Eastern Hemisphere Food Travel

nasi padang, and I didn’t know it

Beth and I were walking around Kemang this morning, looking for something to eat for an early lunch. Many places were closed, and at least one of the warungs I found a sign for didn’t even exist anymore (such is the way of Indonesian street food, apparently). But after visiting an ATM for some cash, we stumbled into a sign that said “RESTORAN SEDERHANA MASAKAN PADANG.”

My Indonesian language skills are nearly zero, but as with any foreign language, my vocabulary is 90% food words. I know this doesn’t surprise any of my friends, but it has surprised people in foreign countries I’ve visited when I know all kinds of words related to eating, but not the word for “money” or “bed” or “toilet”. So I recognized that this sign meant “restaurant SOMETHINGSOMETHING cuisine Padang.” Knowing that the Indonesian and Malaysian languages put adjectives after nouns, I knew this last part meant “Padang style cuisine” whatever the hell “Padang” means.

So we went inside, and got a shock. The host directed us to a table, but instead of bringing us menus, a platoon of waiters rapidly and immediately descended on the table, bearing all kinds of stuff. In about 20 seconds, they put something like 15 small plates of food down, along with a plate of rice for each of us, a cup of hot tea for each of us, and two small bowls with warm water. Beth and I looked at each other with WTF expressions. She tried to explain that there is no way we can eat all this food, but none of these guys spoke enough English to understand. I thought maybe on Saturdays the lunch is like a prix fixe thing where you get all this stuff for one price, whether you want it or not. Beth thought maybe the guys were pulling some kind of scam on us by forcing us to pay for way more food than we ordered. So before the main waiter left, she got him to explain as best he could about each dish. His English was limited but he knew “chicken” and “beef” and “egg” and “chile” which was a little helpful.

This isn’t my photo, but this is what our table looked like with all the plates on it. Photo from Wikipedia.

We picked out the half dozen plates that looked most appetizing, and then pointed at the rest and pantomimed for the guys to take them away. Then we started to eat. Most dishes had two of each thing on it, like two pieces of chicken, two eggs, etc. The other dishes had a small pile of stuff, like green chile, sliced vegetables of some variety, etc. The food was all really good, and we ate with fork and spoon in the Indonesian way, which we had learned two or three days earlier.

The Indonesian way (also, supposedly, the Malaysian way and the Thai way) is to use a spoon and fork, but no knife. Fork goes in left hand, spoon in right. You use the spoon edge to cut pieces of whatever you’re eating, then use the fork to scoop that and some rice onto the spoon, and then put it all into your mouth. In theory, all tough stuff should be cut up in the kitchen, which is why you don’t need a knife at the table. At the end of the meal, to signal you’re done, you put the fork down on the plate facing down, and then put the spoon on top of it, also facing down.

Anyhow, while we were eating, I noticed that phrase again on the rim of my plate — “masakan padang.” So I looked it up on Wikipedia. Between that and observing the other people in the restaurant a while, a few light bulbs came on for me. First, the service style is normal, and is part of the Padang style. They bring out plates of everything they are serving that day. You just eat whatever you want, and then at the end of the meal they come count it up and charge you for what you ate. Second, this style of food is also typically eating with the fingers, not with fork and spoon, which explains the finger bowls. Lastly, I learned that the restaurant we were in is one of a very popular and famous chain of Padang restaurants.

We ended up eating the rest of the meal partly with fingers and partly with the fork and spoon technique. Everything we had was very good, I thought. At the end of the meal, when I made the universal gesture for “bring me the bill” the waiter added up everything. It came to around $11, which is a little more than I expected (five times as much as dinner last night) but way less than what we’d spend for two meals and drinks at the Irish pub nearby.

Now that I’m writing this back in our room with internet, I found the website for this restaurant chain. And here is the Wikipedia article that explains the style of food and eating experience we had.

