If you’ve ever spent time making cute food art for bento lunches, you may also be familiar with the sinking feeling of opening the lunch after it’s been swung around in transit, only to find a jumble of food that doesn’t resemble what you created. “But it looked so nice in the kitchen when I packed it!” you say. Short of gingerly carrying the lunch level like old nitroglycerin on the verge of exploding, how can you put together a decorative lunch that will survive a commute?
There’s definitely technique in keeping decorations in place. I’ve come across anchoring tips in Japanese-language bento books, with suggestions that include using different condiments as edible glue. First, though, I decided to ask well-known oekaki (picture) bento food artist Amorette (Sakurako Kitsa) what she uses to keep her beautiful creations intact. Amorette recently ran a series of guest posts on decorative food art here on Lunch in a Box. Here’s some of our IM chat, reposted here with Amorette’s permission.
Biggie: Do you stabilize your oekakiben decorations with spreads like mayo, etc. to keep them in place?
Amorette Kitsa: Ehh, it depends. For example, with the garden bento (shown above), it looks like that should be a veritable snowglobe of blossoms after transport, but it isn’t because each is strategically anchored by a peapod-leaf pushed in at about a 45 degree angle. If I’m using hard-boiled eggs to make something, I also make the yolk into a thick paste with a little bit of mayo, like a super-thick devilled egg filling, and use that as adhesive.
If I just use plain mayo and it gets a bit of moisture in it from refrigeration, or gets warm (bad anyway) and becomes a little melty, it doesn’t do anything for sticking stuff together. If there’s an item where a tiny touch of sweetness doesn’t matter, I stick it on with a toothpick-applied smear of corn syrup. I’d prefer to use honey, but I’m allergic.
Biggie: I’ve used cream cheese or peanut butter before, but I’m not a big decorative bento chick, of course.
Amorette Kitsa: But you’ve got us beat on speed
I came up with a list of edible glue ideas; what do you use? Let us know in comments!
- Savory: Mayonnaise, softened cream cheese, ketchup, mustard, seaweed paste (like Gohan Desu Yo), yeast extract (like Vegemite or Marmite), chutneys, salad dressings, oyster sauce, teriyaki sauce, Thai sweet chili sauce, or even a rice paste.
- Sweet: Honey, corn syrup, jam, Nutella, peanut butter, other nut butters (including soy butter), or even a dab of thick Greek yogurt.
- Japanese bento books often use clear plastic wrap to securely showcase decorated sandwiches and onigiri rice balls, like I did in the lunch on the right and an early rolled sandwich lunch.
- Short-grain rice is usually sticky enough that it can hold onto light, dry decorations like nori (seaweed) cut-outs without using edible glue. Nori also sticks well to anything slightly moist, like lunchmeats or sliced cheese.
- Remember that a stable lunch is less likely to shift in transit, so be sure to plug any gaps with edible gap-fillers like cherry tomatoes, cheese cubes, or even condiment containers. See my post on How to pack a bento lunch and fill gaps.
- About oekakiben: Decorative food art bentos (by Amorette)
- Edible Paint (by Amorette)
- The Waxpaper Transfer Technique (by Amorette)
- Outsmarting seafood allergies and a how-to on Faux Roe (by Amorette)
- All posts by Amorette on Lunch in a Box
- Decorative Food recipes
- Bento FAQ and Biggie’s list of top speed tips, tutorials and reviews