I love all things Japanese, including My Neighbor Totoro and other Hayao Miyazaki movies; shōjo manga comics; and Aranzi Aronzo’s cute, strange, silly sewing craft books. And, of course, Japanese food. I’ve read Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Singleton Hachisu and have pretty much memorized every recipe. I like her book because it explains ingredients and simple preparation methods, and includes pictures and stories about her life in Japan. Bento is an easy, fun way for me to indulge my love of Japanese culture while packing myself a delicious school lunch or making an after-school snack for myself and my brother.
I have some basic tools, like a Zojirushi rice cooker (which beeps “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” when the rice is finished), a grinding bowl (suribachi), some cute egg forms to shape hard-boiled eggs, and metal cutters to make stars, flowers, and other vegetable shapes. I like to pack my lunches in a stacked To-Go Ware stainless-steel tiffin.
I start the week by planning out basic ingredients I will need and going to the market with my mom. I use Koda Farms Kokuho Rose or Tamaki Gold white rice, or Massa Organics if I want brown rice. I also like nori seaweed (Tokyo Fish Market has a good selection), South River Miso (available at Three Stone Hearth), and tofu (Hodo Soy Beanery makes many varieties and is organic and non-GMO). I went to a book-signing event to meet Nancy Singleton Hachisu and she’s been really encouraging and helpful about the bentos. She keeps telling me I should make my own tofu because it’s really easy and delicious, but I haven’t tried yet.
Some of my favorite special items to mix in my bentos include just-picked vegetables from the CSA garden my friends Willow Rosenthal and Sarah Bjerkholt keep in Sarah’s backyard (that’s Sarah in the picture, holding her chicken, and Willow feeding it some green and purple mizuna that she just picked), and freshly laid eggs from their chickens (So good! One of the only eggs I’m allowed to eat raw on noodles and rice) or from Eatwell Farms. I also like to add the pickles my mom ferments in a big brown crock in the corner of our kitchen.
I like to photograph all my bentos because they’re all so different!
Charlotte Peale is a middle-school student at the Crowden School in Berkeley. She once received a gift of elaborately wrapped candies from a restaurant owner in Tokyo. She hand-carried them back on the airplane to San Francisco where she was surprised to discover the candy was actually fireworks.