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Spring is coming, and with it, the Sakura Season will be closely monitored in Japan as the wave of cherry blossoms start to bloom across the country. Each year, as if a warm weather front were being forecast, the first signs of the delicate pink flower will be eagerly anticipated by millions of Japanese fans.

The Hanami, or cherry blossom viewing tradition, is as popular today as it ever was in the 8th Century when it all began as an Imperial recreation. Devotees sit under the trees and soak in the beauty while enjoying the traditional hanami bento with friends, family or co-workers. This month's recipes were made with the classic hanami bento in mind.

Little miniature hamburgers are a typical side dish in Japanese bento. They can be found in school lunches that Moms make, as well as in most convenience stores. Although basically a mini Salibury steak Western style, what sets the Japanese kind apart is the sauce that is used. This recipe includes 2 kinds of special sauce, and it's delicious either right off the grill or at room termperature, too.
See recipe for Mini-Hamburger
Another Bento favorite, the Sanshoku Soboro is a flavorful topping on rice that is appealing to the eye as it is tangy in taste. The three main ingredients usually consist of a ground meat, scrambled egg and a green vegetable. One can never underestimate the use of color in food--not only does it look better and increase your appetite, the different ingredients usually mean more nutrition.
See recipe for Tricolor Soboro Bowl
Aemono is a seasoned side dish of vegetables or seafood that can add color and texture to your bento. The seasoning sauce is usually thick enough to completely coat and flavor the ingredients.
See recipe for Aemono
(see recipe)
  Tricolor Soboro Nigiri.
Soboro ingredients formed into sushi style shapes makes it look even more fun to eat!
(see recipe)
(see recipe)
  Don't forget to bring your favorite tea.
  Sweet rice cooked with Adzuki beans, formed into festive flower shaped rice balls.
  Egg omelet adds a brilliant yellow color that whets your appetite.
  Attractive arrangement of pink and white fish cake that you can buy at any Japanese market.
  Tricolored dessert. Dango, or sweet rice cake, can be bought at any Japanese market. These are skewered together in the traditional bento way.
The Hanami Bento is ready to go--packed full of foods that inspire your senses. Colors that demand your attention with a buffet of tastes, with dishes that have been prepared for their perfect pairing with rice, the foundation of all bento. Enjoy eating all day as you picnic under the delicate pink shower of cherry blossoms with friends and family. It doesn't get any better than that!
The traditional bento box lunch was always meant to be eaten at room temperature. Usually prepared the night before or early the same morning, the rice, side dishes, fish, even deep fried foods, actually taste better when cold--most are not meant to be re-heated. Although the concept of cooked food being eaten cold may be a turn-off to most Westerners, keep in mind that the boxed lunch has been around in Japanese culture for centuries; long before the microwave oven was invented.

That being said, there are several tricks to preparing the right kind of foods that will make a good bento lunch:

Food loses flavor when cold.
Therefore, it's a good idea to make food that is strongly flavored. Subtle flavors will just become bland at room temperature. Even salt loses flavor, so salt your dishes well. It goes without saying that plain white rice goes best in bento because so many of the side dishes are so well seasoned. You don't need to flavor up the rice too. Strongly flavored sauces like steak sauce, tonkatsu sauce, ketchup and soy sauce are popular add-ons in bentos. Store-bought ones always include a packet of some kind of seasoning, along with the required chopsticks.
Fried foods can taste good even when cold.
The secret is to drain well and cool thoroughly before packing them into your bento, to prevent them from getting soggy. Fried chicken, pork cutlets, potato croquettes, are all popular items found in most Japanese bento boxes. Pack a bit of tonkatsu or Worcestershire sauce and you're good to go!
  Foods to avoid.
Don't include foods that obviously do not keep well when cold. Greasy foods that solidify at room temperature can be a turn-off. Stews, like curry, aren't a good idea because they use thickeners like corn starch that form a "skin" when cool. Most soups, unless it's gazpacho, are probably best when they're hot. You can use a Zojirushi Food Jar or Lunch Jar for that purpose; and one of our Vacuum Bottles will help with your drinks.
Learn more about our
Stainless Steel Lunch Jars
Learn more about our
Stainless Steel Vacuum Bottles
Hanami, which literally means "flower viewing", has its origins as far back as the Nara Period (710 to 794 A.D.) in Japan. The Cherry Blossom, or sakura, became the flower synonymous with the practice; and although limited to the ruling class at first, it eventually spread to the samurai society and then down to the commoners as well. In the late sixteenth century, the Emperor Hideyoshi planted thousands of cherry blossom trees in various cities to encourage the flower viewing, and the tradition of hanami was born.
In ancient times, the cherry blossom itself was considered to be a predictor of how good their harvest would be by the farmers, depending on how the flowers bloomed. It was also revered for the way its short but beautiful life symbolized our own human existence. Similarly, the sakura symbolized the way of the samurai, who were fated to only live a short time, but whose lives could still be full of beauty.
Today, hanami festivities can be found all over the world, including in certain parts of the United States. The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a popular event in Washington D.C., where over 3,000 trees were donated to our nation's capital by Japan in 1912. The city of Macon, Georgia, is known as the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World because there are over 300,000 sakura trees that grow there. The Annual Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival happens at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York, which has held the popular event since 1981. And similar festivals are held in other American cities as well.
It's Sandwich Time!
Why can you never starve in the desert? Because of all the "sand" which is there! Sorry, we couldn't resist! Next month stay tuned for some great Zojirushi sandwiches using our amazing Breadmakers.