The regular New York bento box has nothing on the real thing. In Japan, mothers of lucky preschool children spend their mornings preparing special kyarakuta bento, box lunches brimming with cabbage leaf flowers, boiled egg bunnies, rice-ball rocket ships and lemon-slice butterflies. Tomatoes become ladybugs. Cauliflower clouds and tiny seaweed seagulls dot a rice sky.
The results are an anime take on the formal Japanese rules of food arrangement, moritsuke, which I wrote about in Encyclopedia of the Exquisite. Creativity counts just as much as tastiness, and the best bento boxes offer a riotous mosaic of colors and textures. One bento guide stipulates there should be “at lest ten different items” included in each box, all reshaped and transformed.