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Posted on Aug 22, 2007 in Bento, Dumplings or Buns, Eggs, For Kids, Lactose Free, Meat, Rice, Tips | 15 comments

Tips for packing smelly food, and bibimbap lunches

Tips for packing smelly food, and bibimbap lunches

Ever pack a tuna salad sandwich for lunch, then feel embarrassed when the smell wafts through the room as you unwrap it? I don’t want food odor to keep me from packing whatever I want for lunch, though, so here are some measures you can take to slow the spread of strong food smells.

  1. Isolate the food in question and wrap it up separately. I’ve done this in today’s lunch by packing up kimchi in a lidded condiment cup, but I’ve also seen people wrap kimchi in aluminum foil or plastic wrap so that their lunch containers don’t take on the smell of the food.
  2. Drain and cool the smelly food well before packing, minimizing leakage and condensation inside the box. This also has the added side benefit of optimizing food safety of a room temperature lunch, and making it easier for children to open their lunch container.Lunch wrapped in cloth napkin
  3. Pack the strong-smelling food inside of another layer of food. Rice balls stuffed with tuna don’t tend to smell as much as a side of tuna salad on its own. Floured and pan-fried faux latkes with tuna and leftover potato salad are dry and don’t have a strong smell when cool.
  4. Keep it cool with ice packs and insulated lunch bags. Heat intensifies strong odors; get ahead of the game by keeping the lunch cool until you’re ready to eat. Get a flexible ice blanket and cut it apart for little ice packs to tuck down next to your lunch.
  5. Tightly wrap the entire container in a cloth napkin, lunch cloth, plastic bag or furoshiki if you’re really concerned about the smell. Then pack in your insulated lunch bag — double safety! Here’s a good illustrated how-to wrapping chart.
  6. Lastly, you might want to take along some breath mints for after your fabulous garlic meal unless you’re a vampire hunter. ;-)

Bibimbap lunch

Contents of my lunch: Korean bibimbap (white rice topped with seasoned bean sprouts, bracken fern stems, spinach, white radishes, egg strips, carrots and green onions with a small container of kochujang chili sauce) and a molded quail egg shaped like a bird. The yellow tier holds kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage) and pan-fried flat, rectangular mandu dumplings filled with pork, cabbage, garlic chives and rice noodles).

Egg & rice moldsMorning prep time: 13 minutes using leftover bibimbap topping and leftover warm rice. It took 7 minutes to pan-fry the store-bought frozen dumplings, and the remainder to neatly arrange the bibimbap toppings while the dumplings cooled. I could have shaved off 3-4 minutes if I’d just thrown in the bibimbap toppings and not worried about making it photo-ready. I’d previously made a batch of hard-boiled fresh quail eggs, and molded them with the yellow egg mold pictured to the right (click for details and a larger view).

Packing: To contain the smell, I put the kimchi in a common lidded condiment container — the same kind that I used for the fruit jello cups. The kochujang chili paste also went in a little condiment cup, to be stirred into the rice and toppings upon eating. I packed the bibimbap container a little too full, though, so it was hard to stir it all up before eating. Next time I’ll use a larger container or pack less food in this one. Dipping sauce for the dumplings was in a pre-filled sauce container that I was able to grab and go. Packed in two tiers (480ml and 280ml) of a 4-tier nesting Thomas the Tank Engine bento box.

Bibimbap lunch for preschoolerContents of preschooler’s lunch: Bibimbap, molded quail eggs shaped like a bunny and a car, flat dumplings, and a small package of seasoned Korean seaweed (Yangsan brand here) that Bug and I shared (click photo for larger view). I just love these little snack packs of Korean seaweed — this entire packet was only 38 calories, and it’s light, crunchy, and salty with a clear sesame oil flavor. Mmm!

Packing: I used a plastic food divider to separate the crispy dumplings from the slightly moist bibimbap toppings, and cut the dumplings in half to turn them into easy preschooler finger food. When Bug sat down to eat, though, he was disconcerted that he couldn’t see the rice to put on the seaweed, so if I were to do this lunch for him again I’d pack the bibimbap toppings next to the rice instead of on top. Packed in a 320ml Clickety Click side dish container.


