Tag Archives: bento

More modern mobile tableware

17 Jul

Mobile tableware has been a central subject of this blog for a number of entries. The meal packagings that we looked at included the meal carrier variety: tiffins, rantangs, tingkats, pintos, sage jubakos, gamelles, henkelmänner and something that might be known as a mohinga but also picnic hampers, including travelling tea sets and travelling bars. Last year, in 2013, designer See Yew Siang received Honorable Mention at the Red Dot Design Awards for the pop-up tableware concept. It looks like a folder but opens out into a bowl-plate with a knife and fork that you can use, wash, dry and fold away to be re-used another day.  How’s that for an unusual item to carry with your tablet?



Meal packaging: Sage Jubako

23 Nov

No, no, it’s not finished yet, the topic of food carriers, of mobile food, of lunchboxes, stacked and single-story. Today’s presentation is high art.


I was working on the bento entry and came across real tiered or stacked Japanese food carriers, a bento being a “ground floor only” carrier (translate: lunchbox). The stacked food carriers are known as Sage Jubako (or just Jubako), which, I gather, translates to “nesting boxes”.


Growing up in a European culture we learned about the (European) Renaissance, specifically Italy, as a period of particular cultural blossoming and flowering. So now I discovered that these Jubako are a product of the Japanese Renaissance in the Edo Period.


Edo is the old name for Tokyo. During the Edo Period, which was around about 1603/1615-1868, depending on your source, the Japanese voluntarily isolated themselves under the shogun(s) starting with Tokugawa Ieyasu. There’s a lovely little interactive tour site here and much contextual information on the period here.


It seems, from various internet sources, not least a myriad of art galleries, museum exhibitions, antique dealers and auction houses, that the Japanese used increasing wealth and leisure time for picnic pursuits and these lovely jubako were crafted.


The portable picnic sets almost always consisted of a few small food plates, some sake bottles and stacked boxes for the food, all in a large carrier.


The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has a teachers’ resource page for Art & Design with suggestions to Design and Make a Japanese-style Container. The Metropolitan Museum has an Edo Art page here.


Looking at the art from the Edo Period, you can discover picnics – and sometimes the food carriers too! – featured fairly prominently. See works in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts here, in the Brooklyn Museum here and in the Harvard Art Museums here, also in the Japanese Art Open Database here, and in the Marquand Library of Art and Archeology here.


There’s a more modern photo set of a picnic with jubako here on Naz Sahin’s site. I’ve got the same edition of Mediaeval Cuisine of the Islamic World featured amongst the wonderful panoply of great books on her site, just recently when in Granada at the Alhambra!


And here, dear Peeps, is my most astounding gem found on the intertubes while ‘curating’ for this post: An essay on Japan’s Sustainable Society in the Edo Period !! The author is Eisuke Ishikawa, a lecturer at Musashino Art University.



Meal Packaging: Bento

22 Nov

Culinary art in a lunchbox – that’s how one site describes bento, the Japanese tradition of packed, mobile meals. Whole sites are devoted to this tradition and the web abounds in obento. Lets start with some kawaii (cute) bento.





As you can imagine, a lot of that goes to school in packed lunches. There are all manner of helpful accessories such as cutters, picks, cups, separating sheets and things you haven’t dreamed of. Indeed, there’s even an app to help you find bento recipes. Moreover, there are loads of how-tos such as at this flickr site.


But the bento tradition is not just for children’s meals, it’s also the term for packed lunches at work, such as in the scene below, …


… or really at any time. And it goes back a long way. Take the Shokado Bento: a square – often lacquered – box separated into four (or more) compartments. Apparently this dates back to the early 17th century, says Fukui Craft.


You can make bento yourself at home, and, if you’re ambitious you can enter the International Bento Contest (see the 2013 winners here). Or you can buy it at many stores and even from vending machines. The future may even hold a computer filling bento boxes, as at the International Robot Exhibition 2013 in Tokyo here.

bentorm-seibu3-counter_kleinfull bento ordered from d vending machine_klein

Travelling? There’s a special name for railway bentos: Ekiben (from ‘eki’ = train + ‘ben’ short for bento). The following pic is the display poster of ekibens on offer at the Tokyo’s Ekiben Matsuri (train bento festival store).

