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Make A Bento Box Lunch!

Updated on September 13, 2015
relache profile image

Raye gardens organically, harvests rainwater, strives to eat locally, and honors the gods from her home in the Pacific Northwest.

Bento for Lunch

Grilled salmon, gyoza, tempura and more... Delicious!
Grilled salmon, gyoza, tempura and more... Delicious! | Source

A Bento Box Is...

... a traditional Japanese lunch box container

... a multi-item mid-day meal, offering a mix of flavors, colors and temperatures.

Bento boxes are fast becoming popular as a modern Western lunchtime option. These small meals offer lots of variety and can be created from very healthy ingredients. If you are making them yourself, the recipes are fantastic for using up odds and ends of dinnertime leftovers in creative ways. They can run the gamut from totally traditional to post-modern inspiration, so be sure to check to find out just what you're getting if you are ordering them from a restaurant or food service. Tired of the sandwich routine and brown paper bags? Try a Bento Box!

Onigiri - The Building Blocks of the Bento Box

Onigiri are literally the foundation of a bento box lunch. At their most simple, they are a deliberately-shaped ball of seasoned white rice. Many variations include a strip of nori, toasted seaweed, or a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Frequently, the shaped balls are stuffed with something savory, both meat and vegetables. A tangy option is an umeboshi plum.


  • Onigiri can be flavored by mixing spices with the rice before it's shaped or by sprinkling it with vinegar. Once shaped, the rice balls can be sprinkled with or rolled in sesame seeds (light or dark) afterwards
  • Fill with grilled and flaked fish, cooked beef or pork shreds, umeboshi (pickled plums), bonito flakes, cod roe, chopped vegetables and just about anything you like.

Onigiri Ingredients

  • 1 lb white rice, medium grain
  • sea salt
  • nori (dried seaweed sheets)
  • sesame seeds, brown or black (toasting optional)
  • fillings as suggested above

Onigiri Variations

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Slices of carrot, bits of nori (seaweed) and rice stained pink as decorationtiny bits of nori turn these simple onigiri into comical characters!Animal shapesHappy pandas
Slices of carrot, bits of nori (seaweed) and rice stained pink as decoration
Slices of carrot, bits of nori (seaweed) and rice stained pink as decoration
tiny bits of nori turn these simple onigiri into comical characters!
tiny bits of nori turn these simple onigiri into comical characters!
Animal shapes
Animal shapes
Happy pandas
Happy pandas

Instructions For Making Onigiri By Hand

  1. Cook the rice and let it cool to the point where you can touch it without it being too hot for your hands.
  2. Wash your hands, leaving them wet and then rub your hands with salt. This keeps the rice from sticking too much.
  3. Take a palmful of rice (anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup) and shape it into a ball, a triangle shape or a cylinder (see instructions below for how to make shapes).
  4. To fill the rice ball, press a hole into the ball with your fingers, fill with desired stuffing and press closed again.
  5. Finish by wrapping a narrow strip of nori (trim down the full sheets) or sprinkling on toasted seeds.

How Was This Recipe?

4.4 stars from 8 ratings of Onigiri Recipe Rating

How to Make Different Onigiri Shapes By Hand

Here are pictures to show the different ways to shape round, triangular or cylindrical onigiri rice balls.  They can be left plain or stuffed with a filling.
Here are pictures to show the different ways to shape round, triangular or cylindrical onigiri rice balls. They can be left plain or stuffed with a filling.

Make Your Own Onigiri Video

Take A Tour of a Real-Life Bento Box!

Assembling Your Bento Box

As people with non-Asian culinary sensibilities explore the idea of the bento box lunch, you're going to find all sorts of variations and experimentation as traditional and non-traditional bento box foods are utilized and explored. Go as traditional or non-traditional as your tastebuds desire.

The traditional ratio of contents in a bento box follows a 4-3-2-1 pattern. Four parts will contain rice, three parts have meat or fish ingredients, two parts will contain vegetables and the last part will be either something pickled or a dessert. Japanese desserts are not as sweet as what you'd find in Europe or the US.

  1. Rice - traditionally every (or nearly every) course in a bento box lunch contains either steamed or fried rice.
  2. Noodles - consider swapping out a portion of rice for something with noodles instead. Thin rice or buckwheat noodles are perfect for lunch.
  3. Meat or fish - a bento box is a great way to use up dinner entrée leftovers such as beef, chicken or fish.
  4. Fruit - whatever fruit is fresh and in season is perfect for a bento box.
  5. Baked goods - steamed buns or rice crackers are good additions to your bento.
  6. Sauce - A little bit of hoisin, mustard, sweet and sour sauce or soy sauce can be nice.

