Tuesday, December 04, 2007
One of my husband's students gave him the very cute "bento" pictured above. All of the candy is hard sugar candy fashioned to resemble typical Japanese boxed lunch fare. The "rice" is made up of white "konpeito" which I usually don't see in markets unless it's around the time of the Children's Day holiday or White Day. Most people assume konpeito is candy of Japanese origin but it's actually from Portugal.
The red candy in the middle of the "rice" represents umeboshi (a very sour pickled plum). Umeboshi is one of those things, along with natto (sticky, stinky fermented soybeans), that the Japanese delight in asking foreigners if they like or not. Most of them assume we'll hate them because they are very sour, but I actually like them. It's not the sort of thing you'd snack on but they are a nice accompaniment to certain dishes. When I worked in Nishi-Shinjuku, there was a tonkatsu (breaded, fried pork cutlet) restaurant near our office which kept a little pot full of umeboshi on the table for patrons to partake of while eating their meal. I haven't really had much umeboshi since then, but one of my students brought me an umeboshi hard candy which was popular at her company. While I really like umeboshi, I think it's not the sort of thing that goes well with sugar.
Other items being mimicked in this candy bento appear to include an orange slice, a mushroom, various Japanese pickles, and possibly a carrot. There's even a little fake piece of plastic greenery in it like regular real bento. I'm not sure what the point of these little bits of plastic are, but they look like a little hedge of grass and are used to embellish raw meat sold in trays in finer shops in addition to bento. The tray is made of plastic meant to imitate traditional Japanese lacquer ware.
This is a very cute little souvenir, but it's so precious that it's almost too cute to eat. Fortunately, there's a little silica gel packet in it to preserve it so you can keep it around for awhile if you'd prefer to look at it rather than eat it. Even though I'm not a great fan of sugar-based hard candy (because of the impact on my teeth), I did sample a piece and the colors do appear to relate to the flavors. The piece that looks like a carrot is orange-flavored and quite nice for a bit of hard candy. The main problem is that some of the larger pieces are too big to comfortably hold in your mouth for the duration that it takes to consume it.