Tim Anderson on Japanese Bento & Satisfying Food

Tim Anderson is on a mission to show how versatile, simple and delicious Japanese food can be. 

In Bowls and Bento, the latest book in his JapanEasy series, Tim shows you how to harness the satisfying and simple principles of Japanese Bento and make your own delicious bowls from scratch at home.  

We spoke to Tim about why he thinks this cuisine and its simple formula is taking the West by storm, and shared with us his secrets and tips to joy-filled Japanese cooking. 

Shop Tim's top picks from his exclusive curated collection for Sous Chef. Or get cooking his recipes straight away with the JapanEasy Bento & Bowls cookbook and ingredients set. 

Japan Easy Bowls & Bento Cookbook & Ingredients Set

What made you fall in love with this country’s cuisine?

When I first became interested in Japanese food as part of a broader interest I had in Japanese pop culture. Over time I tried to learn as much as I could, and wound up studying Japanese food culture in college, which led to studying food across the country in 2005. That’s when my Japanese food horizons really expanded. 

As I’m writing this, I’m at Haneda airport en route to Hokkaido to study the regional cuisines there. I’ve realised in preparing for the trip that even that one island has an unfathomably rich food culture that would take years to fully understand. But I quite like that – the feeling that there’s always something new to learn.

The popularity of bento has skyrocketed in the West recently. Why do you think it has become so popular?

I think that has to be connected to a generally favourable view of Japan in terms of cultural and geopolitical affinity. Food is a natural part of that. 

Japanese food has the ability to fit in well with a number of British food trends and ideologies, including seasonality, simplicity, ingredient-led cooking, and cosmopolitanism, as well as ‘clean eating’ and the reactionary ‘dirty food’ fads that arose about ten years ago. 

Bento are a Japanese cuisine in microcosm – they contain all the same flavours, ingredients, and aesthetics that people have come to love, and frankly, they’re just a more exciting offer than most typical British lunch options.

How do you go about building your Japanese meals?

I very loosely structure my Japanese meals – breakfasts, mainly – around the traditional format called ichijū sansai: one soup, three sides. 

Start with miso soup, rice, and pickles, and then add up to three small vegetable or protein sides. A typical breakfast for me is rice, miso soup, pickles or some kind of similar raw veg preparation, and then either a grilled fish or egg dish, and usually one other veg dish, something simple like steamed broccoli with sesame dressing. 

Most of this stuff is very quick to prepare ahead of time, so it’s a surprisingly quick meal to put together – if you have a rice cooker, that is!

One of the key features of the book’s recipes is satisfying Japanese food. What makes a satisfying meal to you?

I actually realised in writing the book that the combination of a solid serving of carbs with a good quantity of hot liquid, like a soup or a broth, makes for a super-satisfying meal even if there’s not much to it than that. 

And it’s no wonder they’re so satisfying – a bowl of ramen is more than a pint of food! Have that with a beer and there’s not much room left.

Why is making Japanese food simple, accessible and practical  something that is important in your recipes?

The Japaneasy series has always been about trying to convince people that Japanese food is achievable on an everyday basis.

The easiest way to tackle this is through the Japanese practice of tsukurioki – ‘prep ahead,’ simply – which is all about batch-cooking dishes that will last for several days, and can be enjoyed either cold or reheated.

This book is all about showing people how to make Japanese food efficiently, and showing them that they can have it not only for weekday dinners but breakfasts and lunches, too. 

Cuckoo Electric Rice Cooker 0.5L - 3 Persons

What one tip for Bento & Bowls everyone should know?

Get a good rice cooker with a timer! This is literally life-saving. If you have this, and instant miso soup, you can literally make Japanese meals in 15 minutes or less.

What Bento dish do you make most often?

It’s a bit boring, but the marinated ‘ramen eggs’ or simply salt-grilled salmon are fridge staples. They’re easy to prepare, delicious with rice, and can be dished up in minutes.

Find our Ramen Egg recipe here

What’s your favourite ingredient to cook with right now?

I’ve been on a big mince kick lately – it’s so versatile. There are a few great mince recipes in the book, like the peanut butter tan tan men, ‘gyoza filling’ rice bowl, and mapo aubergine.

What is your favourite style of Bento box?

I like bento that are quite simple and quite meaty. The grilled pork belly with salted leek relish recipe makes an excellent, filling bento for me. 

What is one recipe everyone should try from Bowls & Bento? 

Anything from the little section on microwaved veg! I started cooking veg in the microwave about a year ago, and it’s amazing. My favourite recipes are the mapo aubergine and the runner beans with yuzu miso.

Want more Japanese flavour inspiration? Check out Tim Anderson's exclusive curated collection for Sous Chef. 


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