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Practical American Bento: Tools You Can Use

October 9, 2008

So, one of the things I hear a lot right after posting a series of bento pictures is “That’s cool!  Where can I get all that nifty stuff?”  And the answer is…  You order it from Japan.  Or you get really creative.

There are tons of great places where you can get cute little bento boxes and the tools you need to create one.  But really, you don’t actually *need* all those tools.  Okay, okay, so once you get addicted, then yeah.  You find that you *omgneed* those tools.  But for a beginning bento artist…  really.  You don’t.  You can get most of the nifty tools right here at your local grocery store.  And lots of other stuff can be obtained at any craft store.

Incidentally, I’m linking to the girl who does Bento TV, because she’s super sweet, she has lots of great ideas, and if you should happen to *omgneed* some of this stuff, she’s a good place to start.  Because really…  How can you say no to a $5 bento?

Nori Punch:  Nori is the word for those nifty sheets of seaweed that sushi gets wrapped in.  A nori punch is a fancy hole puncher.  And as any scrapbooker will tell you, fancy hole punches are a a dime a dozen.  So, maybe they cost a little more.  But they are out there, and they don’t have to be shipped from Japan.  The main advantage to getting an actual nori punch is that they tend to be smaller, and therefore easier to use as decorating tools.  Heck, if you’re really crafty, you can cut all sorts of shapes out of nori using nothing but a pair of scissors.

Sauce Bottles and Cups:  It’s not exactly easy to find teeny little sauce bottles, I know.  But!  You can find teeny little tupperware containers and small reusable bottles.  As you’re shopping, look at everything, with an eye towards how it would fit into your bento.

Side Dish Boxes:  Lots of plasticware now comes in as small as a quarter cup serving container.  Heck, a couple of my bento cups are from a set where the cups went down to as small as 1 oz.  Again, look at everything when you’re shopping.  There’s a been a big consumer demand recently for smaller sizes, which the plastic storage industry has taken up in spades.

Egg Molds and Rice Molds:  Also something you may have to order in.  But really, all you need to shape your rice is your own two hands.  It may take a little practice, but squeezing basic shapes out of your rice is fairly easy.  Alternately, there’s always….

Bento Cutters:  Ever notice how much bento cutters look like… cookie cutters?  That’s because for the most part, that’s all they are.  Bento cutters are great for cutting out sandwich shapes, molding rice blocks, cutting out cheese slices…  Heck, if you’re clever with an exacto knife, you can use it as a pattern for cutting out a piece of nori.  This time of year is great for finding all sorts of cookie cutter shapes.  And my absolute favorite….  mini cookie cutters!  I use them for just about everything from molding candy, to cutting out toppings, to putting holes in fruits and veggies.  Lots of stores sell mini cookie cutters in packs of six different shapes, which means instant multi-toy goodness.  Something else you can use cookie cutters for…

Rice Stencils:  Again, stencils you can find at most craft stores.  The advantage to using a rice stencil over trying to fill in a cookie cutter is that the stencil covers the bits you don’t want coated, so you’re less likely to mess it up.

Lunch Picks:  You know those nifty mini plastic swords that sometimes come with cocktails?  Same concept.  You can generally find those right next to the toothpicks.  You might not find any with cute little critters on them, but you never know.

Divider Cups:  You wanna know the difference between your average muffin wrapper, and the paper divider cups shown at that link?  Weight and wax.  Generally, the paper cups made just for bentos are slightly heavier paper, with a light wax coating.  For most uses of paper divider cups, you’re probably not going to notice a huge difference.  Again, this is a great time of year to pick up cute decorative paper cups, especially the ones for mini muffins, which are really useful.  Also, foil baking cups are awesome.  Eventually, you will probably want some plastic divider cups, or some silicone ones.  Amazingly enough, silicone baking cups are available in most stores, too.  You can also use those really tiny plastic containers you picked up over in the tupperware aisle.

Other things to keep an eye out for:

Decorative silicone ice trays.  These can be used as molds, if you’re clever.  Line them with some paper or plastic, stuff in your item of choice, and pop them right back out.

Small baking pans or muffin tins with interesting shapes.  If it’s already cute when it comes out of the pan, that’s one less step.

Interesting lunch bags or cooler bags.  You’ll need something to carry your bento in that will allow you to keep everything upright.  After all, you don’t want it shaking around and ruining your pretty lunch.

Next time (If I remember):  Food shopping and why the diet snack section is your friend. And why “bento” is more than just the box.

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