Japan Matsuri 2014 Trafalgar Square London

Last Saturday we went to Japan Matsuri, ie Japan Festival, which was held on Trafalgar Square in London.

The theme of this year’s Japan Matsuri was ‘washoku’, or Japanese cuisine…so you can imagine why I was keen to go! I normally avoid going into central London during the weekend, but with events like this, I am just so happy to live in such an international city as London!

We arrived just when it started at 11.00, but even so, the square was already heaving with Japanese residents of London, tourists and Japan(ese food) lovers. It was so cute to see little girls dressed up in kimono…I should have take a photo but I forgot. I’m sure they will show some photo’s on the Japan Matsuri website, which you can find here.

After a quick round along all the food stalls, I decided to try out the Okonimiyaki of Okan. Okonimiyaki means “as you like it” and it’s a cabbage based pancake. The version Okan served was finished with brown sauce, Japanese mayonnaise (on the side), green seaweed flakes, corn and bonita shavings.

wpid-20140927_114120.jpg

Okonomiyaki

It was very tasty, although much “looser” than I had expected, I thought it would be more like a pancake structure, but couldn’t really see nor taste much of the batter. The other dish I tried (but forgot to take a photo of) was Karaage, which is Japanese battered & fried chicken on a skewer. I was very disappointed with this, it tasted very bland, and much prefer the Korean version (Kapongi) which has lots of spice and flavour. Of course they also sold lots of bento, sushi, takoyaki, ramen and other Japanese food, but I wanted to try out food that I don’t eat often or make  myself :-)

Aside from the food stalls, there were also plenty of stall promoting Japanese tourism or selling Japanese arts, crafts & clothes. I ended up with this stash (some things were handed out as promotion, like the fan, and the miso soup):

wpid-20140927_145457.jpg

Yes, that’s a Bento box in the left top corner! I could only see 2 types of bento boxes sold, and this one caught my eye because it’s larger than most Japanese Bento boxes. As I am a greedy eater, large is better for me :-P

The kimono bookmark was given to me when I entered a competition to transfer as many raw azuke beans from one bowl to another bowl in 30 seconds. I failed miserable…the raw beans are so slippery! But I still got the bookmark, which is very pretty!

I bought the cute little notebook because of the design! I’m not sure who/what Pancolle is, but it looks like it’s a whole Onigiri family! Maybe I can use it to scribble down designs for my Bento…

The fabric bag with a very pretty print was given out by the Japanese office for Tourism (if I remember correctly), it’s a good size to carry my lunch to work :-). On it are two cat shaped chop stick rests I bought from Doki (who sell the most beautiful Japanese ceramics)

wpid-20140927_111704.jpg

Am now seriously considering starting to collect cute chop stick rests….so far I only have a few, and they would be a good addition to my Bento accessories collection…… :-).

There were lots of other activities during the Matsuri, including radio Taiso, taiko drummers, Hiroko Tanake dancers and much more, but we only stayed for a short time so didn’t see everything. Still, what we say and ate (aside from the Kaarage) was worth going into central London for!

Anyway, hope everyone had a lovely weekend, and I would love to hear back if you have ever visited a Japan Matsuri and about your experiences.

 

I won! I won! I won! (and 100th blog post)

Early this month Japan Centre held a competition where you could win a Bento book, by submitting a photo and/or link of Japanese food you had made. I submitted my ‘girl gathering egg bento’ and last week they announced that I had won!

Aside from a very flattering reference to my Bento and my blog (which you can read here on their blog), they also sent me my prize, this lovely Yum-Yum Bento Box book which I received in the post today!

IMG_0813-0.JPG

It may seem odd, but this is actually my first Bento book (and also why I entered the competition). I get most of my inspiration from other (bento) bloggers, but I was keen to have a reference guide with tips & tricks and lots of photo’s for more inspiration.

