Cute, creative and fun, bento boxes are gaining popularity worldwide as an alternative packed meal option in places once dominated exclusively by sandwich lunches. It does require a bit more effort to make, but I highly recommend making your own bento.
Components of bento can be a combination of anything you want. My bento inspirations are drawn from ekiben, bento lunch boxes sold in Japanese train stations, so I, a bento novice, apologise for it not being the most authentic. Some of the components I tend to include are onigiri (rice ball with fillings, sometimes wrapped in seaweed), egg roll, chicken or prawn katsu (breaded, deep fried meat), salad, rice and yakisoba (fried noodles).
This bento has
- tuna mayonnaise onigiri
- egg roll
- prawn katsu
The recipe below is for two servings of bento.
Tuna mayonnaise onigiri
1 cup short grain rice
1½ cup water
Nori, or seaweed sheets
½ can tuna
1-2 tablespoon Japanese mayonnaise (contains MSG, but tastes richer than regular mayonnaise), or regular mayonaise
Pinch of salt
Oil for frying
6 prawns, remove all the shells except tail, de-vein
1 egg, beaten
Some panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) or regular breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper
Wash and soak the rice in the given amount of water for about five minutes before cooking in a pot, or preferably in a rice cooker. After the rice is cooked, season it with salt while it’s hot. Drain a tin of tuna and mix with the desired amount of mayonnaise. Drape a ladle with a large piece of cling film and spoon some rice onto it, followed by a spoonful of tuna filling. Top it with a bit more rice, fold the cling film over and shape the rice into a tight, triangular form (or any shape you desire). Remove the rice ball from the cling film and wrap the onigiri with a strip of nori. Repeat to make 4-6 rice balls, depending on how big they are.
The egg rolls are normally made with sugar, but since I prefer it savoury, I’ll be jotting down the way I do it. Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt. Heat some oil in a frying pan over a low heat. Pour a small amount of egg mixture, swirl the pan around to cover the base of the pan. The thin omelette that forms is folded (to about 2” wide), left in the pan as a little more egg mixture is poured in. Repeat the process again until all the egg is used up. Then, remove the egg roll from heat and cut into 1” thick pieces.
Season the prawns with salt and pepper. Dust them in some flour before dipping them in beaten egg, followed by panko or breadcrumbs. Press firmly to make the breadcrumbs stick onto the prawns. Deep or shallow fry the katsu on both sides until golden.
Wash and dry the salad before assembly. Have fun assembling your own funky bento lunch!
Tip: A small amount of wasabi in the onigiri adds to the taste.