This is what happens when:
a) one has a food intolerance and has to pack food from home just about all the time
b) one can’t resist anything super-cute-kawaii
c) one has a fetish for plastic containers
Websites like Lunch in a Box precipitate obsessive devouring (of the site) — get straight to the Lunch in a Box eye candy here — while pictures of ‘lunch tools’ are enough to send the pulse racing. A quick search throws up some bento sites which I will probably continue to explore more in future:
My Lunch Can Beat Up Your Lunch!
and clearly the bento sub-culture has cornered a quite chunk of Flickr space, or 211 Flickr groups about bento, to be precise!
[Update 12/12/07: Check out my current favourite bento links in the side bar :).]
Looking at those gorgeous photos is inspiring! Packing food from home (which is not the usual thing in foodie-paradise Singapore) now seems less like a chore and more of an exciting project :). Of course, food intolerant individuals must be vigilant to avoid ingredients in the bento recipes that are off-limits, such as artificial colourings for cutesy effect, convenience foods (like hotdogs which can be cut into fancy shapes like octopuses) and sauces.
My usual packed lunches aren’t like typical Japanese bento – dry foods eaten cool, but rice with stirfries so there’s gravy and they are best enjoyed heated in a microwave. Which means that typical Japanese plastic lunch boxes aren’t suitable for me because they are not leakproof or microwave-safe. I even gave up using my beautiful stainless steel insulated lunch tote (looks like this) because gravy will leak out of every container except the soup one :(. [Update: read the clever solution to this here.]
Which brings me to my abiding consumer weakness: Lock & Lock. The websites for different countries display different product ranges, so go straight to the Korean site if you want to see everything! (Also check out this list of Lock & Lock for the Indian kitchen). A Korean-made brand, they are air-tight, leakproof, microwave safe, clear plastic, and come in dozens of shapes for all purposes, with new designs coming out all the time to convince you that you need to buy yet another Lock & Lock. Check out the special lunchbag range. My current favourite designs:
1) Sport water bottle: the brand new rugged model with handstrap, which I just saw for the first time last week (and purchased, even though I already have four Lock & Lock drink containers of different designs and sizes!).
Compared to the earlier pop-top water bottle (with drinking cup lid), this one has the advantage of having a handstrap, as well as a larger drinking spout, which avoids the problem of a suction developing when you drink. The disadvantage is a more prominent lip to the stopper, which is correspondingly more easily popped open accidentally (which happened inside my bag one day ^o^). This new model isn’t on the English Lock & Lock site, see the China site. For warm water drinkers like me, aluminium water bottles are less user-friendly than hot-water-tolerant ones (like Lock & Lock or Nalgene) because they become scalding-hot when you pour in hot water. Also, with reports of the link between aluminium and dementia, one might want to reduce contact with aluminium products.
2) ‘Zen’ range of nested square bowls with curved sides. I confess, I was sucked in by the sticker of Han Shangong from Da Chang Jin on the front :D. You’ll find her only on the Chinese-language Lock & Lock sites, like here. This new ‘Zen’ shape isn’t so commonly found in Singapore stores [6/10/07 update: good selection of the Zen range in Takashimaya; 19/11/07 update: spotted in Carrefour Suntec; 23/11/07: also in OG].
Lock & Lock ‘Zen’ range: 950ml (left), 1.6l (right).
3) the E-Z Lock range which is made of thinner plastic and just has a pop-top instead of the silicone seal and lock-down lid, but which are still air-tight/leakproof/microwave-safe.
The divided boxes seal tight between sections so liquids can’t leak across, unlike with regular Lock & Lock. They are lighter to carry around and come in multipacks – great for food storage in the home as well. I love the ones in tiny sizes for little bits of leftovers and the screwtop jars for keeping dry goods, popcorn and potato crisps.
And Lock & Lock designs I don’t like? I was very disappointed with the plastic tea bottle (tea lover that I am, how could I resist this product :)?) which comes with an internal strainer, similar to such bottles commonly sold in China. The slits in the strainer were too big and my tea leaves slipped through, and the square shape with catches for the lid on all four sides mean that you have to drink out of the corners. I only see this model on the China site.
Lock and Lock aside, these are very attractive and very clever: Built NY® Munchlers™ – Insulated Medium Kids Lunch Bags; but not sure if they are basically just space-wasters which I can’t afford when I’m lugging laptop computer, a stack of books, papers, stationery, personal effects and my food & drink around!
Anyway, after browsing all those bento photos and sites, I’m itching to rush down to Plaza Singapura. Why Plaza Singapura? Because Carrefour has lots of Lock & Lock (sometimes on special offer) and Daiso is paradise for stocking up on Japanese kitchen utensils and cute stuff for bento.
Read more bento entries on this blog.