, different shades of flesh tone!), egg, seaweed and blue food colouring
Above, the tools used. Starting from the top: Cutting mat, binder clips, pen knifes for intricate cutting (don’t buy the usual pen knifes, those are too big for the work you’ll be doing), eraser, pencil, pen, small scissors, tweezers.
First of all, you have to outline your bento box on a piece of paper. This is to make the bento easier to design and will give you a gauge of how much food you need to buy.
Then you choose your favourite character and draw him/her within the bento box line. I started off with Rukia from Bleach just because her hair is black, and not some funky colour like green or pink etc. So its easier for me. Also Naruto’s colours are made up of orange, flesh tones, white and black. Not too bad as well.
I’ve compiled a list of foods to match the colours:
- Pink/flesh toned – Ham, salami, pickled ginger, pink powder (you see this sprinkled on rice sometimes, not sure what is the exact name)
- Brown – Spam, sausage, egg yolk omelette with soy sauce
- White – cheese, rice, kamaboko, fish cake
- Yellow – cheddar cheese, egg yolk omelette, pickle,
- Black – seaweed, cooked konbu (dark variety)
- Red – Crab stick, red pepper (I think I”ll just stick with food colouring), tomato
- Orange – sausage, carrot, egg yolk omelette with less soy sauce than the brown
- Green – lighter coloured konbu
- Purple – Yukari (purple seasoning)
- Enoki and button mushrooms make great pebbles/stones interpretation in the bentos, while broccoli and english parsley make great shrubs 😉 Use your imagination!
Below, Naruto and Rukia sketched onto a piece of paper:
Decide on the position of your character, and then start to eke out what foods will complement/fill out the rest of the bento. Of course, think about what you’d like to eat as well.
With this, you’ll be able to shop for groceries 😉
For Naruto, many layers are involved. A lot of ham and egg layers as well as seaweed. So, you need a base to hold everything. which is what you see in the top left outline of Naruto. This will be the foundation to hold the rest of the layers. I drew all the layering on a piece of baking paper. Then I cut up the paper into smaller sections so its easier to work with.
Lay out the sketch outline onto the ham and cut slowly along the lines.
Edit: It would be easier to cut out the shapes on the baking paper, and lay it onto the cheese/ham to cut. I was lazy so I made my life way more difficult that way =(
Above, the foundation laid out on a slice of bread, so later on its easy to move.
Trace out the seaweed parts onto a tracing paper, and fasten the tracing paper on top of a piece of seaweed onto the cutting mat. Trace along the lines with your blade to cut out the seaweed in the desired shape.
I put the seaweed on as the 3rd layer, the 2nd layer being Naruto’s face. Then I traced out the egg and put that on as 4th layer.
Then you need to cut out the yellow egg for the eyes. This is where straws of different sizes would come in handy as they cut perfect circles. But I forgot to buy them, so now I have uneven eyes T____T. It is a little difficult to trace out small strips of seaweed for the eyes and mouth, so I used the scissors to create them. Its useful to have a dab of mayonnaise at hand to get the seaweed to stick to the ham.
This Naruto ham and cheese sandwich took me 2.5 hours to make since the seaweed was so fiddly and there were so many layers!
Next up, Rukia~
For Rukia there won’t be any layering, because this is going to be a seaweed art piece. So all I used for her is a slice of cheese, seaweed and a little bit of food colouring.
Rukia layers on the baking paper. When you do seaweed art it is important to emphasize the black areas on the piece, as you will need to cut out the white bits.
First, cut out the foundation: instead of using a toothpick, you can trace the on the line with a knife, and remove the paper to cut the cheese. Much easier that way as it is easy to see the trace lines on cheese rather than say, ham.
Place the foundation on a mound of rice, packed tight.
Start working on the seaweed!
Fasten securely on the cutting mat.
Cut out the white bits and carefully poke out the white parts. Its ok if you accidentally tear some of it off, you can use another piece of seaweed to fix it later.
Place her hair onto the foundation, and add seaweed for the blacks of her eyes (since I accidentally tore it off). Then cut out a piece of seaweed for her clothes. Then you will need to use a pair of scissors to cut fine seaweed lines for her nose, mouth and chin, as well as her clothes.
Dab a little blue on her eyes.
The disastrous work area.
The final Rukia bento. I cut out the sakura petals from some ham. As for the rest of the bento, I added some tamago, pork and ginger, cherry tomatoes and shiso leaves.
😉 Take as many pictures before eating. A lot of effort went into the bento. Don’t know how Japanese mothers cope!