A quick glance through this book shows already that this is a very practical book for new AND not so new Bento makers. I saw some very handy tips that I hadn’t seen before (like how to shape a quail egg into a flower, and how to use a toothpick for cutting cheese) so I am keen to start showing some lunches I will make with the help of this book.

I especially like a two page spread which shows in a photo overview all kind of ingredients you can use to make Happy Faces, like cheese for ears or spaghetti for hair, and also examples on how to turn eggs into kawaii ingredients for your bento. There are lots of photos with example Bentos and step by step instructions on how to recreate them, some recipes and general information about Bento, Bento tools, ingredients and how to pack.

Anyway, I will have a further look at the book, and think about a Bento using this book and/or inspired by this win. Am actually thinking I might want to recreate all the Bento as shown on the cover….so I guess, wait & see!

Most importantly, I want to thank Japan Centre for holding this competition and for awarding me the prize! Am really happy with it :-)

(and I’m sure that I will be looking to buy more Bento accessories / Japanese food ingredients at Japan Centre to create even more Bentos…..)

Coincidentally, I just noticed that this is my 100th post on my blog!!! When starting this blog I couldn’t imagine I would create 100 Korean/Japanese inspired lunches and blogging about them. Well, I could imagine the first bit (as I do like my food…) but not the blogging bit ;-)

So, this is also a good moment to also thank all my readers & followers and all the other bloggers who inspire me! BIG THANKS & HAPPY BLOGGING!

Garden DosirakBento

IMG_0810.JPG

Wanted to repeat the ‘minced beef on rice shape’ but instead of a bear (which you can read about here), I aimed for a flower. Unfortunately I didn’t have an egg sheet (nor the time to make one), so the flower shape isn’t as clear as I would have liked.

So, I thought to turn it into a Garden Dosirakbento, the brown mince is the earth, with broccoli bushes and carrot flowers and some matching food picks to cheer it all up :-)

There is also another tea egg, some radishes and more carrot. Plus a “tomato” bottle of extra soy sauce.

This lunch box comes from Paperchase and it has an insert with cutlery. My Dosirakbento is too full to use the insert, but I will take the cutlery as eating this rice dish is easier with a spoon :-P

 

Please note that I have not been asked /nor paid to review this lunch box. 

TumTum Bento (review)

TumTum bentoSome time ago I lost the little pot of my TumTum lunch set, and because it has such an unique shape I couldn’t find a suitable replacement, and sort of forgot to use this lunch set.

When organising my Bento accessories, I found the box again, and decided that I really wanted to use it, so I contacted TumTum in the hope that they were able to sell me the little pot separately. They replied very quickly, telling me they don’t sell the item separately, but offered very kindly to see if they had one spare and send it to me.

TumTum has a great range of cute lunch/food products for children, all in very bright colours and cute designs. They created these cheerful children friendly products to help their own children enjoy eating their food and came up with the name TumTum because that is their daughter’s name for her tummy! You can find their products here.

TumTum lunch set

I don’t have any children, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t use their lunch box :-). I love the bright colours and find it very practical to pack. It feels like a good quality, sturdy, lunch box, and it’s a great size for all kind of food (not only for kids, but also for greedy adults…) plus the little pot is leak proof so very good for packing dressing, yogurt, sauces etc. Of course everything is also BPA free and dishwasher proof. The lunch set I have is actually an older design and has now been replaced by the even cuter Bugs version, see here.

My bento packed in the TumTum lunch box consists of:

  • Rice mixed with peas and corn and topped with carrots and some nori strips;
  • The little container has a soy dipping sauce;
  • Pan fried prawns and a tea egg (made earlier this week); and
  • A rice cracker;
  • A very quick bento to pack (15 minutes)!

