Bento (弁当) is a boxed lunch that is a prevalent meal throughout Japan. These meals usually consist of rice, meat, and vegetables. You can find them in convenience stores, at train stations, restaurants, and they are even made at home. While you may think there is nothing special about a boxed lunch, bento may actually surprise you. Like the rest of Japanese cuisine, they are carefully prepared to be elaborate and visually appealing, like a piece of art.
The Kyaraben Bento Style
There are many different styles of bento, but my favorite is “kyaraben.” Kyaraben, or character bento, is food designed to look like anything from people and anime characters to animals or plants. I’ve always been mesmerized by character bentos and how someone could make their food appear to be something from an anime or video game.
I was so inspired by kyarabens that I decided to make a kyaraben of my own! I thought for a while about what characters to create, and Totoro and Studio Ghibli definitely spoke to me. So, I selected Chibi Totoro, a Soot Sprite, and Totoro to be the characters in my very first attempt at kyaraben!
Learn how to make a Totoro bento box
What I used
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1 chicken katsu (recipe I used here)
- Cooked carrots and asparagus
- 1 spaghetti noodle
- 1 hard boiled egg
- Ground black sesame seeds
- Romaine lettuce
- Seaweed sheets
- White cheddar cheese slices
First, I started preparing the vegetables. I chose to use asparagus and carrots for my design, but you are welcome to use whatever vegetables you prefer. I cut spears of asparagus in half and I used a few slices from the carrot to carve into a flower shape.
For this design, I prepared some white rice beforehand to utilize for Totoro’s body and a small Soot Sprite (the amount needed will vary depending on the size of your bento). If you are familiar with Totoro, you will know that his body is mostly grey. In order to give the rice a darker appearance, mix in the black sesame seeds a little at a time until you reach your desired color. After you have finished mixing your rice, use cling wrap to shape the rice into the shape of a small Soot Sprite and Totoro’s body and ears.
I decided to use chicken katsu and a hard boiled egg as the protein in my bento. You can find the link to the katsu recipe I used here.
This step is all about the small details for the characters in this design. In order to create them, I chose to use a slice of white cheddar and a sheet of seaweed.
The base for the characters’ eyes and Totoro’s belly were cut out from the cheese. The seaweed acted as pupils, Totoro’s features, and the base of the Soot Sprite. I used different sized piping tips and a pair of small scissors to cut out these pieces. Once you have finished, place all your cutouts on your rice! I found it really helpful to use a pair of tweezers for this.
Finally! We have made it to the most exciting part of this process, putting all of our hard work together in our bento. I started everything by laying down a bed of romaine lettuce.
Next, I placed the main portions of my meal, the rice and chicken katsu. When putting Totoro together, I quickly realized that using two small pieces of a dry spaghetti noodle was the best way to keep Totoro’s ears on.
Lastly, I arranged the Soot Sprite, Chibi Totoro, and vegetables to fill up empty space in my bento box.
Drizzle on some Kewpie Mayo or some Tonkatsu Sauce and you’re ready for lunch … Or just look at it because it’s way too cute to eat!
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Featured image credit: Julia Hankins/Geek Gals