Remember that heat rises and cold falls, so if you have a bento box that stacks, you want to put the cool items on the bottom and the hot ones on top!

Bento Food Traditions

Goshiki ("five colors) is an idea of balance found in Japanese Buddhist thought. It is interpreted as a way of balancing nutrition and aesthetics by having each meal incorporate five colors via the foods chosen: white, red/orange, yellow, green and black/brown/purple.

Goho adds further balance by having each meal incorporate five ways of cooking, choosing from boiling,frying, grilling, pickling, simmering or steaming.

Bento Box Bulletin Board

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    • Jean Rogers profile image

      Jean Rogers 4 years ago

      I am lucky to have a Japanese sister-in-law that makes amazing food. I have been thinking about trying to put together Bento lunches, but haven't yet done it for lack of knowledge. You have inspired me to learn how to do this. Japanese food is so beautiful and delicious!

    • cashmere profile image

      cashmere 4 years ago from India

      I didn't know what a Bento Lunch box was, so the title caught my eye. Now after reading this hub I feel like trying my hand at one!

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      Oh. Okay. Won't try that then. I will stick to fresh rice. Thanks!

    • relache profile image

      Raye 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Sharkye, freezing rice tends to make for extremely bad-textured rice unless you've got the capability to flash freeze it.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      True. Especially if you went ahead and made it while cleaning up after dinner. Do you know if the rice could be frozen in large batches for later use? That would make a really great quick meal for my toddler.

    • relache profile image

      Raye 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Sharkye, if you use leftovers from dinner, it becomes very easy to do regularly.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      That looks very interesting. Definitely fresh and tasty, but I don't know how easy it would be to make it everyday if you were busy. Love the recipe ideas!

    • profile image

      vaforever1987 4 years ago


    • Lovelovemeloveme profile image

      Lovelovemeloveme 4 years ago from Cindee's Land

      thanks for the HUB! this is soo cute! if i had the time i would totally give this a try.

    • MissyGear profile image

      MissyGear 5 years ago

      What an informative article. I absolutely love everything bento. They are so fun and creative. Tasty to boot. I'll have to go make some onigiri for myself right now!

    • daisydayz profile image

      Chantele Cross-Jones 5 years ago from Cardiff

      We had some in China, and I love the idea. Really want a bento box!! Ive been making my own little ones with salad stuffs for a while, but would love to learn to make real bento boxes. Great Hub, Voted up!

    • profile image

      whowas 5 years ago

      Wow. I had never even heard of a Bento Box before. That just kicks the pants off the standard 'Tupperware' with a sweaty cheese sandwich and a packet of chips inside it!

      Not only is it great to look at but the ideas for things to cook sound delicious - and healthy too. I kind of regret that I work at home now so I don't need to take a pack lunch. On the other hand there is no reason why I shouldn't use these same recipes and make up a 'Bento plate' is there?

      Excellent - lunch problem solved!

    • PenHitsTheFan profile image

      Amy L. Tarr 5 years ago from Home

      I personally prefer Jasmine or Basanti rice over white rice. It sticks together nicer and has a softer mouth feel.

    • viking305 profile image

      L M Reid 5 years ago from Ireland

      I must be honest I had never heard of a Bento Box before I read this article. But the food looks so simple to prepare and tasty for lunch so I will definitely be giving this a try

      Thanks for SHARING. Up and Awesome

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      This is a great hub full of great tools and information! I am working on bento lunches for my kiddos and am currently writing a hub on this. I will add a link to yours!

    • louromano profile image

      louromano 5 years ago

      Great hub ! I have always wanted to try this, but I didn't know how.

    • louromano profile image

      louromano 5 years ago

      Nice article , thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      vaishali sabnani 5 years ago

      Nori is not available in what else can u suggest? these Bentos...have seen my daughter preparing these in Japan:)

    • relache profile image

      Raye 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Mir, traditional bento boxes don't have raw ingredients that can spoil, as fruit and veggies can last until lunchtime. You can also look for a style of box that retains cold to help. But there should be no raw meat or fish in a bento box.

    • profile image

      Mir 5 years ago

      Does this have to be kept with an icepack? I'm thinking of packing one for lunch at school, but I don't want it to spoil.

      I guess if all else fails, I just won't pack any perishable foods.

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