Tea egg (recipe courtesy of Feral Bento)

  • Boil some eggs (put them on with cold-room temp water, bring to a boil, then turn the heat off and wait about 10 minutes before taking them out)
  • Let the boiled eggs cool down (this is important) and then crack the shell all over
  • Heat up a small saucepan of water, add about 1/2-1 cup of soy sauce, 1-2 tablespoons of Chinese five spice, and 2-3 black tea bags (any kind works).  I use about 0.5 liter water for 3 eggs
  • Once boiling, turn the heat down to really really low, add the cracked eggs and simmer for HOURS
  • I take them out after 2-3 hours, but as long as you keep the heat very low, the eggs should be fine if you simmer them longer
  • They will keep well in the fridge for a couple of days (store them in their shell in a zip lock bag)

Please note that I have not been asked nor paid to review this lunch set and that the above is my own opinion. I have however received the replacement pot free of charge. 

If you want to see another lunch, using the Bugs Lunch box, Eats Amazing has written a great review which you can find here.(I now want that ladybird lunch bag…

Enjoy your well-being life!

well-being-life

 

I only now realised what the label on my Lock & Lock bento lunch bag says: Enjoy your well-being life!

Lock & Lock is a Korean brand, and I think they wanted to say something like: Enjoy your life, boost your well-being with packing your lunch, but I think the meaning got lost in translation :-)

Anyway, hope everyone is enjoying their well-being life!

 

 

 

Picnic bento and sushi sandwiches

Picnic bento and sushi sandwich

In contrast with last weeks “relatively quick bento”, this bento took me a very long time, I think 2 or 3 hours…can’t remember as I made this bento for a picnic some time ago to share with friends.  I wasn’t quite sure what food I was going to bring to the picnic, except that it was going to be rice based, and that it couldn’t contain any raw ingredients.

So I cooked some rice and divided it into 2 portions. One portion I mixed with sushi vinegar to make sushi sandwiches. I had recently seen a tutorial on Masa’s cooking blog (you can find it here),and thought it was a fun idea to try out.

The sandwiches are filled with egg, cucumber and I used tinned salmon (instead of crab and prawns as in the recipe). They were easy to make, but tricky to slice, and I think they need great care whilst eating because they fall apart very easily. Maybe I should have added some mayo as per the recipe, which acts a bit as a glue I suppose, but I’ve never been a big fan of mayo in sushi… To help with eating, I added some extra divider sheets..

There was some left over sushi rice, so I also made a quick vegetable maki roll, and decoration in the form of vegetable food picks to fill the top container. I also added some hard boiled eggs which had been molded into a car and a fish.

sushi sandwich

The left over rice I used to shape spicy salmon onigiri. Some were shaped into bunnies :-) and others decorated with nori faces. The spicy salmon filling is very simple, I use it quite often, just a mixture of tinned salmon with wasabi and a splash of soy sauce. I find that the easiest way to shape onigiri is to have a bowl with salted water ready and by wearing thin plastic gloves. I dip my gloved hands into the salty water, scoop up a small handful of still hot rice, form a small patty in the palm of my hand, add the filling, and fold over the rice until the filling is all enclosed. I then shape the rice into the desired form. (The salt helps to preserve the onigiri, plastic gloves protect my hands against the heat and it’s also H&S and so).

Onigiri bunnies and faces

This bento is not very balanced in ingredients, there is way too much rice in it and not enough veggies. But it doesn’t matter that much because this is a bento to share with others.

It was also a great opportunity to use my lovely Bento & Co bento box, which has been sitting on my shelf for some time now. When I saw this box on their website I just knew I had to have it, because it’s so pretty. It has all these cute little containers in the bottom layer, I only used them for the round onigiri as they were just a little too small for my bunny ones (or my bunnies were too large…). The top compartment is divided in 3 parts, plus the insert lid (not shown) has room for chopsticks.

Because it is so large, it’s not very practical to use for a work lunch. For sharing it’s great though! :-P

Please note that I have not been paid or asked to review this Bento box, the above is my own opinion. 

Bear DosirakBento!

