MUKU’s “Charaben” Character-Bento Lesson
(This article was originally posted in Japanese at 16:41 Oct. 13, 2009)
Being easy on the wallet and good for your health, bento-making is all the craze here in Japan and many people, both male and female bring boxed-lunch to their school and workplace. Of course many men bring bento made by their wives and girlfriends, but there's also quite a lot who make their own bento since cooking is not considered unmanly anymore.
So making your own bento won't surprise your classmates or coworkers anymore, but there's one thing that can still impress without a fail: charaben(character bento).
We attended a charaben-making class and tried our hands on the cute character-shaped food, with the help of the amazing MUKU sensei.
Read on for details and pics.
The charaben class was actually a PR event for Charaben iPhone App supervised by MUKU, held at Shibuya.
Here's a link to MUKU's blog(Japanese). MUKU, our kind and amazingly skilled teacher is a mother of two picky girls who started making charaben to tempt them to eat.
Nonbiri Nikki -MUKU's Charaben-
The event was titled "Obento nimo Otsumami nimo tsukaeru Charaben 3pun Cooking (Charaben 3min. Cooking for Boxed Lunch and Appetizer)"
It was held at Digital Hollywood Shibuya.
The pink big-eyed thing in the middle is the mascot of iPhone charaben app.
You can take your bento home in these bags.
All the things you need were prepared on the table.
Boiled rice, boiled egg, seaweed, tomato, boiled broccoli, mushroom, mayonnaise....
First we'll make this birdie. It's an original character by MUKU sensei, named "Mukudori"(lit. Starling, or MUKU-bird).
Mix the yolk of hard-boiled egg into rice.
Make the colour even.
Add salt, pepper and mayonnaise.
Put it on plastic wrap to make a rice ball.
Mold it into an oval-ish shape.
This will be the body of birdie.
Next you cut a slice of ham.
Smaller scissors are easier to handle.
Cut out two strips for the crest on his head.
Next you use these cookie cutters and stuff.
Cutting out the heart-shaped wings.
MUKU explaining the next step.
Dig a little hole with a pair of tweezers.
Stick in the strips of ham.
Tricky, but you'll get used to it.
Put on the wings.
This red thing is kanikama(crab kamaboko, or imitation crab meat). Cut it out with a plastic straw.
The tiny pieces are easier to handle with tweezers.
This wil be his lips (or beak). If you have no access to kanikama, red bell pepper will do.
Use a little mayonnaise for glue.
Use this seaweed cutter to make smiley face.
Punch and it's done. Easy.
Place it with tweezers.
Here's our "Mukudori".
Next we'll make "Uchujin Tako-san"(Spaceman Octopus), tiny hotdogs in octopus/alien shape.
The octopus hot dog is one of the most common feature of Japanese bento.
Cutting the tentacles.
Don't cut it all the way, leave the top half intact.
Nice little octo-dogs done, but today we'll make them into aliens.
Cut out a slice of processed cheese with plastic straw.
Another seaweed punch.
These pieces are so tiny you'll definitely need tweezers to pick them.
Placing his eyes. The cheese melts and sticks by the heat of hot dog.
Make a scarf with kanikama.
Again, if you're not in Japan make do with a slice of onion or a strip of ham. Get creative.
Alien-Octopus hot dog.
Next we made acorn with shimeji mushroom and little hot dog.
Cut off the cap of boiled shimeji.
Place it on the little hot dog.
Fix it with a toothpick cut in half.
Here's the acorn.
The cheese, kanikama and ham leftover from cutting out pieces won't be wasted.
Cutting the kanikama and ham.
No careful work needed here. Just chop.
And the cheese.
Toss them together with mayonnaise.
This bento, and Japanese bento in general use a lot of mayonnaise. If you don't like it (and some of us Japanese do hate mayonnaise), cream cheese and lemon or cottage cheese with olive oil will do.
Fill it in the white part of boiled egg (the yolk we already used on the birdie onigiri).
MUKU told us it used to take her as long as three hours for a charaben when she started, but after about a month of practice you'll be able to make one in about 15-30 minutes.
Cute food picks for the cherry tomatoes.
Stick it in.
Place them all in the lunch box.
Make sure you fill in the exxtra space with broccoli and stuff so the bento won't get shaken.
Done! Not bad for the first time, is it?
This one's made by another attendant.
MUKU was instructing us while we made our bento, so now she's catching up with her own.
She was real quick.
Wouldn't it be nice if you're greeted by these cute charaben at lunch break?
A little extra here:
Bear Curry by MUKU sensei.
So cute. Not for boxed lunch though.