Cartoon Bento Cravings

Turn mealtimes into a fun and enjoyable occasion for the whole family.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Turn mealtimes into a fun and enjoyable occasion for the whole family.

It’s something all parents of young children wish for – peaceful meals with the little ones eating their vegetables or whatever healthy food you’ve prepared. The reality is probably the opposite; a stressful battle-of-wills to feed rebellious children who are more interested in candy.

One trick parents can do is to make food attractive and colourful so that kids are engaged and interested to eat. You’ve probably seen bentos with cute cartoon characters made from sushi rice, egg, seaweed and other ingredients. Some even look too good to eat. The thing is, it’s not too hard to do. You can also ask the kids to help and turn it into a family bonding experience. The recipe below, demonstrated at the Young Parents Fun Family Cooking Workshop on Dec 9, 2017, shows us how an ordinary meal can go from “meh” to mesmerising by using Okome Shortgrain Rice. This premium shortgrain rice from the US tastes similar to Japangrown rice – moist, chewy and soft when cooked, and can be used for a wide variety of Asian dishes.

So roll up your sleeves, gather the little ones, and start cooking. There’s no better way to express your love for your kids than a yummy dish. Just like Okome’s tagline.

 “Remembering the taste of love”, you’ll be creating something special and memorable for the whole family.

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PANDA RICE BENTO Ingredients to make the rice:

• 1 cup Okome Shortgrain Rice
• Water to cook rice (ratio of 1 cup rice: 1¼ cups of water) • Sushi vinegar (A)
• 2 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar
• ½ tbsp caster or super fine sugar to taste (skip this if you are using bottled seasoned rice vinegar)
• Pinch of salt (skip this if you are using bottled seasoned rice vinegar)
• 1 strip of kelp


1 Rinse the rice in several changes of water until the water runs clear. Drain the rice in a colander and let it sit for 30 minutes.

2 Add water and kelp. Cook the rice in a rice cooker, or by simmering over the stovetop.

3 Prepare vinegar mixture by mixing (A) in a small, non-aluminium saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. You can also use a microwave oven and microwave at LOW for a minute. The idea is to warm the vinegar just enough to dissolve the sugar, but not to boil the mixture. Skip this step if using ready-made sushi vinegar.

4 When the rice is cooked, discard the kelp. Transfer the cooked rice (while it is still hot) to a hangiri or wide bowl. Pour prepared vinegar mixture over the rice.

5 Stir the rice (with a gentle slicing action) using a rice paddle with one hand, while fanning the rice with a paper fan in your other hand.

6 Cover the bowl of rice with a damp slotted cloth to keep it fresh and moist. Serve the rice as soon as possible.

Ingredients to make the panda:

• Ham • Seaweed • Sushi Rice

Tools Required:

• Scissors • Mini straw • Tweezers • Cling wrap


1 Cut out two semicircles, two ovals, a little triangle of a nose, and a pointy little sliver of a mouth from a piece of seaweed to give you the facial expression of a panda.

2 Take a piece of cling wrap and place about 2 to 3 tbsp of sushi rice onto the cling wrap. Shape the rice ball into oval shape to make the head of a panda.

3 Use the tweezer to pick up the seaweed and place them onto the rice ball.

4 Use the mini straw to cut out two small round hams and use the tweezer to pick up and place them on the cheeks of the panda rice ball to resemble the blush.

5 Assemble the panda rice ball onto the bento box.

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Okome Shortgrain Rice is available at $12.95 for a 4.5kg bag, and sold at all major supermarkets.