Bear bento with egg sheet and bibimbap minced beefAnd this is the result of yesterday’s planning: a Bear DosirakBento!

I have received some recent comments/questions about how much time it takes to pack my lunch. In this case it took me 25 minutes, and the only reason why it took longer than normal (my aim is 20 min on an office day) is because when it was finished, it looked a little dull. So I spent 5 more minutes quickly slicing up some carrot, steaming in the micro and cutting out little flowers…I also remembered to take a photo during the process…

My routine for this one (but applies for most of my packed lunches):

Evening before (5-10  minutes)

  • Think about what kind of lunch I want to pack for the next day.
  • (Mentally) check what’s in the freezer/fridge.
  • If a “creative” bento, make a quick sketch to help remember.
  • Set out any tools if needed or take food out of freezer if needed.

Morning:

  • 5 min: Defrost & reheat rice in micro. At same time defrost & reheat bibimbap minced beef in micro. Cut some broccoli florets, steam/cook in micro together with come mini corn;
  • 3 min: take egg sheet (I actually had one which I made on Wednesday and kept it in the fridge) and use bento box to cut out a square. (check that it fits). Cut out the bear with the cookie cutter;
  • 2 min: Arrange rice in bento container, add egg sheet on top;
  • 2 min: Use cookie cutter to arrange the bibimbap minced beef within the egg sheet;
  • 5 min: Cut out ear, eyes and face details from remaining egg sheet & arrange. Cool down before adding nori face details;
  • 3 min: Fill other bento container with cooked veggies, radishes and tomato. The brown thing is a coffee & walnut cupcake which I had baked (for the office) this week;
  • 5 min: Check how it looks…hmm nice but bit dull, so cut up some carrot in thin slices, quickly steam/cook in micro for 30 sec, cut out little flowers and arrange on egg sheet;
  • Take photo and ready!

Lunch time:

  • When I unpacked my dosirakbento, the face details had moved around a bit, but surprisingly the bibimbap minced beef was still in an bear shape. I packed my Totoro chopstick set as it comes with a spoon, and it’s easier to use a spoon with this lunch;
  • Upload photo, write draft blog post;
  • After lunch, depending on how busy it is in the office, read draft blog post again and finalise. Hit the publish button. (Although sometimes I schedule them for another date, for example when I don’t have time to finalise my draft text)
bear bento in progress

Bear Bento in progress

 

And my sketch of last night

planning how to make a bear bento

 

 

P.s. I ate the egg sheet cut offs as my breakfast :-P

 

Girl gathering eggs Bento

Russian inspired bento box girl gathering quail eggsThis bento is called “Girl gathering eggs” because the lunch and box combination reminded me about a (farmers) girl gathering eggs in her basket….(ok, maybe it’s a bit far-fetched, but I couldn’t come up with another title for this blog post…)

I know that I’m not supposed to buy new bento boxes as I already have so many…but when I saw this Matryoshka doll bento box I just couldn’t resist. This bento box is inspired by traditional Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls. As most Japanese bento boxes, it’s quite small (there are two containers and each holds 270 ml) so I need to pack it quite tightly (I am greedy and do prefer larger lunch boxes).

One container has some onigiri (filled with salmon), broccoli and carrot flowers. The other has Kongjabang, cucumber, a few quail eggs and more broccoli/carrot.

The box (you can buy it here at Japan Centre) comes with inner lids, a gel pack (not shown), chopsticks in a matching case and a bento belt.

The good thing is that this bento set fits into  one of my Lock & Lock bento bags, so I can pack some extra food with it.  And purely by coincidence the colour and the dot pattern on the bento bag match with the pattern on the Matyoshka dress  :-)

wpid-20140910_071346.jpg

Please note that I have not been paid or asked to review this bento box, the above is my personal opinion

Are you a rice snob?

rice-varieties-stash

L to R: Akitakomachi (CAL), Uonuma Koshihikari (JP), Yumenishiki (EUR) and Koshihikari (CAL)

My friends might tell you that I’m a chocolate snob. I don’t think I am, because although my preferred choice of chocolate has a minimum of 64% cacao and no Cadbury will ever pass my lips, I am also quite happy munching a bag of M&M’s, a Mars bar or a box of After Eights :-)

I am however seriously in danger of becoming a rice snob….

