My Obento story vol. 1 (#4)
#4. Taro and Hanako's case - Obento of a fresh couple
This is an obento story of a very lovely, young couple who had been married for just two years.
The lady called ‘Hanako-san’ works for a popular café where people can enjoy fabulous meals featuring fresh seasonal vegetables. Her husband called ‘Taro-san’ works for a real-estate company as a sales person and, due to the nature of business, he often has to work very late and comes home after 22:00.
This is their obento story.
I normally get out of bed at 04:00 and set off for work to be able to arrive at café by 06:00.
My routine at the café starts at 06:00, cooking food to be served that day, and as soon as it’s done, I begin the preparation for the next day. The café opens at 11:30, and we are always full-on until closing time, which is just after 14:00. We have lunch break from 14:30 to 15:30, having a staff-meal called ‘Makanai’, which staff prepare for themselves using the unused ingredients. After washing up, tidying the kitchen etc., getting the menus for the next day ready and checking the till, then I’m ready to go home. It’s almost 17:00 already.
I don’t have time to stop and have something to eat until my lunch break. So by 14:30, I’m dead on my feet and absolutely starving because I’ve not eaten since breakfast at home. Believe it or not, during lunch break, I eat like a horse, almost non- stop and keep stuffing myself. f^-^;;
It’s just after 17:00 when I get home. After such a big lunch, I’m still full and, to be honest, I don’t want to cook anything from scratch, so I just prepare obento (for my husband) for the following day and then go to bed by 22:00. What about dinner for my husband? As he has to work late very often, I cook dinner for him only when he’s told me that he would come home before I go to bed. So ever since we got married, obento is the only meal I make for him on his work days, except when he doesn’t need it. I prepare obento the night before and leave it in the fridge, and he will bring it to his office in the morning.
I cook rice in a big batch and make it into shapes that fit in his bento box and freeze them individually. The rice is then ready to go into the bento box as it gradually thaws in the fridge. This is my secret tip to save time so that I don’t have to cook rice every time. I sometimes cook brown rice instead of white rice. (Taro-san whispered something to Hanako-san) What did you say? Oh, honey, I didn’t know that you were not keen on brown rice! You should have told me that! (*^0^*)
I take great care choosing ingredients and arranging side dishes in obento as presentation is quite important to me. I put the meat dish or the sea food dish in first, then vegetables. Fish and beef are quite pricey, so I tend to choose either chicken or pork. Fish grilled with miso-paste and marinated in sweet and sour source really go well with rice. He doesn’t like ‘Braised Hijiki-seaweed (dried brown algae) with beans, or any pumpkin dish very much. Well, seaweed, beans and pumpkins are full of nutrients and very healthy, so I put them in his obento anyway, joking, “Don’t be too fussy!”, and he seems to eat them after all. (^-^)v
He loves Tamagoyaki (egg omelet) so much, but I don’t put that in his obento very often.
Whenever we have an idea for a new recipe at the café, I put that into his obento first as a test. He is such a good food critic and I always appreciate his practical feedback, which is used to improve and finalize the recipe.
Do I have any memorable obento for myself? When I was at kindergarten, my mother put some fresh cucumbers in my obento. That was in the middle of winter and all obento were kept in a food warmer until lunchtime, and the cucumber became warm and looked horrible. Unfortunately, it was a lunchtime rule at kindergarten to finish everything. So I washed it down with drink. I still remember the taste, it was really disgusting. I complained to my mother, ‘Never, ever, put fresh cucumbers in my obento!”.
I think she said ‘sorry’ to me, but she didn’t seem to be bothered.
At the high school that I attended, there were more boys than girls. Boys always seemed to be hungry and eating obento whenever they wanted. That’s called ‘Haya-ben’, which literally means ‘early bento’. There was one girl who used to bring a huge piece of grilled salmon in her obento. I’m not exaggerating, that salmon was absolutely massive and just managed to fit in her bento box. She was very lovely and generous enough to let her friends share it.
Recently, a bento box with a thermal function, which keeps food warm for many hours, has caught my eye. It would be nice to have something hot such as curry, but I’m not convinced of its safety and the hygiene factor of food being kept warm in a bento box for such a long period. As a qualified nutritionist, safety and food hygiene always comes first, so I probably won’t make ‘Kyara-ben’ (*1) for our children if we have any.
My favorite obento side dish is definitely pork! Nothing can beat pork! Sliced pork meat cooked ‘Rei-Shabu’ (*2) style with bean sprouts mixed with sesame seed dressing is simple but very delicious and goes down easily. I also love ‘Kakuni’ (*3). Well, I must admit beans and pumpkins are not my cup of tea. In terms of variety of rice, I think all men, including me, prefer white rice (to brown rice). I honestly don’t mind having Tamagoyaki (egg omelet) every single day!
I try to have my lunch break between 12:00 and 13:00 but sometimes have to wait until 15:00 if we are too busy with customers. I eat my obento in my office because I want my obento to be warmed in a microwave.
The company I work for at the moment is not very big with less than 10 employees and there are only two people who bring obento. One of them sits diagonally in front me and she sometimes comes to my desk to check what’s packed in my obento. I keep a few packs of ‘Furikake’ (*4) such as ‘NORITAMA’ (seaweed and egg flavor) or ‘Tarako’ (cod roe flavor) in my desk drawer. As I don’t like ‘Umeboshi’ (Pickled sour plum) very much, I need flavorings that go well with rice, instead. If I’m running low on my ‘Furikake’, she is kind enough to go and get a new pack for me if I ask her.
The bento box I’ve using is from MUJI. It has to be compact and slim so that it securely sits in an upright position in the bottom of my bag, preventing liquid from leaking out of the bento box. I carry business documents in my bag as well, so when choosing a bento box, how it fits in my bag is very important.
I always give my wife feedback on the obento she makes for me. I send her a text message using ‘LINE’ (*5), saying something such as “I really enjoyed today’s obento. It was super delicious!”
Hanako is from the Kansai region (southern center of Japan) and I’m from the Kyushu region (southern part of Japan), but, for some reason, our preference in taste is so similar (*6) and I find everything she cooks tastes really nice, and it is more than perfect!
Whenever there is a new recipe in my obento, I try to taste it carefully and give her honest and accurate feedback, which is very important for her café.
Since I got married, I don’t seem to catch a cold as often as when I was at school. Even if I do, I recover much quicker than before. A well-balanced obento must keep me fit.
(*1) Kyara-ben is the shortened form of the ‘character bento’ which features food decorated to look like people, characters from popular media, animals etc.
(*2)This is an abbreviation of ‘Cold Shabu-Shabu’, which is thinly sliced meat cooled in ice water after being lightly boiled.
(*3) Small blocks of pork meat braised in soya sauce, mirin, sake, which literally means ‘square simmered’.
(*4) This is a dry seasoning to be sprinkled on top of rice. ’NORITAMA’ and ‘Tarako’ have been some of the most popular flavors for many years.
(*5) The instant messaging application that is dominating smartphone users in Japan.
(*6) The Kansai region is well known its light flavor in food and people in the Kyushu region tend to prefer richer flavor.