IMG_4976_kleinTo me the lacquered lunch box versions are particularly beautiful. There’s a huge variety for sale out there, with one, two or more tiers, square, oblong, round or flower-shaped, traditional, modern or cute, with or without carrying bags, bands, handles and chopstick holders. Take a squizz at casabento, for example.

Tiffins in Taipei

11 Jun


Oopsie, last entry April?? Termtime has me firmly in hand! Just yesterday I treated my students in my course on Food Culture to a Foodie Film: Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman. Every summer semester I offer this English course to our own and our exchange students, exploring where food, nutrition and culture meet. Food in media, including film, is one of our subjects. Last time I showed Babette’s Feast and I don’t think I’ll ever run out of films to choose from: besides those pictured below there are Fried Green Tomatoes, The Scent of Green Papayas, and don’t forget Dinner Rush! IMDb has its own compilation while there’s a user-generated list with an irreverent cartoon take of Eat Drink Man Woman here.


Eat Drink Man Woman revolves around a Taipei family father and master chef, Mr. Chu and his three daughters Jia-Ning, Jia-Kien and Jia-Jen. Besides lovingly preparing Sunday family meals, Chu ends up preparing school meals for a “granddaughter” figure, Shan Shan. Imagine my delight in seeing him take the meals to school in a tiffin (see the still from the film below)!


San Diego’s online source for Asian culture, JadeDragon, claims three world class chefs, numerous food experts and more than one hundred recipes authentically prepared went into the making of Eat Drink Man Woman.  Treat yourself to the opening scene. It’s a meditation and a homage to food preparation, just beaut!

Meal Packaging: Mohinga?

2 Apr

Perhaps it was Granddad, there’s a head on the beach, a whodunnit set in Thailand (told you I liked ’em set somewhere else here) very much in the now, that brought me to Burma (Myanmar). Author Colin Cotterill, who lives on the Thai border with Myanmar, allows his book to give a voice to the issue of Burmese fishing slaves in Thailand, as related by this book reviewer here.


Try as I might, I could not find the word used in Burma for our stacked food carrier. An Austrian seller, Golden Rock, calls them Mohinga and offers hand-painted, stainless steel ones like those pictured above. But mohinga is really the term for the traditional Burmese fish+noodle soup, a dish also eaten for breakfast; see here.


So what did I find? Given Myanmar’s colonial history (the British) it was perhaps not so surprising that I increased my hits using the Anglo-Indian term tiffin. Indeed, you can enjoy a food carrier-served high tea as shown above at the famous hotel The Strand in Yangon (Rangoon) with its classy history.


I also discovered marvellous bamboo lacquerware food carriers. The single- and four-bowl black food carriers above are from around the early 19th century. Common to many Burmese versions that I saw, the lid can be turned over and used as a cup – a feature that we haven’t come across in the other food carriers covered to date. The second photo shows a very large 11-piece lacquered food carrier with paintings of court scenes and dancing ladies from the early 20th century (an exquisite one from the Dhara Dhevi Collection can be seen in the fotostock catalogue here, though whether Dhara Dhevi refers to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand, or something else, I could not ascertain). The third photo is a very colourful, large Banquet Motif Wedding Basket Style Food Carrier (antique sellers are very into pedigreed names, aren’t they?) with an integrated plate, a tray and a small bowl – suggested use here is for sauces. Would you believe, it is being profanely flogged as a chip-and-dip-server…

pb-121112-hotairBalloons-849p_photoblog900_kleinFor the few travellers that do visit Burma and those that head to Bagan (formerly: Pagan) in the middle of the country, there seem to be some great things to do: you can go hot-air ballooning (see above), you can go visiting a plethora of temples (more than 2.000 of the purported 10.000 pagodas, monasteries & co. once erected around Bagan alone), you can even go adventure-marathoning as of this year 2013. But why I found it and followed it up is because Bagan is also known for its lacquerware tradition, including the making of lacquered food carriers such as this colourful one. After reading up about Bagan I am making it an Official White Rabbit of mine.


For all the appealing Burmese bamboo lacquered food carriers to be found, they are not the ones being used in ordinary Burmese lives, judging by travellers’ photo galleries and expat blogs. Scottish-born bloggeress Feisty Blue Gecko is working in Asia. Her photos (including the above 3 photos – note the nifty carrier bag in the middle one) give us an impression of some life in Myanmar. The young novice with tiffin below is one of Joshua Groenendijk‘s photos from his beautifully captured travels.