Last night was our first Indonesian warung experience and today was our first nasi padang experience (of a style I now know to be called “hidang”). My self-directed Asian food studies are coming right along.


Eastern Hemisphere Food Travel

our first warung experience did not feature Daniel Craig (updated)

Written October 10, 2015
Updated October 11, 2015

Friday Supper

Last night, we sought out the warung dining experience. A warung is a small family-run shop in Indonesia. Most commonly, they’re tiny restaurants, but the word can also refer to small coffee shops, internet cafes, or even phone booths.

From what I can tell, there are sort of three types of commercially served food in Indonesia.

At the bottom of the ladder are the gerobak makanan. These are little hand carts where a man or woman sell a single type of thing. So far, I’ve seen some that sell fried egg rolls, some that sell pieces of fruit, some that sell fried rice (nasi goreng), and so on. I’m not sure how you could make a whole meal on this stuff. I think you’d have to go to multiple carts to do that. So these seem most suited to getting just a snack. The nice thing about these carts is that the owner can just push them around to wherever business is best. They’re all over in Jakarta, probably one every 100 meters or less.

gerobek makanan – food carts – By Gunawan Kartapranata (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

In the middle are the warungs, as I already mentioned. They hold a half dozen to a dozen people and are more permanent. They have a place to sit down, even if it’s just on a stool on the side of the road.

And at the top are restaurants, where you go in, sit down, and get served by a wait staff. These usually have a menu (though stay tuned for the story of our visit to one that didn’t). The Indonesian word is “restoran” which I’m guessing is taken from the Dutch word “restaurant” which looks a whole lot like the English word “restaurant”.

Anyhow, Beth and I had been wanting to visit a real warung, so we went out in search of one. And when we found one called “007” we had to try it (the new James Bond movie, “Spectre”, was released yesterday). There was a sign pointing down a long narrow walkway. We walked, and then there it was. It held about six people, maybe eight in a pinch.

Wanna see what it looked like? I didn’t take this video, but thanks to the amazing power of Google, I just learned that someone else posted a YouTube video of Warung Nasi 007 in Kemang (Kemang is the part of Jakarta that we’re in). Check it out…

There was an array of dishes behind glass, and an L-shaped bench and counter around the display. There were no signs showing what anything was called, or what they contained, or how much they cost.

Fortunately, we sat next to a young woman with fairly good English skills, and she was our savior. She interpreted between us and the warung proprietress. This style of warung is a “warung nasi” meaning that you get a plate with a scoop of rice (rice is “nasi”) and then order other stuff to go on top. We didn’t know how to order, but the young woman — clearly of the internet generation — explained, “You just point and click.” So we just pointed at what we wanted. Beth got a few items on her rice, and I got a few slightly different ones.

A lot of the food was based on tempeh, one of two words that our impromptu interpreter couldn’t translate but I knew because they’re shared with English. The other was soursop, which in Indonesian is “sirsak”.

Beth's photo of her plate. I had the same veggies (the corn and green beans) but had a tempeh dish instead of the egg, and also a tofu thing much like agedashi.
Beth’s photo of her plate. I had the same veggies (the corn and beans) but had a really good tempeh dish instead of the egg, and also a tofu thing much like agedashi instead of the tiny dried-and-fried minnows.

It was a bit awkward, but everyone had a good time. The girl seemed to enjoy helping us figure out what to eat, we got a good and very authentic meal, and all the other patrons got to giggle at the funny American tourists. I asked our interpreter where she worked, and learned she works at the front desk of a nearby hotel. That explains why her English is pretty good (and presumably why she was so helpful).

Side Note 1: The next day, after lunch, we were walking toward the supermarket, which is next door to this hotel. Beth recognized the girl at the front desk, so we went in to say hi. It was a funny little meeting. Even in this huge city of 11 million, it can be a small world! Beth tried to explain that she was going to the Cat Cabin, which nobody around here seems to have even heard of. The desk clerk didn’t know the word “cat” or “cabin” or “kitty” so I did a pantomime of a cat — “meow, meow” with my paws up in the air — and then she got it, though I think she felt we were a little crazy to pay money to go see and touch cats.

