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Japanese Bento Box Workshop March 1, 2010

Posted by claralieu in Applied Arts.
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This past weekend we hosted the Japanese Bento Box workshop, taught by New York City artist Anna The Red. You can view a gallery of all of Anna’s bento creations on her bento blog. We had a lively crowd of 22 people at the workshop, which made for a wonderful and busy afternoon in the Lakehouse kitchen. Anna started us off with a handout of a simple pencil drawing which outlined the various parts of the bento we would be making. She explained that she always starts every one of her bento creations with a drawing to keep herself on track. Bento boxes which feature cute characters in Japan are made by parents to entice their children to eat their lunches.

Bento Box Workshop Demo

The bento that she planned for the workshop had several components, each of which is made separately and then assembled at the very end. The individual pieces were a mushroom carved from a radish, carrot flowers, a ham & cheese flower, broccoli “soot sprites” from the Japanese animated film “My Neighbor Totoro“, a grey Totoro made out of rice, snow pea “grass”, a heart made from a hot dog, a flower made from a hot dog, a white Totoro made out of a hard boiled egg, and a flower made from carrots and asparagus wrapped in bacon.

Bento Box Workshop Drawing

Each part of the bento involved a different technique. Anna had all sorts of simple tricks for how to create each of these pieces of the bento. She did a demonstration showing different ways of cutting hot dogs to transform them into flowers, an octopus, and a heart. An octopus is made by cutting long slits on one end of the hot dog and then dropping it in boiling water.  In the boiling water, the octopus’ legs flail outwards. The hot dog heart is made by cutting the ends of the hot dog at an angle so that when joined together, thye form a heart shape.  She made a polka-dotted mushroom by carving into a radish.  The dots on the mushroom are made by just carving small dots on the top of the radish. You can see a step-by-step “how to” on the radish mushroom on Anna’s bento blog.

Bento Box Workshop DemoBento Box Workshop

She had a great trick for dying the cooked rice grey:  she grinds up black sesame seeds.  When the ground black sesame seeds are mixed with rice, it turns to a grey color.  The Totoro made out of rice is created by packing the rice into saran wrap, which allows you to shape the Totoro without getting your hands sticky from the rice. Another smart trick was using a piece of uncooked pasta to insert through the ham flower to hold it into place.  The uncooked pasta actually will absorb some moisture from the ham, so that everything is edible.

Bento Box Workshop

A workshop participant adds pieces of seaweed to her bento with tweezers.

Anna explained that the smallest parts of the bento like the eyes/pupils and whiskers on the Totoro have to be placed on the bento after the bento has been fully assembled, this is to prevent these delicate pieces from getting moved during the assembly process. The pupils of the eyes are made by using a hole punch on a piece of seaweed. Seaweed is very susceptible to moisture, so picking up the seaweed pieces with your hands doesn’t work because of the moisture in your hands.  Tweezers allow you to pick up the seaweed pieces and gently place them in your bento. The whiskers are created by cutting the seaweed with scissors.  The eyes are created by using small bottle caps to cut into slices of Kraft american cheese.

Bento Box Workshop

Workshop participants are busy assembling their bento boxes.

Watching everyone assemble their final bento boxes was very exciting; although everyone had created the same components, no two designs were alike.  Lettuce was used as “filler” for the back of the bento box, and Anna noted that you can place other pieces of food underneath certain pieces to raise their height in the bento box.

Bento Boxes

The finished bento boxes created by the workshop participants; it’s amazing to think that everyone finished their creations within three hours!

Bento Boxes


1. Lenore - March 12, 2010

When is she doing a book? You should do a gallery show of her photos….

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