In Japan, it is common for many parents to send their children to school with bento boxes. It’s also a cheap way to stay on budget for each meal. There are many varieties of bentos you can choose from, but the kind we’re (Jioh and Lena) trying out is kyaraben (キャラ弁), where cute cartoon characters are created with food. We booked a bento making class with Noriko Tominaga sensei from Washo Cook. Please watch the above video to follow us on our adventure! Today’s menu will be Totoro Bento Box. Will it be too cute to eat? Read and watch on to find out!
If you’re interested click here for a coupon/deal to booking a lesson as we did!
Eggs, eggs, eggs!
The first step to start everything off was cracking two eggs into a bowl. After that, we poured in salt, sugar, and dashi (fish stock) onto the eggs. From there, Tominaga sensei taught us how to cook the egg onto this small and cute rectangular pan. You first pour a little bit of oil onto the pan and spread it around with a bunched up power towel. It should be on low heat so the egg doesn’t burn easily. Then, you pour a third of the egg mixture into a thin layer and wait for some of the bubbles to rise. When the bubbles appear, slowly roll the layer until it becomes, essentially, a literal egg roll. Scoot it to the top of the pan and repeat the steps two more times, thickening the egg roll.
When the egg roll has cooled down, we cut it fourths. This egg roll serves as the base for making a cute heart shape! To do this, you take one of the rolled omelets and cut it in half, but diagonally. This will make two halves of a heart. Now all you have to do is turn each half together to make a heart.
Our teacher then gave us thin sheets of cooked egg. With this, we had to fold it in half, hot dog style. Then, with the knife, we cut about half inch slits halfway on the eggs. After this, our teacher told us to roll the egg and stick it together with some roasted pasta to make a flower.
Sausages and fishcake, anyone?
Once all of us finished with the egg pieces, we moved on to sausages- mini sausages, that is. The sausage cutter designs used consisted of a criss-cross pattern, octopus legs, and a star pattern. Some of the people in our cooking lesson had dietary restrictions, so tomatoes replaced the sausages.
We then transitioned onto fish cake. The fish cake was cut into bite-sized pieces and put into a small bowl. We mixed it with mayonnaise, soy sauce, and dried seaweed powder. Then, we saran wrapped the bowl and put it in the microwave for 30 seconds. The other members of the class used potatoes instead.
Totoro and His Soot Friend
Now for the fun part, making Totoro! If you like sesame, you’re in for a treat. Using a mortar, all of us took turns grinding black sesame until it turned slightly powdery. We then mixed the ground sesame into freshly cooked rice, turning it gray like Totoro’s body. In order to make the body, a scoop of rice was put into the middle of the saran wrap. Then, wrap the plastic around the rice and mold it into a shape resembling Totoro’s body. We repeated this step twice, except with smaller portions of rice in order to make the bunny-like ears. Totoro isn’t done just yet- we repeated the body part again, but instead, using plain white rice molded into a smaller size than the body to be put on top of the gray rice ball.
Totoro by itself would have been lonely, so we added the soot sprite from Spirited Away to the bento box. To make the cute soot creature, we placed a small square piece of seaweed onto the plastic wrap and a bit of rice on top. To make the rice more flavorful, we put salmon furikake in the middle of the rice. After that, we used the plastic to enclose the ingredients into a golf sized ball. And just as simple as that, the soot sprite is done!
However, we are missing one thing, the eyes! For this, we used the end of a straw to cut out small circles on a sheet of white cheese to replicate the eyes. Where are the irises you say? Well here comes the next fun part, using seaweed punchers to cut out faces! Tominaga sensei provided us a seaweed cutter to punch out some eyes for both the soot sprite and Totoro, as well as the mouth for Totoro. We also punched out some crescents to put on Totoro’s stomach as patterns.
Lastly, we used broccoli, egg hearts, egg flowers, sausages, and fish cake to decorate the bento box. Wa la! Time to eat! It was difficult to eat the bento because it felt like we were destroying our baby. But ashamedly, it tasted delicious (don’t tell any of Totoro’s friends).
If you want to book the same class we did, click here to find out more about Noriko Tominaga and her business, Washo Cook!
This blog post was written by Jioh and Lena, Seibo Japan/Mobal Japan’s interns from South Korea and Texas.