Koreanese bento #7: Under the sea


Fried panko shrimp and roasted sesame dressing float on a sea of somen noodles; fish-shaped hardboiled eggs swim by a colorful reef of cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, celery sticks and baby arugula.

Koreanese bento #5: Invasion of the octopi


Chicken sausage octopi invade unsuspecting bento box, feasting on the kimchi omu rice, edamame and fresh berries inside.

As I’m going through a Japanese cuisine cooking phase, I’ve been studying up a lot on the subject, watching video series on YouTube, like Cooking with Dog, and pouring over my favorite Japanese cookbooks in the tub (favorite pastime).

I’ve realized that sometimes I’m not sure if something is Japanese or Korean … For instance, the above-mentioned omurice. Now, I first ate the omelet-over-fried-rice dish while studying abroad in Seoul. We would slather ketchup all over the tasty egg and then dig in with one of those long, wide Korean spoons down to the steaming rice below.

But then, I look in my Japanese cookbooks, and there it is: omurice. So which one is it?

And then there’s the matter of rabbit-shaped apple slices. My mother made these for me my whole childhood. It was the only way I would eat apples, which I never much cared for … Even today, I never eat apples (thought I do love apple sauce, juice, pie, etc.) But I guarantee that if you slice an apple up like a bunny, I will finish the whole thing!

Then, earlier this year, I discovered the apple bunnies in the pages of The Just Bento Cookbook, which states that all Japanese kids grow up knowing and loving these tasty treats. What? They’re not Korean? How can that be?

A plate of apple bunnies, just like my mom used to make. I ate the whole thing.

But I guess growing up where no one else’s mom packed apple bunnies in their lunches, much less roasted seaweed squares and stinky kimchee, I had no one to compare with … There wasn’t another Korean kid in my class until high school and certainly no Japanese!

I guess in the end, it doesn’t matter whether apple bunnies or omurice originated in Japan or Korea. They’re still a part of what I see as my amorphous and ever-changing Asian-American culture/identity. But I’m still curious who invented them.

Here’s a video on making omurice on “Cooking with Dog.”

Bento La La: A reason to sing


Making bento boxes has become my latest hobby. It may seem a bit absurd for a woman in her mid-thirties to be obsessing over her lunch box, but it brings me great joy.

The other night I found myself singing out loud while prepping my latest box. I did a medley of Police songs, followed by what I’m sure was an unflattering take on “You Said.” But I really can’t remember the last time I just found myself singing to myself.

It is cliche, this desire “to be in the present.” It is yuppy and WASPy and so emblematic of the plague of the 00s … But it is needed, I think, to sometimes just be exactly where you are.

If bento-making can make me sing, la la …, then that’s all the justification I need.