Written by Kumiko Toya
Most people are familiar with the concept of bento, a single-serve, packed meal of Japanese origin. But do you know what a kyaraben is?
A kyaraben, a shortened form of character bento, is a genre of bento styles that is almost too cute to eat from a bento box beloved by Japanese children. A typical kyaraben features characters from video games or cartoon characters, such as Pokémon, animals, and flowers made with edible ingredients.
Hanami bento in the Edo period, by Hiroshige Ando, public domain image
Though kyaraben is a recent trend, creative lunchbox making is not a new phenomenon. Bento first appeared in Japanese history about 1,200 years ago, when people carried dried cooked rice to eat on the job or while travelling. Over the next few hundred years, bento was used not only to pack quick lunches, but became an integral part of Japanese food culture.
A traditional bento sold at a train station
A bento usually consists of rice, protein, vegetables, pickles, and fruits to provide the most nutrition in the small box and the easiest consumable way possible. Presentation is also important because visual appealing has always been a big part of the meal in Japan.
While the trend of kyaraben started as a way to stimulate children’s appetites and make vegetables and other nutritious ingredients more interesting for them to try, it has exploded over the last decade. Today, it is not unusual for parents to rise extra early in the morning to spend hours creating a lunchbox masterpiece for their children.
A friend of mine was a devoted kyaraben creator when her children were small. She explained that it was a wonderful way to show the children how much she cared about them, and the moment they told her that they had loved the Pikachu shaped rice omelet and finished everything in the bento, she felt the amount of effort expended paid off.
It is entertaining just looking at pictures of kyaraben, but don’t you think it would be more fun when you make your very own? We introduce a small selection of tasty, fun, and kawaii kyaraben recipes you can easily try!
HOW TO MAKE OCTOPUS SAUSAGE
Octopus-shaped sausage is a popular menu choice for kyaraben. Not only they are incredibly easy, fool-proof to make, kids love the shape of cute octopus in their bento box!
1.. Cut sausage to 2 inch length.
2. Holding sausage sideways and slice all way down one side. Rotate and slice two more times. Now the sausage has 8 legs..
3. In a frying pan, heat oil and cook sausages on low heat. When the sausages are cooked through, the legs start to open. Remove from the heat and serve or pack in lunch box.
Octopus sausage is a great dish to make bento fun!
HOW TO MAKE DINO EGGS
Say goodbye to plain hard-boiled eggs, and hello to these colorful cuties!
12 Hard-boiled quail eggs
1 Slice of Ham
1 Slice of Cheddar cheese
12 Green peas
1. Using a straw, make 24 little circle cutouts from ham. Repeat the process on cheese.
2. Peel the skin off green peas. Cut each pea into two.
3. Using a straw, make 6 little circle cutouts around the egg.
4. Using tweezers, insert your ham, cheese, and halved green pea circles into the circle openings on the egg.
They will be the perfect addition to any meal!
HOW TO MAKE CANDY-WRAPPED FRIED MOZZARELLA
If you love the crispy, gooey, fried mozzarella cheese sticks, take your love to the next level with this recipe!
3 Pieces of Egg roll wrappers of about 7 inches, cut into 4 squares, 12 pieces in total
12 Mozzarella balls
1 Slice of Ham
½ Teaspoon Flour
1 Tablespoon Water
2 cups Canola Oil
1. Using a straw, make 60 little circle cutouts from ham.
2. Mix flour and water until combined. Set aside.
3. Affix 5 circle cutouts of ham on each mozzarella ball.
4. Place a mozzarella ball in the middle of each egg roll wrapper. Fold the wrapper up over the mozzarella ball.
5. Press to seal using the flour mixture.
6. Pinch ends to make the wrapped candy shape, using skewers to hold the wrapper in place.
7. In a frying pan, heat oil to 350F. Carefully add the wraps and fry for 10 to 15 seconds.
8. Transfer wraps to paper towels to drain. Gently turning the skewer to take it out from the wrap. Season with salt.
They will be a great brunch snack or the perfect appetizer for the Thanksgiving dinner coming up!
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Did you enjoy learning about this delicious art form? We understand if you are hesitant about creating art that you will eventually eat! If this is not for you, check out our various arts and craft kits. We offer fun, creative traditional Japanese art kits that you will love. Check out our Chigiri-e, Chirimen, and Etegami kits today!