Side Note 2: To my knowledge, there is only one Malaysian or Indonesian food restaurant in all of Denver, and that’s a place called Makan. Beth and I went there a few years ago, and I wasn’t really impressed. But now that I’m learning more Indonesian (which is essentially a dialect of Malaysian) I learned that “makan” just means “eat”. Similarly “makanan” means “food” or “that which is eaten”. It’s a stroke of marketing genius to name your ethnic restaurant “eat” in the language you’re representing. What do you want to do? Eat. Where do you want to eat? Eat. “Masakan” means cuisine, by the way, though I won’t hazard a guess as to whether makan, makanan, and masakan all share the same root word.

Here is the receipt from our meal. Given the current exchange rate, this receipt is about $2.28 in US dollars. That’s a good price for two plates of hot food and two cold drinks! And that’s how you can tell this place is “real” Indonesia, not one of the dozens of targeted-at-westerners restaurants in Kemang.


For an idea of how hard it is to keep prices in perspective, we went out to an authentic Irish pub after dinner, for drinks. We each had two drinks. The bill came to over 10x this amount. Imagine going out on an inexpensive dinner date in Denver, maybe burritos or something for $20. And then in 30 minutes you and your date spend $250 for margaritas afterward. Prices are so topsy-turvy in Indonesia.

Update: Sunday Lunch

Beth and I went back to Warung Nasi 007 for lunch today. The hotel clerk who helped us the first time was right; the food selection is better during the day. In addition to many of the same dishes we saw Friday at supper time, on Sunday at lunch there were also about four different preparations of whole fish, an eggplant dish, and fried chicken.

We used the “point and click” method to order what we wanted on our rice. Here’s a photo of what I ended up with. It’s an egg and vegetable fritter, some green beans, a piece of fried chicken, and a tempeh triangle. I had a bottle of cold water to go with it.

10-2015 Jakarta - 1 of 5

Beth ordered more items on top of her rice. I guess she was hungrier.

I regretted not taking some photos Friday night, so I snapped a few today. Below is the ultra dingy fan on the wall, along with the toy gun that, I guess, gives it the 007 flair.

10-2015 Jakarta - 2 of 5

And here is a shot of the window to the warung (and me in the reflection).

10-2015 Jakarta - 3 of 5

It says:

WARUNG NASI 007 – the name of the joint, remember that means a warung that serves rice with stuff on top

MM. FAHMI – I assume that is the name of the owner


Sedia – available

Soto Ayamtraditional chicken soup

Indomie Rebus – boiled instant noodles

Minuman – beverages

ES JERUK – iced orange drink

SODA SUSU – milk soda

BIMA SUSU – I don’t know what this means

JOS SUSU – I don’t know this one either. Could it mean JUS SUSU, which would be “juice milk”?

KOPI – coffee


DLL – ?

After eating, I grabbed one of these weird looking things. They’re kept in a big metal container with a lid. I had no idea what it was, but I figured I should try it.

10-2015 Jakarta - 4 of 5

On the way out, I asked what it’s called. “Kerupuk” is the answer, but I didn’t know what it means. Thanks to Google, I’ve since learned it “kerupuk” is a cracker, and this particular type is a kerupuk kampung. That means it’s made of tapioca starch that’s been seasoned (probably with salt and finely ground dried shrimp) and then fried. Apparently, these crackers are traditionally served on top of soto ayam, the chicken soup mentioned in the window! Ah, so that explains a few things.

Beth and I ate the cracker by itself (it was tasty), but it’s meant to go with a bowl of soup.

10-2015 Jakarta - 5 of 5

And now, the damage. Today’s lunch cost 47,000 rupiah, significantly more than the 34,000 we spent on supper Friday night. I guess some of that is due to the kerupuk and bottle of fizzy orange drink I took with me to go.

