Recently, while scrolling through a Facebook group called “Subtle Asian Traits” (a place for Asian people to post memes and niche references, most of which, as an adopted Korean-American, go straight over my head), I spotted a video of someone cooking slices of raw fish in a little bento box–looking contraption at their office desk. Perplexed, I clicked on the video, and found a link to the box’s brand, Itaki, whose website I immediately started poking around. According to Itaki, the bento box I’d seen in the video was electrically powered, and allowed a person to “cook anything from scratch, from leftovers to fresh ingredients, in as little as 30 minutes, wherever, whenever you want!” (Including, said the website, “the office, classroom, or even your car, if your vehicle has an outlet!”) I had to own it, but the price point — $49.95, plus shipping — was simply too high. I headed over Amazon to find something similar.
I was not lacking in options. A simple google search for “electric lunch box” on Amazon yielded some 400 results. Only half of them, it seemed, were capable of actually cooking food, not just heating it up. Based on its plethora of positive reviews, I decided to go with the $26 KOBWA Multifunctional Electric Lunch Box. When it arrived, I was able to figure out quickly how the whole thing worked: a circular heat source on the bottom heats up a small container on top meant for water, which then slowly cooks the food that lays inside small container on top of that. I tested it first with a packet of ramen — I poured water in the water container, the seasoning packet, the ramen block, and some thinly sliced boneless pork chop in the little box above, latched the side clips which secure the top (which has vents for steaming) to the base, then set a timer for 15 minutes. Then I opened it back up, added in an egg and some greens and let it go for another five minutes. It was basically perfect: satisfying and filling and almost entirely hands-off.
Soon after, I attempted sushi rice, and it came out perfectly fluffy in 20 minutes. Then udon noodle soup (I simmered the broth first, and added in a puck of pre-cooked udon at the very end — it was delightful). I grew so confident that I used it to steam a piece of fish and some greens at my desk. I’ve since used it for slightly less ambitious projects, too: I recently reheated some leftover butternut squash soup in 12 minutes, while simultaneously heating up some flatbread on the upper level for dipping — all while I worked on finishing up a story.
In case you thought I was the only electric bento box obsessive out there: I am not. A whole cadre exists online — you could (and I have) wasted hours watching Korean YouTuber TheDaBoki experiment with making various meals in his electric lunch box (he recently successfully made steamed dumplings). And though I may not be an electric lunch box influencer like DaBoki, it brings me great pleasure to be able to create a hot lunch — as I type this, I am making udon noodle soup and steaming a frozen pork bun simultaneously in my bento — without lifting a finger, or touching the dreaded office microwave.