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If you thought you were getting the hang of fancying up your kids’ lunches with cookie cutter-shaped sandwiches and fun reusable toothpicks, take a look at the whimsical food art from one mom in Japan.
Etoni Mama, a self-taught bento chef, has three young daughters who are the lucky recipients of her many munchable masterpieces. Etoni specializes in what is called “Kyaraben/Charaben,” which translates to “character bento,” meaning that her dishes focus on plating food so it looks like cartoon characters.
She creates these characters by using tiny scissors to cut small food details, carving tools to etch her edibles and tweezers to put everything in its place. It’s amazing!
Lucky for us, Etoni doesn’t just create edible art for her kids but also showcases it on Instagram for all to enjoy. Plus she has a Japanese-language cookbook so others can try out her creations, too. Take a look at these intricate animals made of food on the cookbook’s cover!
Etoni is obviously not the only talented “kyaraben” maker out there. Etsuka Sawada-Fitzpatrick — a Japanese native who now lives in Australia and has two daughters — teaches character bento-making as a way to promote healthy eating for children.
Her adorable Totoro sushi bento below looks both fun and nutritious:
In addition to these awesome food artists, there are entire Facebook groups dedicated to bento making, like the simply named “Bento,” a public Facebook group with more than 11,500 members.
HiHo Kids, meanwhile, has a funny video in which kids try out several different character bentos, and they all seemed to gobble the food up.
Inspired by “kyaraben” and wanting to get my kids to eat more of their dinner, I tried making a few of Etoni Mama’s dishes myself. They weren’t the healthiest ones, but they did look the easiest for an amateur to pull off.
First, I tried sausage octopuses.
I used hot dogs instead of the cocktail sausages Etoni appears to have used. Since hot dogs are longer, my octopuses ended up having rather elongated bodies, even when I sliced them in half. Their arms also look much less precise than Etoni’s.
Next, I thought I’d try Etoni’s sushi sumo wrestlers.
Let me tell you, that sticky sushi rice doesn’t make for the easiest molding material. I definitely needed the plastic wrap for shaping.
My sumo wrestlers’ nori (dried seaweed) mawashi (loincloths) were at wedgie-level height due to my lack of proportion planning. And I did not have the little items Etoni used for their faces, so I substituted a nori seasoning instead.
I “plated” the sumo wrestlers and octopuses with some edamame and strawberries, plus some mustard and ketchup waves. Pro-level skills, as you can see.
My children pretty much ignored my artistic efforts, immediately wolfing down the strawberries. I asked my toddler daughter to point out the octopuses on her plate and she didn’t know what I was talking about. My son did enjoy biting off the octopus heads but told me he did not like my yellow mustard wave design.
I’ll just chalk up their lukewarm reaction not to my lack of skill but to the fact that sumo wrestlers paired with octopuses aren’t really a cohesive design idea. That’s totally it.
At my skill level, even simple character bentos can be tricky. But I can still enjoy looking at Etoni Mama’s and other “kyaraben” makers’ adorable creations.