"Bentō": A Feast for the Eyes and Stomach

Your Own Japanese-Style Box Meal

Culture Lifestyle

Bentō are an important part of daily dining for millions of Japanese students and workers, and a major industry has grown up around the tools and methods used for their creation. Below we introduce some playful ingredients for box meals, along with a handful of the special implements invented to make their creation a snap.

The black and white sphere in the box—could that be a soccer ball?

It is always exciting to open a bentō—a boxed meal often eaten for lunch in Japan. The ingredients are prepared with attention to detail. Thought goes into color, layout, and nutritional balance, resulting in a finely orchestrated overall meal experience. And a variety of easy-to-use cooking tools have come out that add fun to the daily routine of bentō making.

Here we introduce just a few recipes for cooking Japanese-style bentō dishes, featuring ideas that make creative use of these tools.

Click on the various foods to jump to their recipes.

Quail-Egg Flower Octopus-Shaped Sausages Fish Cake Stars Veggie Skewer Star Omelet Rice Ball Star Omelet Rice Ball Soccer Rice Ball Hearty Hamburger Steak Veggie Skewer Octopus-Shaped Sausages Fish Cake Stars Soccer Rice Ball Hearty Hamburger Steak Quail-Egg Flower

Octopus-Shaped Sausages

Utensil used

Sausage cutter to create octopus, crab, dandelion, and other shapes (for skinless sausages)


Insert a sausage into the cutter.

Press the sausage part way through the cutter to make legs of the desired length.

Boil the sausage.

Boiling will spread the cut ends, making them look like octopus legs.

Add eyes and a mouth made of nori (seaweed).



For octopus eyes, we used a sheet of nori precut into railroad tracks, facial parts, and other shapes. If precut sheets are unavailable, you can cut the nori into the desired shapes with scissors or use sesame seeds instead.

Quail-Egg Flower

Utensil used

Tool with star-shaped, heart-shaped, flower-shaped, and zigzag cutters

Use a quail egg of about 2 cm in diameter. If the egg is too small to peel by hand, using chopsticks or tweezers may help.


Slide the cutter toward the egg and make a cut in the egg white. Rotate the egg and repeat until the incision makes a full circle.

Remove the top half of the egg white.

Fold a slice of ham in half and cut along the fold.

Wrap the ham around the egg.



The end result will look better if the egg yolk is centered when boiling. Be sure to hard-boil the egg.

Veggie Skewer


Thinly slice the cucumber lengthwise with a vegetable peeler.

Cut a star-shaped piece out of the egg white of a quail egg.

Wrap a cucumber strip around the egg.

Pierce the egg and a cherry tomato with an hors d’oeuvre pick.


Star Omelet Rice Ball

Utensil used

Star-shaped cutter


Mix the egg white and yolk and fry in a thin layer.

Cut away the top third of the egg and cut out a star shape.

Shape ketchup-flavored chicken fried rice into a ball.

Place the rice ball over the egg crepe and fold the bottom half over it.

Wrap the sides over the rice ball and turn over.



The egg crepe should be about 16 cm in diameter. Simply cook one side and flip it over.

Soccer Rice Ball

Utensil used

Soccer-patterned nori sheet and mold (sold as a set)


Put rice in the mold.

Make two semispherical balls of rice.

Put the two pieces together by pinching the edges where they join.

Start wrapping the nori around the rice.

Wrap the nori around the circumference of the ball and make sure both ends meet like pieces of a puzzle.

Press the hexagonal parts against the rice, and you’re done!


Tightly pack enough rice to fill the mold up to the edge.

Hearty Hamburger Steak


Use a meat patty, ketchup, and sliced cheese cut into your favorite shape.

Fish Cake Stars


Cut pieces of kamaboko (fish cake) into decorative shapes with a knife or cookie cutter. Add stars of sliced cheese and you’re done!

Back to bentō

(Originally written in Japanese. Bentō styling by Kurose Sakiko. Photographs by Katō Takemi.)

Bentō onigiri rice ball seaweed food