That’s $3.46, according to today’s exchange rate. As predicted, that’s about 1/6 what we spent for our Western style breakfast this morning.



Thanksgiving 2014 Menu

For Thanksgiving this year, Beth and I are volunteering at the Turkey Trot, which is a big race in Washington Park (Denver) to raise money for the Mile High United Way. I volunteered two or three times about 10 or 15 years ago, but not recently. After that, we’re gonna make a semi-traditional Thanksgiving dinner at home. And then possibly go see a movie.

For a moment I thought of doing the 100 Mile Thanksgiving Challenge again. I did that years ago and won a prize for my menu. All the ingredients were grown or raised within 100 miles of home, except for some things like salt. But it’s tough to round up all the ingredients to pull that off. So here’s what I have planned this year:

  • roast turkey: I ordered a small non-GMO free-range turkey from Mary’s, and plan to roast it in a pretty traditional manner. Not smoked, not brined.
  • wild rice and sausage stuffing: Beth loves her mother’s stuffing recipe, but it’s not really compatible with how we’re trying to eat these days. So I chose this recipe, which is lower carb and has more interesting ingredients: wild rice, sausage, and fennel stuffing
  • cranberry sauce: Beth wants to look at Whole Foods and see if they have anything made fresh and local. I’m guessing they won’t, so we’ll probably just get this from a can.
  • green salad: This is pretty standard fare, and I don’t have plans to do anything unusual or special here. I’ve really grown fond of Annie’s Goddess Dressing lately.
  • maybe gravy: Beth really likes gravy, and even though we’re not having mashed potatoes she may make some to put on the turkey.
  • chocolate mousse: We’ll buy this or something similar from a local bakery. I’m just not into making desserts.

What we’re not having: mashed potatoes, bread, bread-based stuffing, pumpkin pie, the American green bean casserole thing

Consumer Experiences Food

Todd’s World of Coffee

We’ve now been living in Capitol Hill in Denver for three months. One of the things I realized when we moved here is that there are a lot of coffee shops within easy walking distance. With the help of Yelp, I made a list of all seven that are within a half mile, which I posted here.

That’s when I gave myself a little challenge – to visit each and every one of these. I guess I chose 0.5 miles as the cutoff because that’s what I think of as “an easy walk” – anything farther and it would feel more like a walk for a walk’s sake, instead of just “I’ll bop down to the corner and get a cappuccino.”

But a new place cropped up since I started my list, and that’s when I decided I better update this. And in the process, I organized it all a bit better and expanded it significantly.

Coffee Shops Within 1/2 Mile

  1. Pablo’s Coffee 0.1 mi – This is the easiest one to get to, by far. It’s a nice place with really good cappuccino and no WiFi. Nice staff, roast their own beans. My Yelp review.
  2. Buzz Cafe 0.4 mi – I just went here for the first time last week on a weekday morning. Their homemade breakfast sandwich is the best around – the tastiest coffee shop breakfast in the area. The cappuccino was good, but not outstanding. My Yelp review.
  3. Drip Denver 0.4 mi – This is my favorite of all the ones on this list. The service is great, the people really know their coffee, and they have a wide selection. The interior is also very comfortable, and they have good WiFi. They get their beans from Pablo’s and Kaladi Brothers. My Yelp review.
  4. Dazbog Coffee 0.5 mi – This is convenient for me when I’m driving to Broomfield in the morning. But the service is spotty. Sometimes they forget to make things I order. And I haven’t had any coffee drink that’s really impressed me. I rank this like Starbucks, but slightly more local.
  5. Roostercat Coffee House 0.5 mi – Nice small place downstairs on Lincoln between 10th and 11th. They use Coda coffee. Not very crowded or noisy, at least on a weekday morning. They make unusual waffle sandwiches for breakfast and lunch. But I’ve gotten turned off by my last two visits and stopped going. One time there were coffee grounds in my cappuccino. How does that even happen?