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  1. Oh my oh my! It’s been so long since last time I had bibimbap I didn’t realize just how much I’ve missed it…too bad I don’t get hold of wither gochujang or fernbrake here :(

    Your tips are awesome as usual. I tend to think that kimchi smells alot (even when the bento is closed with its lid on!) so I now usually put it in a closed container when I have it in my lunch :)

  2. I wish I could take you along on trip to an Asian market! I walk along the aisles and because I don’t know what I’m looking at, I know I’m missing all kinds of wonderful things. Remember those library tours we took as Freshmen? Wouldn’t that be a great thing to take an Asian market tour with an expert at explaining what the items are and how they’re used? I’d love it. :)

  3. I just found your blog last week and I’ve been checking everyday for updates! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful blog!

    I have a question — how do you mold an egg like that? Do you boil the egg first and then put it in the mold? Or do you put the egg in the mold raw and microwave it that way? I’m a bit confused to how it can hold it’s shape like that! Very cool!

  4. @3 from R: Thanks for reading, and for the kind comments! On the egg, you first boil the egg, shell it while it’s hot, then pop it quickly (pointy side up) into the egg mold. Close the egg mold latches and toss it into a bowl of ice water for 10 minute, and you’re done! Cooking Cute has an illustrated tutorial here and I have an illustrated tutorial on how to mold eggs using common ice cream sandwich molds from Walmart or Williams Sonoma here.

  5. @1 from amvn: Is there a Korean market anywhere near you that sells the vegetable side dishes already made? That’s what I did here — just picked up a container of all of the bibimbap toppings in one handy deli container from my nearby Korean store. They also had kalbi BBQ beef and marinated pork that was just heavenly (but of course no leftovers survived dinner — too delicious!).

  6. @2 from Cheryl: Ooh, I just love showing people around Asian markets! So much fun.

  7. Like Cheryl, I wish I’d had you with me this past week when I braved my way through the 4,000 square feet (miles?!) of Super H Mart in Niles, IL. It’s an amazing store, but overwhelming! I ended getting some frozen dumplings and salmon, but there was so much more I could’ve gotten if I’d been more adventurous.

    PS: Are you available to come to my home and make me lunches? Money is no object!

  8. Oops. Another post if I may. Your bibimboop lunch looks much better than one I tried at a Korean restaurant. I’ll admit—I was a bit ignorant and didn’t know all that it entailed. The egg on top was runnier than I like, and I was picking around the egg, eating the rest of it, which was very good. But then the waitress came by with a giant spoon, clucking her tongue, and began to vigorously mix my runny egg in with the rest of the ingredients (traditionally correct, but not too appetizing to this runny-egg hater!)

  9. Ha ha. Of course I meant “bibimBAP” tho I kind of like the other spelling!

  10. @8 from JD: Hey, hey JD — thanks for the kind words! Ooh, I’ve never been to a Super H Mart, sounds fun. What does the “H” stand for? Hangul? I’ve seen bibimbap bentos in cookbooks before with over-easy eggs, but that makes me nervous from a food safety standpoint (personal preference). Your restaurant experience reminds me of the first time I had sukiyaki in college — I was a bit at a loss with what to do with the whole raw egg presented to me in a bowl. The waitress came over and showed me, but I wasn’t so excited about raw egg…

  11. Is there a trick to the egg molds? I am afraid of letting them cool too much before I peel them and they usually either 1) stick to the mold, 2) fall apart in the mold, and often 3) both. I have the fish and the car and I am using large eggs.

    Thanks for your informative and entertaining blog!

  12. @12 from Lois: Try to peel the eggs when they’re still really hot. I give each one a quick dip in cold water right before I peel it so I can handle it, and then put them in those particular fish/car molds with the pointy side facing up. It also helps a little if you dunk the entire mold first in water before putting the egg in, and then remove carefully. Also, don’t store them for days in the mold in the refrigerator as they’ll stick to the mold then and be hard to remove (learned through hard experience). Hope this helps, and thanks for reading, Lois!

  13. Will you ever write a speed bento book for us clueless, non-Japanese-reading folks with no prior bento knowledge? Hm?

  14. @14 from sillymagpie: I’d love to! Cross your fingers for me…

  15. I’m almost finished with my lunch in a box song, I hope you’ll like it!