“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf
Food is a fundamental pleasure, isn’t it? More than mere sustenance, food has the power to nourish the soul, inspire wonder, and unite different people. I’m sure everyone has at least one dish, which has left a lasting impression: a childhood favourite, a memory of a special meal, a coveted recipe passed down. Cooking and eating is the magic ingredient underpinning civilisation so it’s no wonder that you’ll find it everywhere, including our favourite geeky properties. In Foodie Fanservice, I’ll be looking at mouthwatering menus and cuisines in various anime, games and more – and maybe I’ll even recreate some iconic dishes (disclaimer: I’m not a very good cook)!
Dishing up instagrammable eats from FFXV, Food Wars’ gastro-porn, and the comfort foods of Midnight Diner, join me as we traverse the tables on this culinary adventure!
The Way of the House Husband
The Way of the House Husband is a gag manga about Tatsu, an ex-yakuza boss known as the Immortal Dragon and Tacchan more lovingly by his wife, Miku. Tatsu’s everyday consists of all sorts of domestic stuff like cleaning and cooking but you wouldn’t expect that from his intimidating appearance and mannerisms. A comedy of misunderstandings, Tatsu embodies the uber masculine gangster but underneath the yakuza-isms, his actions are mostly innocuous and helpful. Overall, he’s a stand up guy – honourable, unflappable and kind to his wife – and, though he won’t throw the first punch, he can ward off some punks with a pair of fuzzy gloves.
It’s a well-worn punchline but a good one that also works well to subvert the stereotypical roles of men and women. Tatsu is a house husband; Miku, an anime-loving career woman and this is played pretty straight. Both are obviously comfortable with their roles and respect each other. What I particularly like is that Tatsu feels no shame in making cute desserts or doing ‘housewifely’ things. He’ll wear a frilly magical girl apron just because it’s his wife’s favourite show. The Way of the House Husband has similarities with other series like Otomen or The High School Life of a Fudanshi that deal with men liking typically girly things but a key difference is that Tatsu’s inclinations are never treated like a deep, dark secret. There is no arc where the protagonist opens up and receives acceptance. There is no need to, because from the very start Tatsu doesn’t give a damn what people think.
I found this refreshing since stigma remains so prevalent and it’s all too easy to find backlash whenever one doesn’t fit into conventional or convenient boxes. Of course, this is a comedy elevated to eleven with over-the-top reactions and jokes – there’s no need to read a nuanced message in it but I believe that it still communicates something important.
The Immortal Dragon’s bento
I’ve talked a lot about the context of The Way of the House Husband but what about the food? The manga depicts many adorable dishes, like bear-shaped cookies or instagrammable parfaits but one of the most striking is the cute character bento in the first chapter. As the archetypal lunch of choice for Japanese housewives, this bento perfectly sets a comedic tone as the kitty-shaped rice balls and octo-wieners clash with Tatsu’s rough-and-ready image. Moreover, the bento is a dish loaded with symbolism. Homemade bentos involve a lot of effort and so are associated with care, sentimentality and homeliness. Think of parents who get up at ungodly hours to make nutritious, visually appealing lunchboxes for their children or the trope of highschoolers longing for a bento from their romantic interest. Love is the secret ingredient at the heart of the handmade bento.
According to Wikipedia, the bento’s name originally came from the Chinese word biandang meaning ‘convenience’. The Japanese term has been in usage since the 13th century when workers would carry a meal of rice wrapped up in cloth. From the 16th century onwards bentos became more popular, becoming the go-to picnic for special occasions like tea parties, hanami flower viewing, and festivals like the Hinamatsuri Doll’s festival. During the Edo era, theatres would serve a specific makunouchi bento during intermissions and the name apparently derives from the word maku (‘curtain’) – when the maku was down, it was time to tuck in! Bentos could be simple affairs, rice balls wrapped in a woven bamboo box, or luxurious meals in lacquered boxes but convenience remains a fundamental aspect to this day. Interestingly, the popularity of the bento declined after WW1 and WW2. Schools began to provide uniform lunches on the premise that bentos were a socially divisive indication of a student’s wealth (or lack of). From the 1980s, bentos made a comeback and nowadays you can commonly buy them at convenience stores and train stations; the latter are called ekibento and often feature local specialities to exhibit their region’s unique qualities. More generally, bento culture has spread far beyond Japanese and Asian borders. Over here in the UK, many Japanese and Korean restaurants sell compartmentalised bentos for lunch and it wouldn’t be unusual to see a worker eating a Japanese-style bento box filled with sandwiches or leftovers at their desk.