Starbucks Within 1/2 Mile

Yeah, I’m giving these a separate category. Four Starbucks within 0.5 miles of me? Talk about overkill. The bold ones are the ones I’ve personally visited, for what little that’s worth.

  1. Starbucks Coffee 0.2 mi – 300 E 6th Ave – This is the Starbucks on 6th near Moe’s Bagels. I don’t have much to say about Starbucks. When I went to this one, the service was good.
  2. Starbucks Coffee 0.3 mi – 575 Lincoln Street – This one is between Lincoln and Broadway on the south side of Speer, by Bombay Bowl. I went there once when we lived in Baker.
  3. Starbucks Coffee 0.4 mi – 560 Corona St – This is the one inside Safeway at 6th and Corona. Oh boy, supermarket Starbucks.
  4. Starbucks Coffee 0.4 mi – 931 Corona St – This is the Starbucks inside the King Soopers that people often call “Queen Soopers”. It’s a typical supermarket Starbucks.

Other Coffee-serving Businesses Within 1/2 Mile

Again, bold means “been there, done that”.

  1. Dunkin Donuts 0.5 mi – 366 N Broadway – I went there but didn’t get coffee. For some reason, people rave about the quality of the coffee at Dunkin.
  2. DJ’s 9th Avenue Cafe 0.4 mi – 865 Lincoln St – This is a great place for both breakfast and lunch. They have good service and good food, which they make with as many local ingredients as possible. I’ve never seen it very crowded, so I wonder how they can stay in business given the size of the place.
  3. City Bakery Cafe 0.3 mi – 726 Lincoln St – Pretty new. Mainly baked good, but they also have drip coffee and espresso drinks, as well a breakfast sandwiches.
  4. Racine’s Restaurant 0.2 mi – 650 Sherman St – We’ve been there a couple times. One time was for supper and it was great. One time was for breakfast and it was mediocre. The coffee was Starbucks brand. Enough said.
  5. Moe’s Broadway Bagel 0.2 mi – 550 Grant St – I love Moe’s “everything” bagel with cream cheese, and often get one to go with an iced coffee, which Moe’s makes pretty well.
  6. Martine’s Muffins 0.3 mi – 726 Lincoln St – Frankly, I’m not sure how Martine is going to stay in business now that City Bakery Cafe has opened up, not just nearby but in the same building! I just went there once for a breakfast burrito, and didn’t try her coffee. The burrito was just so-so.
  7. Einstein Bros. Bagels 0.4 mi – 1025 E 9th Ave – Why bother? There’s Moe’s nearby.
  8. Tony’s Market 0.5 mi – 950 Broadway – I’ve been to Tony’s for food, but never to get coffee. They do have a lot of interesting high end foodstuffs, at high end prices.
  9. Lé Bakery Sensual 0.2 mi – 300 E 6th Ave – They have coffee, but that’s not what they’re famous for. What they’re famous for is cupcakes shapes like penises. I bought a cake there once, but never the coffee.

So there’s my list. 18 places to get coffee within 1/2 mile. Got anything to add? Leave a comment.

12 Cities, 1 Year Film Food

a new film by Todd Bradley

A few months ago, one of my Facebook friends turned me on to a short film contest that was right up my alley. It was the Real Food Media Contest, and they had a contest to make a short documentary on one of a set of topics related to food and farming. So I took footage I shot in Missoula, Montana when Beth and I were there for a month in the summer of 2012, and edited it into a short. Unfortunately, I didn’t win a prize, but today they announced the winners. If you want to check out what won, here you go:

My buddy Chad Johnson reviewed and critiqued the film I put together. His assessment was that it was a basically good edit and interesting story. But he felt I probably wouldn’t place in the contest because my film doesn’t have the “shallow depth-of-field DSLR look” that’s so popular. Well, he was right; my film wasn’t even a finalist. And if you look at the films that got the top 5 prizes, you can see his comments about the “look” the judges wanted to see were right on the money.

