Anti-bacterial EZ-Lock boxes for bento

EZLock Ag+

EZLock Ag+

Japanese bento boxes have come with anti-bacterial silver ions for some time, like these ones. This helps to prevent your food from going bad, especially in hot weather.

Now Lock n Lock’s EZ-Lock range also some with Ag+ ions. After you remove the cardboard packaging, the Ag+ boxes can be distinguished by their lids of a slightly lighter shade of blue compared to standard EZ-Lock. View the latest 2009-2010 Lock n Lock catalogue here (only works with Internet Explorer).

Here are some suitable sizes for bento.

EZlock Ag+: 520ml & 620ml

EZlock Ag+: 520ml & 620ml

EZlock Ag+: 890ml & 965ml

EZlock Ag+: 890ml & 965ml

Bento primer part 3: packing bento

Perhaps the first thing many people associate with bento culture are the elaborate kyaraben (character bento), but everyday bento don’t have to be that difficult. However, the fundamental ideas of packing bento can take your lunchbox from unappetising mess to something to look forward to. It feels really good when instead of being pitied for one’s food intolerances, people think your food looks better than theirs!

You don’t need to do cutesy or complicated, but it helps to have some aesthetic sense to guide you in composition, arrangement and the juxtaposition of colours and shapes. Frank Tastes provides some excellent examples of simple, almost Zen-like bento arrangments. As with developing any kind of artistic sensibility, exposure to as many examples as possible will build up your visual ‘vocabulary’ to facilitate creativity. Apart from the plethora of bento websites, if you have access to a Japanese bookstore, do browse through Japanese-language books on bento for  inspiration — the bento examples and the overall art direction are usually absolutely excellent.

It’s also important to choose a box of the correct shape and size. A shallow box is better as it allows you to lay out the foods horizontally, almost like a painting. Also, if the foods come up to the lid when the box is sealed, they won’t move around during transportation and your bento will still be intact when you come to eating it.

Just Bento oftens discusses the usefulness of bento in controlling portion sizes, and Japanese guidelines on the optimal size for men, women and children are very useful. However, I have also discovered that the volume I can finish in one meal differs according to the type of food. The type of rice makes a huge difference, not so much in terms of managing the caloric value, but in terms of how much is enough to make me feel full. With brown rice, I eat much less than the half-box portion of sticky, short-grain Japanese white rice recommended for standard Japanese bento, and it’s likely you’ll find that with long-grain white rice typical of Southeast Asia and in southern Chinese cuisines, you’ll need quite a bit more than that. Any kind of glutinous rice would be the most filling of all.

Noodle dishes are a different ball game because not only do I consume a larger volume than if I had a meal of brown rice and side dishes, you need some empty space in your bento box to allow you to loosen the noodles and pick up the strands, or to toss the noodles with the topping ingredients (in terms of presentation, noodles look much nicer with the toppings heaped on top than ready mixed).

More bento tips:
Bento primer part 1: foods for bento
Bento primer part 2: planning bento meals

Buying Shinzi Katoh in Singapore

If your bento aesthetics lean towards zakka (such as FrankTastes), and you are hoping for Shinzi Katoh items to appear in your Christmas stocking this year, you might want to hint to your friends and family with these Singapore Shinzi Katoh shopping tips (^.^).

Maameemoo (Orchard Cineleisure, 02-09) is a tiny zakka heaven, with a selection of Shinzi Katoh items, including bento boxes and bags. Short totes (which can double as lunch bags) cost S$39 and there are regular new shipments, according to the sales assistant. I’ve seen a much larger zakka shop at Cathay Building, but can’t remember if they actually had Shinzi Katoh or bento items.

However, an online search turns up a few Singapore-based online zakka stores:
The Little Happy Shop
Zakkaart.com

Both of these seem well-organised at very similar prices: lunch totes at S$26.90 (The Little Happy Shop) and S$26 (Zakkaart.com), double-tier bento boxes at S$29.90 (The Little Happy Shop) and $$28 (Zakkaart.com), single-tier boxes at S$17.80 (The Little Happy Shop) and S$24 (Zakkaart.com). Don’t forget to factor in the delivery charges (pretty minimal if by standard mail within Singapore).

There is also Momo’s World, which seems to be a new online shop, less professionally-organised website than the other two and with a limited selection.

Or perhaps you want to order directly from Shinzi Katoh’s Japan online shop; prices vary according to design. Here’s a guide for English-speakers to navigate the site. Shinzi Katoh’s UK website also does international orders (currently 25% off lunchboxes): lunch totes are £18, single-tier boxes on sale at £7.50, double-tier ones – £8.65.

Don’t forget: if ordering lunchboxes, do check the size as the double-tier ones come in 460ml and 540ml. If the lunch bags are too small for you, another option could be the short tote bags which are the same height but twice the length of the lunch bags (W315×H160×D110mm).

N.B.: I haven’t purchased from any of these shops myself so no comments on the actual level of service. I’ll just keep wishing hard for my Christmas this year… or next.

Fit N Fresh lunchbox products at Spotlight Singapore

If you want a box with an ice-pack, then the Fit N Fresh might be what you are looking for (although there are some Daiso as well as Lock n Lock plastic boxes that have a section under the lid where to fit in an ice pack).

Some of the Fit N Fresh range is available in Spotlight at Plaza Singapura – great place to shop because if you can also check out Daiso and the Lock n Lock range at Carrefour at the same time!

Just Bento has reviewed a small Fit N Fresh chiller plastic box here. Personally I wasn’t impressed, the lunchboxes aren’t very attractive, don’t look leakproof and don’t seem to be particularly well-made, certainly not of the quality one might expect from a US brand. Anyway, these are not especially useful for me because my packed lunches are almost always rice with side dishes that are best warm or at room temperature, rather than chilled.

Bento boxes at Meidi-ya Singapore

Finally! I have found functional bento boxes (as opposed to cutesy and child-sized type which are plentiful in Daiso) in different capacities on sale in Singapore! If you’re looking for a basic bento box similiar in design to my Asvel box, head straight to Meidi-ya.

Lustroware clear boxes in three sizes: 490ml (S$13.90), 670ml (S$14.90), and 890ml (S$18.90). They are microwavable, have leakproof seal, and a movable divider.

There are also dark grey and black, very large men’s style bento, some of which come with insulated slipcase, and which cost up to S$31.90. There are single layer and double layer men’s boxes.

The boxes are all labelled with Ag+, indicating silver ions to give the plastic an anti-bacterial property.

All the Lustroware boxes which I saw in Meidi-ya are manufactured in China for the Japanese market.

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