Tatsu’s bento is what you call a kyaraben/charaben, short for character bento, or a decoben, short for decorated bento. As you can guess, these are lunches designed with a beautiful appearance in mind. I guess it’s more appealing to eat your veggies, if they’re cut up like flowers 😅. Food art is a growing phenomenon and a quick Google search demonstrates how creative people can be with a simple canvas of rice. There are competitions around the world to show off your kyaraben designs, numerous cookbooks and tools on how to achieve that perfect seaweed kitty whisker, and indeed articles about the dark side of bento envy and social pressure.
Personally, I don’t usually make much of an effort on presenting food nicely. I sometimes make (ugly) bentos at home, because they encourage good portion control and I love the variety of side dishes but I’d never get up in the wee hours of the morning to make an aesthetically pleasing bento. As such, making Tatsu’s adorable kyaraben was a challenge!
Unfortunately, we don’t actually see Miku enjoy the results but they certainly look yummy! Due to the lack of colour and close-shots in the manga, I had to guess some of the components of the bento. I’d say it’s a nicely balanced meal with carbs, protein, dairy, a token vegetable side and lettuce leaves acting as dividers. Thankfully, only the kitty-shaped rice ball seemed intricate so my confidence level was pretty high at this point.
Alright, onto the recreation!
Since there are many parts, I organised a one-man production line to turn out the dishes efficiently. I know bentos usually have a gap between plating and eating but I was hungry and prefer hot food and so planned to eat my finished bento immediately.
My cooking order went:
Rice > Tamagoyaki > Sesame Beans and Enoki > Karaage > Octo-wieners
Rice. Rice is nice. I love rice – I could eat it every day! I do not like character-shaped rice balls but we’ll get to that in a moment. The actual rice making is easy:
- Make it in a pot, a rice cooker or a pressure cooker.
- Bung your rice into the cooking basket of your choice, wash until clear and add enough water to cover it a little over a centimetre.
- Cook the rice
- Make the rice vinegar. It’s easy to find sushi seasoning but my slapdash mix of ¼ rice vinegar, 1tbs of sugar, and a dash of dashi/bonito sauce did the job. When the rice has cooled slightly, incorporate the seasoning evenly through the rice. Don’t MASH it and let it cool even more before shaping.
- Make it pretty – hahahaha
Not going to lie, it took about 15 infuriating minutes to make one pathetic excuse of a cat 😢. Kudos to people who make cute stuff but it’s not worth it for me. Between getting sticky rice everywhere, having the ball break apart in my hulk hands multiple times and having to tweezer on painstakingly cut seaweed details – I gave up on making two portions before I busted a vein. A bed of rice is just as nice!
Tip: Don’t even try to shape rice without a bowl of water on hand
I actually make tamagoyaki quite often as a side dish. It requires some practice to get that fluffy log with a clean swirl but don’t worry too much if you scramble it – it’ll still be delicious! You don’t need a dedicated rectangular pan to roll the egg but a decent non-stick frying pan is key.
- Whisk three-four eggs with 1tbs of soy/dashi sauce, 1tbs of sugar (I like mine sweet but add less/add salt if you want a more savoury flavour) and a dash of milk. I never actually measure the milk but tend to look for a mellow yellow colour. The mixture shouldn’t be too thin, otherwise it’ll be hard to roll.
- Heat up the frying pan and be liberal with the oil. Use a sheet of kitchen roll to distribute the oil evenly across the surface. Turn down to low/medium heat – it’ll give you more time and no one likes burnt omelette.
- Once heated, add a thin layer of the egg mixture and swirl it around to cover the pan. Don’t worry how this first layer turns out. It’s a bit like a pancake – you’re looking for the egg to start bubbling and it should look half cooked before rolling. For the first layer, I just shove it to one side. For the next layers, I do a gentle flip-roll across the pan.
- Add more egg mixture to make the second layer. Lift the rolled up first layer so some of the fresh mixture ends up on the underside. Let it cook and roll again.
- Repeat until egg mixture is finished. I tend to finish a batch with 3-4 layers.