The winners are also interesting stories, so I don’t mean to imply that they won only based on their look. But my traditional video camera’s small imager just can’t produce the kind of pictures that people’s eyes want to watch. It’s awesome for sports, but not for sexy documentaries. So I’m gonna get a DSLR (or something like it) and learn to fiddle obsessively with rack focus. That’s my recipe for success. Just watch me.


new home, new coffee

This week we moved into our new apartment in the Capitol Hill area of Denver. The quality of our neighborhood skyrocketed! This area actually feels and acts like a neighborhood that the residents care about, and you can see it just on the short walk from our apartment down to 6th Avenue. There, on a single block, I saw a homemade curbside little free library and then a homemade dog poop cleanup bag dispenser made from a used pop bottle zip-tied to a street sign. Someone took the time to build, install, and maintain these things, which is something we never saw in our part of Boulder.

But new digs also means new coffee, and since we’re in a much more urban area, we’ve gone from having just one coffee shop within a half mile to having several. My goal is to try them all. Here they are (results according to

  1. Pablo’s Coffee 0.1 mi – This is the easiest one to get to, by far. It’s a nice place with really good cappuccino and no WiFi.
  2. Starbucks Coffee 0.2 mi – I’ve been here before, too, but not since we moved nearby. It’s the Starbucks on 6th. When I’m in the area, I’d rather go to Moe’s Broadway Bagels instead.
  3. Buzz Cafe 0.4 mi
  4. Drip Denver 0.4 mi
  5. Dazbog Coffee 0.5 mi
  6. Dunkin Donuts 0.5 mi
  7. Roostercat Coffee House 0.5 mi – Nice small place downstairs on Lincoln between 10th and 11th. They use Coda coffee. Not very crowded or noisy, at least on a weekday morning.

Sadly, Sugar Bakeshop & Coffee House is 0.6 miles away, so it just barely didn’t make the cut. And this list doesn’t include other places that have great coffee but are primarily something other than a coffee shop, like Racine’s or – better yet – DJ’s 9th Avenue Cafe.

Bento 101

Bento 101: Assignment 5

The way to get into a bento habit, apparently, is to have lots of pre-made items around the kitchen. Apparently there’s even a Japanese word for this bento stash: johbisai. This week’s assignment was to make or buy one of each of three categories of johbisai:

  • Something that can be ‘stashed’ in the freezer for future bentos.
  • Something that can be ‘stashed’ in the refrigerator for at least a week, for future bentos.
  • Something that can be ‘stashed’ in a kitchen cabinet/pantry (i.e. at room temperature) for future bentos.

So here’s what I bought or made this week for my stash

  • made furikake (basic topping for rice) – Mine was ground dried toasted onions, salt, and a few other spices
  • made cole slaw – red cabbage, carrots, jalapeños, apple cider vinegar, salt, and sugar
  • made sho-yu tamago (soy sauce eggs)
  • made teriyaki tofu
  • bought tiny dill pickles
  • bought grape tomatoes
I didn’t put any of these in the freezer, though. They’re all either in the fridge or the pantry. What would you freeze out of this list?



Bento 101

Bento 101: Assignment 4

Here’s my homework for Assignment 4. Yeah, there was no Assignment 3, as far as I can tell. We went from 2b to 4. Whatever.

The assignment was to make a bento-based lunch. My new bento boxes arrived about a week ago (see Assignment 2b) and I’ve used them to bring my lunch to work twice now. Unfortunately, I didn’t take photos of either lunch, being in too much of a hurry during packing and eating. And I can’t remember what I at the first time.

But yesterday I can remember what I had for lunch. One bento box was about half full of white rice, and on top of that was a crock pot chicken dish that I made earlier in the week. It was based on this recipe. But I used skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs instead of the boneless, skinless ones the recipe called for. And we didn’t have corn starch, so I thickened the sauce with some flour. (It turned out a bit greasy, but fairly tasty). In the other bento box were fresh carrot sticks and mixed nuts.