About a year ago I invested in a proper rice cooker, and with proper I mean one of those (imported from Japan) neurologic fuzzy wuzzy technology self thinking cookers which incidentally plays “twinkle twinkle little star” when the rice is ready. The price of this rice cooking wonder was a bit of deep breath, and consequently I still only dare to cook rice in it, but I have to admit, it’s the best kitchen investment ever as it turns out perfectly cooked rice, every single time. Can you be in love with an inanimate object? Because if you can, I’m in love with my rice cooker (^x^). 

I also always wash my rice at least 3 times (in a special rice washer bowl) and cook it using filtered water.

But even with this super duper rice machine, if your rice is bad, your meal will taste bad as well, or at least not as good as it could if you would use a superior rice variety.

Now, I don’t know that much about rice. But I do know that I never want to eat brown rice again! Growing up, we only ate this very healthy brown rice, the one which was not only not hulled, it seemed it also wasn’t de-stoned as occasionally we would find all kind of odd bits and pieces in it. It was the super healthy, home knitted socks in sandals variety, so when I left home, I vowed never to eat brown rice again.

Instead I started to eat Basmati, Jasmine and even Arborio (when making risotto). But most of my Asian dishes would still be accompanied by a non sticky rice variety until I ventured into sushi making some years ago and discovered Japonica rice. (If you want to read more about rice varieties: Just Hungry has a great post about different types of rice here).

Nowadays, I mainly eat Japonica rice and am currently trying out different varieties and qualities. A brand that you often see here in the UK is Nishiki, which is a medium grain Japonica-type rice grown in California and is often sold as “sushi” rice.  I have tried it but am not a big fan of it as I find it a bit bland. Although you might think that rice needs to be “bland” enough to match your other ingredients, I feel that rice needs to have enough unique taste of itself to be eaten on it’s own, with maybe just a pickle, nori strips or some sesame seeds.

My regular rice of choice is currently a Koshihikari, which is a quite popular Japonica short grain rice, with a slightly sweet taste. The brand I buy is actually grown in California and quite cheap, about £3 per kilo (the brand is called Seoul trading sunshine/moonlight). I buy it in 10 lbs (4.5 kg) bags at the Korean supermarket and store it in an airtight container. But on my last shopping trip they were out of 10lbs bags, they only had the small bags or the huge bags (40 lbs!) so I thought it was time to try out some other brands.

I have now in my cupboard, ready to try out:

  • Akitakomachi, which is apparently similar to Koshihikari but less sticky. The brand I have is also Californian grown, the same as my regular Koshihikari, but this is new crop, which is allegedly better. (£4.99 for 2 kg)
  • JFC Yumenishiki, European grown Japonica rice as recommended by Just Hungry in this post, and which is a Koshihikari-type rice. It’s slightly more expensive £3.95 per kilo.
  • Lastly, I bought some Shinmei Akafuji Koshikari Uonuma, which is grown in Uonuma, an area of Niigata prefecture (Japan) famous for producing high quality koshihikari rice (apparently all due to the pure water). It is also the most expensive, I bought a 2 kilo bag for £14.99, ie 1 kg costs £7.50.

So, over the next months (even though I eat rice almost daily, this stash will last me some time), I am going to try out these rice varieties, eating it plain on its own, as well as in my lunchbox and for dinner. I will update about any shocking (or maybe non shocking) experiences :-)

Meanwhile, are you a rice snob? Do you use a rice cooker or not? Do you have a preferred rice and why?

rice and rice cooker

Rice stash and (my beloved) rice cooker