- Take the log carefully out of the hot pan and let it cool. You can use cling film to tighten the log up like plastic spanx but I generally let my messy ones be.
- Cut into slices. Tamagoyaki is tasty cold or warm so this is a good dish to prepare in advance.
Tip: Be patient when rolling but don’t obsess over every breakage. Also, stay at your station – since the egg layers are so thin, it can be quick to burn.
Sesame beans and enoki mushrooms
I think this is a nice side-dish for most Asian meals. Green beans are cheap, healthy and so easy to cook! It doesn’t need much seasoning. I made it sesame style but just cook it with salt/soy sauce/butter, if that’s all you have.
- Top and tail the beans. Cut the enoki mushrooms into little bits.
- Cook them however you want – I prefer frying in sesame oil – but boiling/grilling/steaming are all great. Since the mushrooms are much smaller, I added them at the end for a minute.
- Toss the cooked beans and mushrooms in your seasoning of choice. I used 1tbs of sesame oil, ½ tsp of soy sauce, ½ tsp mirin, a knob of butter and a handful of toasted sesame seeds.
Tip: Cut the beans uniformly – they’ll cook more evenly.
Welcome to the main dish! Everyone likes fried meat, right?
- Cut boneless, skinless chicken thighs into two inch chunks. Marinate them in a mixture of 3tbs of soy sauce, 2tbs of mirin, 1tbs of sake/cooking alcohol (I used shaoxing wine), 1tbs chopped/pureed garlic, 1tsp of grated ginger and 1tsp of sesame oil. Let it marinate overnight. Trust me, the flavours are worth it.
- When it’s fry time, add a few tablespoons of cornflour to lightly coat the chicken and mix it up. I used a largish frying pan to shallow-deep fry it (?). I basically didn’t want to deep fry it properly since it’s too much faff so I just added a generous layer of oil in the pan (about 1cm) and used a cover as well.
- Fry the chicken to a golden glow. Most advice states that you shouldn’t overcrowd the pan but I winged it and it turned out decently.
Tip: Use tongs/chopsticks to flip the chicken and turn on your extractor fan – unless you want to be tempted by the smell of fried chicken for the rest of the day.
Cute, delicious but deceptively easy to make?! I approve!
- Divide your frankfurters into two inch lengths.
- Take a piece and make a cross on one end to create four ‘legs’.
- Fry the wieners! The heat will make the legs warp into those distinctive curls.
Tip: Don’t forget to have ketchup on the side!
If you’re good at packing, this is your time to shine. This should be the creative, fun part but I was really hungry by this time. It’s tough plating fried chicken just so when you just want to eat it! Anyway, I tried to position things somewhat attractively, using lettuce leaves to divide the components and adding a few chopped tomatoes for colour. I have no idea how Tatsu could fit so much stuff into a relatively small looking bento box as my two-tiered one was straining to burst!
Overall, it took about one hour and fifteen minutes according to my timer but this did not include clean-up afterwards nor was the bento particularly elaborate. Also, it was non-stop cooking. Usually, I have some downtime when cooking but I was constantly prepping something the entire time. It was quite tiring but I could see it being significantly easier if more things were prepared in advance. This is why leftovers are so useful! If I took out shaping the rice and maybe only cooked one fresh dish, this would’ve been much more manageable.
That said, the results were delicious!
You can definitely simplify things with some good planning. That said, any meal with so many components will take time and effort to devise and execute.
Deliciousness: CHAOTIC DELICIOUSNESS
The joy of bentos is that they are really so versatile. Rice-less bentos, themed bentos, dessert bentos – the possibilities are endless!
Top tip: If all else fails, cram it in and enjoy your ugly masterpiece.
Thanks for reading – until next dine!
4 thoughts on “Foodie Fanservice: The Way of the House Husband (Bento)”
This looks like fun. 🙂
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It was! I had my gripes but I’m glad I did it 😁
The rice cat does look rather cute. Although yeah, a giant pain to make, I’m sure. And I’m impressed you get tamagoyaki going on the regular. I’ve tried a few times, and never ended up with anything but basically scrambled eggs out of it.
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Thank you! I really like to eat tamagoyaki/scrambled eggs so I tend to not mind so much about the appearance but it took me a couple of tries to get down for sure. I’ve never tried a rectangular pan but that might help with shaping. Either way, nothing wrong with tasty scrambled egg 👍
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