Here are the questions I’m supposed to answer for this assignment:

  • Did you enjoy your lunch? I did enjoy eating it, though I ate it at my desk at work so I didn’t fully appreciate the meal.
  • Did you enjoy making your lunch? For the most part I enjoyed it. The leftover rice and chicken were easy. All I had to do was pack it neatly into the boxes and slice some carrots. It was first thing in the morning and I was in a bad mood, so it wasn’t as enjoyable as it might have been.
  • Were there any issues with toting your lunch to work/school? Any issues at the office? No issues at all. The bento boxes fit into my messenger bag just fine, and I toted them to work with me on the bus. I microwaved the rice and chicken, and it came out tasty.
  • Is this something you see yourself doing regularly? Yes, especially if I can keep making food in advance to pack. I don’t feel like I have enough time in the morning before work to make anything complicated for lunch, so having something pre-made (leftovers) is essential for me.
Bento 101

Bento 101: Assignment 2b

Here’s a quick one. This assignment:

  • Go through the list you made for Assignment 1, and determine which kind of lunch you’re most likely to pack. Is it compact and grain-based? Do you want something hot or soupy? Maybe you prefer packing salads and sandwiches?
  • Choose the type of lunch container that is the best fit for you based on your preferences.
  • Now the fun part: go look for the box that’s right for you. For Japanese style bento boxes in particular, the Where to shop page is a great place to start – it lists the wonderful bento box sellers that support this site and keep it alive and kicking. Readers in the U.S. can also try looking through the ever increasing selection of bento boxes on Amazon.
  • If you can manage to get your bento/lunch box by next week, great! If not, try to have a backup/substitute box ready to go. We’ll be packing our very first bento for the next assignment.

My answers:

I want something flexible, that will securely hold soups or soupy foods. I measured how much food I had for lunch and it was about 1000 ml. Now granted, I usually don’t have dessert with lunch, so that estimate may be on the high side. But the bento boxes I currently have hold about 2000 ml of food, which is way more than I need. I found that the Monbento double-layer product is exactly 1000 ml, looks nice, and comes highly recommended by a couple of my friends. So I just ordered this one from

Bento 101

Bento 101: Assignment 2a

This week’s assignment was to take a regular meal that you’re planning to eat, and experiment with packing it into a container wisely. The point, I believe, is to show that you can fit a “normal” amount of food into a smaller container than you think, if you stack things in three dimensions.

Since it’s Sunday, normally I try to finish off leftovers we’ve accumulated during the week. So for lunch today, I took 4 leftover meatballs and cooked them in a can of diced tomatoes. Then I put a handful of homemade croutons (that were too hard to be tasty on salad) on top. To go with that are some celery sticks and some pieces of pineapple, and a slice of cherry pie.

Here’s what all that looked like on plates:

And here’s what it all looked like in 2 levels of my 3 level bento box stack:

Here are the lessons from this exercise, all things I already knew:

  • My 3 level bento stack is too big for one person. I didn’t even use the 3rd box.
  • The bento that’s divided into 3 sections – the one on the right with the veggies, fruit, and pie – is too short. The walls need to be higher. For some reason, it’s significantly shorter than the other two 2 levels. I say this because the celery and pineapple both stuck up above the walls, even though you can’t tell from this photo.
  • The 2 levels that don’t have dividers aren’t very useful to me. They’re too big for what I consider a normal size dish. As you can see in the photo, the meatball and tomato dish I made only fills about half of it. (not to mention that the tomato juice would’ve leaked out if I’d taken this in my backpack to work with me)
  • To pack really efficiently, I need to get better at cutting things more consistently. Since I wasn’t thinking ahead that I needed to pack all this in a bento, I cut the celery stalks the way I always do, pretty haphazardly. Therefore, two of the pieces were too long to fit properly into the little section that the other pieces fit in.