Obento is NOT just a packed lunch. There is so much more to it. Obento addresses many aspects of food such as nutrition, taste, texture, preserve and appearance. So, I am going to share “5 golden rules to assemble Obento” in this post.
The 2 important points you need to keep in mind when you pack an Obento are
- To season well so that everything in the bento box is delicious even when it’s get cold.
- To prepare the food that goes into the bento box in special ways, so it will not go off by the time the Obento gets eaten.
Obento Rule 1: Cooling down
Rice and all side dishes need to be cold when they are packed. Rice needs to be cooled down and let the excess moisture evaporate before packing. Let all side dishes get cold. Because packing cold and warm side dishes together will make them go off easily.
Obento Rule 2: Well seasoned
Generally speaking, we feel dishes are less tasty when the food gets cold. We don’t eat Obento straight away when we make it. Therefore, we need to season it well. So adding a little more condiments such as soy sauce and miso or first marinating is a great idea.
Obento Rule 3: Evaporate and remove any liquid
We don’t want to have soggy rice soak up all the liquid from itself or side dishes. So when you cook side dishes, make sure all the liquid is evaporated, and also when you wash vegetables make sure the excess liquid is removed.
Obento Rule 4: Use food that has an antiseptic & bactericidal effect
One reason you often see Umeboshi salted plum on plain rice is not to make it look like the Japanese flag. It is because Umeboshi salted plum has an antiseptic and bactericidal effect. Also adding ginger is good idea because ginger has an antibacterial pr0perty.
Obento Rule 5: Packing Order
In general, pack rice or onigiri first, then bigger side dishes next, and finally fill the gap with smaller side dishes. Japanese people don’t just randomly pack anything in front of them. They think about appearance, colour combination, and most importantly, whether particular dishes don’t mix flavour or taste.
Tips to save time
I will give you some ideas of how to save time but not compromise quality and deliciousness of your Obento. Prepare as much as you can the night before. For example, make the meatballs the night before and coat with thick sweet and sour sauce in the morning. Cook the egg night before and just slice and pack in the morning. Cook potato salad the night before and just pack in the morning.
If you follow these 5 basic rules and the tip for saving time that Japanese know and use, you can pack your lunch like Japanese do anytime, even when you have got different dishes to pack.
In the next post, I am going to talk more about choosing the lunch box, and useful tools and little things that Japanese people use to make Obento. So stay tuned and Happy cooking 😀
Here are the recipes that I packed for the above photos. If you like it please rate and leave comments below. Enjoy packing Obento like a pro. Oh, also don’t forget to check out another example of simple bento and How to wrap bento box like Japanese do.
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- 150 g cooked rice *1
Sweet & Sour Meatballs *2
- 5 g butter
- 1/4 onion finely chopped
- 250 g Ground pork *3
- 1/2 large egg *12
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp Katakuriko(Potato starch)
- 600 ml Oil for deep fry *4
- 1/4 cup water
- Pinch of Torigara Soup powder *5
- 1 tbs soy sauce
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1/2 tbs mirin
- 1 tbs rice vinegar *6
- 1 tsp katakuriko(potato starch)
Tamagoyaki Rolled egg roll *7
- 2 1/2 large eggs *12
- 1/2 tbsp shirodashi *8
- 1/4 of nori sheet
- 1/2 tbsp oil
Potato salad *9
- 1/4 onion
- half lebanese cucumber sliced
- 350 g Potatoes
- 50 g ham chopped
- 2 tbsp Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise *10
- pinch of salt to taste
- 4 parboiled sugar snap peas
- 1 bunch of broccolini
- 1 mini tomato
- 2 shiso leaves *11
- parsley to garnish
Sweet & Sour Meatballs
- Add butter into a small frying pan over medium heat.
- Add finely chopped onion and cook it until onion become transparent and soft.
- Let it cool and set aside.
- Place ground meat in a mixing bowl and add egg, salt, potato starch and cooked onion.
- Combine them well with your hand until it become a little sticky. Make 18 pin-pong ball sized meatballs.
- Heat oil to 180°C (356°F) and deep fry the meatballs until it become golden brown. *13
- Set aside the meatballs. You could do up to this steps a night before in order to save time in the morning.
- Place water, torigara soup powder, soy sauce, sugar, mirin, rice vinegar and potato starch in a saucepan.
- Bring it simmer and become thicken.
- Add meatballs to the saucepan and coat the thickened sauce well.
- Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and add shirodashi.
- Mix them all together and strain the egg mixture a few times.
- Heat the oil in a rectangle shaped frying pan(if you have)*14 and remove the excess with a kitchen paper. Keep the oil soaked kitchen paper for later steps.
- Pour about 1/3 of egg mixture, scramble them a little bit and when the egg solidified a little, push them towards an end ot of the pan.
- Wipe the empty side of the pan with oil soaked kitchen paper and pour another 1/3 of the egg mixture.
- Lift the pushed egg to let the egg mixture run under it.
- Place the nori sheet over the newly poured egg before they get solidified.
- Roll the egg from the one side of the pan.
- Repeat the same for remaining egg mixture.
- Turn the heat off and remove the rolled egg from the pan and let it cool.
- Slice the rolled egg about 2cm(7.9inch) thick.
Potato salad *9
- Chop the onion finely and soak them in water in a small mixing bowl. Soak about 10 minutes. Drain the water and squeeze out excess water and set aside.
- Slice the cucumber thinly and sprinkle a pinch of water. Leave it about 5 minutes or the salt withdraw the water out of cucumber. Squeeze the moisture out of cucumber and set aside.
- Peel the potato and cut them small.
- Boil the potato for about 10 minutes or potato become soft. Drain the cooking water and mash the potatoes.
- Place mashed potato, onion, cucumber and ham into a mixing bowl.
- Add mayonnaise and salt to combine them all together.
Assemble all together into a lunch box
- Place rice first, then shiso leaves, meatballs, sugar snap peas, rolled egg, tomato and potato salad. If there is any gap, fill the gap with green vegetables and parsley.
- Sprinkle sesame seeds over the rice and top with Umeboshi. *See above step by step photos.