Another year, another Bento & Co contest. I have been rather depressed with what seems to be a great deal of effort expended to participate yet I’ve not even gotten into the shortlist. But I guess I’m masochistic – or just stubbornly holding on to the idea that I can win a new lunchbox rather than buy myself another (and fall into the dangers of catching the collecting bug like other bento-blog authors).
Anticipating that my entry has little hope for getting remotely noticed I put some extra restrictions on myself. Call it my personal 5 principles (which deliberately echo the 5 principles of traditional Japanese cooking) to challenge myself this year:
- No meat or fish. This is easily achieved being rather isolated from big supermarkets or getting turned off by the weather to cycle to the butcher. It’s been tough to be a carnivore but at least vegetables are cheap
- No charaben. I think charaben is the easy way to get noticed in the contest. I also have started thinking this is a cop-out. As beautiful one can make a charaben there is the risk of not putting the effort in some tasty side-dishes. Think the highly detailed work of Kasumin Yoroshiku then ponder on (1) does it taste any good? and (2) there sure is a lot of deep-fried stuff and lettuce on the side
- No ‘exotic’/difficult-to-find ingredients (excluding the onigiri). The rice and nori was actually more difficult to obtain than usual. Seeing that Japan Centre doesn’t have an assuredly fast response (1 to 3 working days processing the order) I had to get down into ‘town’ and pick them up. The tea is unashameably ‘exotic’. But it’s seasonally appropriate and grouped with the ‘exotic’ rice anyway. The rest are standard supermarket fare or even local
- No inedible faff (that includes cute picks or dividers). You know what gets my gripe with some of the bento out there? It’s all the decorative cuts and accessories that seem to distract the viewer from the percentage of the okazu that are deep-fried or overly processed. I guess this is counter-intuitive for a contest held by a company that sells that kind of stuff, but I hate that there are plenty of past entries I find don’t seem to focus on a tasty, well-balanced meal.
- No deep frying. I would of defaulted to make lumpia (it’s part of my heritage, goddammit) but then I’d run the risk of doing a ‘Kasumin Yoroshiku’: it is easy to think deliciousness = fat = deep frying
The planning and execution was definitely interesting. I often recalled the ‘fallbacks’ I could of done if there was the freedom to do so or a ready supply of ingredients I have taken for granted. No spring roll wrappers, no bacon, no crabsticks, no deliciously evil deep fried goodies, etc – I had to think outside my cooking comfort-zone. In the end I was surprised how colourful, healthy and tasty the results were (given I use some mustard for the ganmodoki). As far as I know all the vegetation I used were local, grown in the UK or growing in the garden (the strawberries are worth noting.. mmm, fresh strawberries).
Top tier contents: Tea egg, home-grown strawberries, lettuce and parsley, oven cooked ganmodoki, spinach namul wrapped in steamed spinach leaves, carrot kimpira.
Bottom tier contents: Edamame and caper skewers (edible: they are threaded on uncooked spaghetti strands), home-pickled radish, green tea onigiri, home-made kimchi and sesame onigiri, buckler-leaf/french sorrel.
If I were to do something similar again, I would of do more of the items in advance. Though the pickles are one thing that definitely needs preparation, stewing tea eggs and cooking the ganmodoki the night before would of saved a significant amount time. Though I did discover that fresh ganmodoki with mustard is a really good accompanying snack to beer…