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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Lastly, you might want to take along some breath mints for after your fabulous garlic meal unless you’re a vampire hunter.
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).
Morning 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.
Contents 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.