Meal Packaging: Tingkat

17 Mar

Takashimaya Mall in Singapore presented a Chinese New Year promotion a while back, offering a free food tingkat (pictured below) with a purchase above a certain minimum value at a household department.


Singaporean artist and blogger Heidi Koh took the following picture in Penang, Malaysia. For a still-life in oils she got a Peranakan (more on this in another blog entry) household utensils list from an aunt, which included a tingkat. Heidi says that the Peranakan people knew these colourful enamel food containers as tingkat (tiers) and that they were popularized in Penang, Malacca and Singapore during the British colonization.


Singapore celebrates an annual Food Festival. In July 2010 one of the many fringe events was the “Singapore Chinese Tingkat Cruise” on the Singapore river. From a bright red tingkat such as below left – which you got to keep! – you could taste Chinese dishes such as Teo Chew Carrot Cake, Hainanese Chicken Rice Balls and a Pokka Green Tea drink. The blogger KeropokMan (maybe brother to Henkel Man and Chicken Man?) has an entry on the river cruise on his blog Keropokman: Signapura Makan here. Keropok seems to be the Singapore word for the little prawn/shrimp crackers – I remember that my mom used to deep-fry colourful little krupuk (kroepoek) chips – as they are known in Indonesia (Dutch-colonial Indonesia) – when she made her Indonesian Rijsttafel, mmmm! KeropokMan also has a blog entry on tingkat-inspired-packaging here for mooncakes, part of the mid-autumn festival, which features in Judge Dee mysteries.


To find tingkat images on .sg-sites via google I used the word tingkat. For hits on .my-sites I had to use mangkuk tingkat, without really finding a sensible translation of this. In Malaysia the mangkuk tingkat gave its name to a reality TV cooking show, visuals below. TV9 , the channel presenting the now defunct series, classified it in the genre comedy. The idea: viewers meet celebrities who cook a challenging meal for them.

TV9_SHOWS_MT_header_814905714_kleintv9mt_logo_kleinSome other mangkuk tingkats I found were an old brass one, collected by baharuddinaziz presented on his blog collectible items


… and these more modern versions in stainless steel, plastic and foam from a Malaysian supplier.

Mangkuk_Tingkat_kombi_kleinParticularly astounding was this little gem from a news site: The Penang Municipal Council initiated a campaign against the use of polystyrene food containers by traders on the island. After a period of three months in which old stock may be used, any trader still offering food in or selling old stocks of polystyrene will be strictly dealt with. Google translation gives Public Health chairman Ong Ah Teong as saying “In contrast to other countries, they still do not run a campaign like this. We understand that this campaign is not a popular campaign, but for the sake of future generations of our children, it should be conducted. […] If the former can be decomposed polystyrene certainly it can be used. But because it was only able to decompose in 200 years time, we strictly do not want it used on the island state”. Below you see Ong Ah Teong (RHS) with Council Member Lim Cheng Ho (LHS) surrounded by packaging and exhorting traders to use mangkuk tingkats rather than polystyrene carriers.


Meal Packaging: Some Pretty Modern Renditions

5 Mar

Today lets look at some more modern renditions of these food carriers. If we want to enable habit changes, whether it be what you carry your lunch to school/study/work in or your take-away concept, then I think we will only be successful if we make things (more) attractive. These make the mark IMHO, starting with the ceramic+teakwood rantang (next two pictures) from Jenggala Keramik company in Bali.

2010_06_29-rantang1_klein 2010_06_29-rantang2_kleinMiss Sinclaire has the tiffin lunch kit coming up next for sale on the artist platform BigCartel. It’s a two-tier ceramic version with a cork lid with a cloth strap & stainless steel fittings.


Melamine + colour = yay! These stacked carriers have been on the markets for some time but they are still delightful. The simple form and the bright colours make them very attractive while being rather durable and dishwasher-safe.


Food carriers like these are ideal for travelling in any form. Below is a stainless steel vacuum insulated food carrier with a food jar bag. The individual bowls have lids while the Thermos version includes chopsticks or folding spoons.


And then there is this beauty: Designer Rob Englert of Ram Industrial Design calls this Dabba (Lunchbox).  It has a felt covering-cum-placemat, a bamboo lid and silicone-based bowls. Roll on lunch & picnics.