One of my first memories of anything Japanese were the cute lunch boxes, ie bento boxes, that were peppered throughout anime and Ghibli films. Did Japanese children really get adorable lunches every day? Did their parents take special bento cooking classes just to learn how to make these impossibly “kawaii” lunch boxes? There is a distinct art to that of the bento box, learning how to mold rice, cut eyes out of cheese, and make flowers out of sliced ham. So when I got the chance to work with LocalBites in Tokyo and take the amazing Bento Momento cooking class, I was a kid in a candy store.
I had ALWAYS wanted to learn how to make bento boxes. I would pour over pictures of them online, stealing the phone line with AOL to try and find the cutest Japanese lunch boxes and utterly fail at making any of them. Even when I lived in Japan as an ESL teacher with the JET Programme, I failed miserably. It just seemed too difficult. I wish Tomoko-san’s easy to follow and incredibly fun Bento Momento class had been available back then. But! Lucky for me (and you!), it’s available now via LocalBites !
What is LocalBites?
LocalBites is a community based cooking company that provides authentic and unique cooking classes to people traveling to Japan. While their cooking classes are aimed at tourists, the experiences are anything but. You meet and learn from Japanese chefs, home cooks, and hobbyists who wish to share their expertise and culture.
They have cooking classes in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Fukuoka. There’s cooking classes that can be done with groups and other travelers, or solo classes if you want more individualized attention. There’s everything from Temari sushi making to Izakaya style cooking to bento making. The latter is what I chose to do, as I simply couldn’t resist!
What is Bento Momento?
Bento Momento is, other than a really adorable and catchy name, a bento based cooking class in Mitaka, Tokyo. That’s the same town that the Ghibli Museum is in as well! Bento Momento is run by Tomoko-san, who is possibly the sweetest human alive.
You don’t have to worry about language difficulties either as Tomoko-san and her wonderful family and friends are all very fluent in English (and Korean!). They lived abroad in Canada and the United States for many years. Meeting you at Mitaka Station, she’ll bring you to her charming home nearby the famed Inokashira Park, and teach you how to make the perfect bento.
Her bentos range from the cute and character like to more traditional family bentos. Whatever bento you want, she can teach you how to make it! But because we’re nerdy here at the Nerdventurists, and we believe in the Travel Nerdy life, we just had to go and make ourselves a Totoro bento!
Making a Totoro Bento!
When you begin your class at Bento Momento , you’re given some tea and snacks and a brief explanation of what bentos are. And then you get started because, hey, you’re here to make a beloved Ghibli character out of rice, okay?!
Each step was clearly explained and demonstrated for us, and when we may not have gotten it exactly right (aka all the time), Tomoko-san was more than happy to help us along. She was never condescending or anything but incredibly encouraging. There was no “right” way to make a Totoro, just your own spin on it with a general shape in mind.
Now with Totoro’s main body sorted, it was time to start decorating, though first we needed to get those ears in place. This was when the bento box came into play though, as we needed to assemble everything in the box itself from here-on out. Finally! I was going to make the adorable bento box of my childhood dreams. I was a bit giddy.
Next came the eyes, nose, mouth, and little stomach wibbles (that’s the technical term, okay?). After that it was all about the surroundings. Using mushrooms, sausages, broccoli, cheese, tomatoes, fish cake, and edamame, we created a bit of a backdrop for Totoro. The idea, Tomoko-san explained, was that Totoro was laying down in the grass surrounded by nature, it just so happens that the nature was food!
Depending on how big your Totoro is, you’ll have more or less space for decoration, but the fun of it all is that you can organize things however you want!
Finishing the Cooking Class!
My Totoro ended up looking a bit jaded with life, but I mean, he probably had a feeling he was about to be consumed, so I can’t really blame him to be honest.
When you’re finished with that, it’s now dessert time with fresh fruit and dango! I am obsessed with dango, and for those who don’t know what it is… it’s kind of like a rice cake meets dumpling meets marshmallow? It’s boiled glutinous rice flour topped, traditionally, with anko, or red beans. It’s a bit of an acquired taste, but once you’re hooked, you’re hooked! We had the chance to mix the dango, but I am squeamish with getting my hands dirty. While I tried, I could already hear my mother cackling from halfway across the world, and left it to the experts.
Add some miso soup, green tea, and there you have it! You’ve made a Totoro bento worth Instagramming! Which we did… extensively. And the best part? Everything was delicious! There is something to be said about eating something you prepared, but when it’s also cute, it’s somehow even more delicious.
And Totoro was delicious.
Hey! Listen! This post contains affiliate links. This means I will receive a small percentage of a sale if you purchase after clicking at no cost to you. Thanks so much!
This is a sponsored post! The class was offered in exchange for this post, however, all thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.