“ Brand: Bento / Misc House Type: Storage „
Needing to pack a dinner for my two on Scout night, what with one first having Beavers immediately followed by the other having Cubs, I decided that merely packing a sandwich and the usual cold lunch items was just not going to cut it. This led me down the bento meal route (bento is a Japanese word that means boxed meal), and having gotten several great ideas thanks to Justbento.com, it was time to get some containers to pack the bento in. While I could have used little dividers and a lidded food storage box stuffed into a plastic bag, I decided to do this the right way and so off I trotted, hubby's money in hand, to eBay.
Now, eBay has many, many sellers of bento related goods, all with varying prices, so I was spoilt for choice. My little man loves cars however, so seeing a seller I liked who combined shipping, I ordered this set and an identical one to it but with girly graphics (pink with strawberries). Included is a two tier bento box, an onigiri case, a bento side dish box, a set of chopsticks in a case, a fork in a case, and a cloth carry bag.
The two tier box is basically two rectangular lunch boxes, measuring aproximately 6.25 inches long and 2.75 inches wide. The bottom most of the two holds roughly 210 ml of food and has its own lid which the upper deck sits upon. The upper deck is deeper, and so holds an additional 300 ml of food. It too has its own lid, and the two are held together by means of a co-ordinating "belt" made of heavy duty braided elastic. There are no internal dividers, so if you do not wish food to touch, you will need to use bento dividers that are sold in sheets, or make your own out of aluminium foil. As you can see from the sizes, these are not of a size to easily accomodate somthing like a standard sized sarnie , so if you want to bring some, finger sandwiches are going to have to be cut, or a special panko sandwich maker used (this makes mini sandwiches which are sealed on the edges). Alternatively, one can trim a sandwich slightly and place it inside the side dish box, as it measures 4.5 inches by 4.5 inches and has a depth of just over 2 inches.
The triangular box is actually called an onigiri box. Onigiri are made of sushi rice that has been pressed into a shape, and may be filled and seasoned, or not. The traditional shape is a triangle that is shaped in the palm of the hand, and this shape reflects that. Of course, you can also fill it with dried fruits, nuts, or what ever instead. I myself do not use it for onigiri, as I have several fancy molds for making various different shapes, and so our onigiri go into one of the double decker boxes.
The cases for the chopsticks and the fork match the graphics on the bento boxes and are very sturdily made. My son accidentally dropped his chopstick case onto the hard tile floor of the Scout's kitchen, and it did not crack or craze at all. The handle of the fork is high quality heat resistant resin, while the fork's head is a a heavy duty stainless steel. At first glance, one might be forgiven for thinking it is toddler cutlery, but while this is a size a small child could use comfortably, it is merely a convenient size for going into the bento bag so even adult forks come in this standard size. The chopsticks with this are not the miniature sizes that can be purchased and that fit into the top deck's clear two part lid. but neither are they quite as long or thick as standard chopsticks. They are quite well made though and easy to use, with no problems gripping small round objects such as peanut crackers or slippery foods such as olive oil drizzled pasta. All of these bits and pieces fit neatly into the deceptively small co-ordinating cloth drawstring bag, which is washable. All in, it is not much bigger than a woman's small clutch bag.
Admittedly, the sizes may seem small, but don't let this conveniently compact size fool you. Let me give you an idea as to just how much these actually hold. Last week's dinner was pretty typical for us, and admittedly it was Japanese food but it should give you a rough idea as to how much dinner can actually go into these. In the lower deck of the two tier box, I placed 4 tuna sushi and two vegetable sushi along with a silicone baking cup that had a small bottle of soy sauce to be poured into it. The top deck contained a sakura blossom shaped onigiri that contained diced oriental vegetables and wasabi, a boiled egg shaped like a car, and a silcone muffin case filled with sultanas. The onigiri box contained peanut crackers, and the larger square box contained bunny apple slices and baked yam slices marinated in mirin. Needless to say, the children were stuffed after a bento apiece of this, and all I had to add was a drink.
The bento boxes are microwavable with the lids removed, and while they are advertised as not dishwasher safe, this is really dependent on the wash temperatures used, as the upper limit for the boxes is actually 120 degrees Celsius, while the lids can tolerate a lower 80 degrees. So, if like me, you have a machine that can wash normally at 50, there is no problem. I have had these for a few months now, and the graphics have not faded, nor has the plastic or resin warped. Alternatively, of course, you can wash these by hand. The bag is also washable, as I mentioned, but it is recommended for hand washing only, or use a delicate cycle and place in a lingerie bag.
Now, while this set has a car race theme, this is pretty representative of most available sets. Mostly these simply have different graphics, so if you don't want cars, you can get sets with animals on, or strawberries, or even Hello Kitty, Ben 10, and so on. There are also similar sets designed for adults, with plain black even appearing that is aimed at older men. I did buy this all together, but you can get smaller sets that don't contain the onigiri box or the side dish box, and so are cheaper. The onigiri box and the side dish container can be purchased seperately as well, as can the chopsticks, fork, and a spoon, all in their respective cases of course.
Expect to pay between £12 to £30 for a similar set, including postage, depending on the seller's desired profit margin as well as whether you buy the deluxe set like this one, or the smaller set without the onigiri and side dish boxes, or if you get an even larger set that has the matching spoon in a case and oshibori (small flannel placed damp in its plastic case, used for cleaning the hands and face before and after eating). It is money well spent, however, as they do hold quite a bit of food, are lightweight, compact, microwavable, versatile, and much sturdier in build than standard lunch boxes and plastic food tubs. And one more thing, the kids think these are seriously cool; the other children come wandering in to look at these and what's inside every single time!