Forget cold-cut sandwiches: these packed lunches have cross-cultural flair
Joy is you! With the arrival of September comes the daily ritual of making lunches for the kiddies (or overgrown kiddies). Bread with cold cuts can have them whining “Boring!” pretty quickly, but luckily there’s plenty of cultural inspiration in the city to get you out of the sammie rut. Below, chefs and restaurateurs offer a peek into their children’s lunch boxes and give suggestions to help keep your kids’ palates entertained.
Taka Shimoshige, chef and owner of Hitoe Sushi (3347 West 4th Avenue), packs a divided bento box for his 11-year-old daughter to open in her school cafeteria. Though she devours spicy tuna rolls at home, he avoids using raw fish in her school lunches since they aren’t refrigerated and uses cooked ingredients instead.
He packs two cut-up sushi rolls, such as California or dynamite, in her bento box. He also includes four pieces of sushi, such as inari-zushi (bean-curd skin stuffed with rice) or ebi (cooked shrimp), tamago (egg omelette), or unagi (barbecued eel) nigiri. Shimoshige explains by phone that he gives his daughter soy sauce for dipping, but that she turns her nose up when it comes to wasabi and ginger.
Occasionally, instead of sushi, Shimoshige will pack his version of mac and cheese, which consists of stir-fried udon noodles topped with mentaiko (cod roe), mozzarella cheese, and bonito flakes. And, as a treat, he slips in a pack of Pocky that she can share with her schoolmates.
Lunches that deviate from the standard sandwich may be cool for many kids, but unfortunately, sometimes kids can be mean. Steve Kilewala’s experience suggests children don’t want to bring Indian food to school because they’re afraid of being made fun of by other students who consider their lunches to be too “smelly” or “different”. “Kids would rather go home and eat Indian food there,” he explains over the phone from Saffron Indian Cuisine (5–4300 Kingsway, Burnaby), where he is the dining-room manager.
Kilewala has two daughters, aged 16 and 18, and one son who is 22 years old. He says now that they’re older, his children are much more eager to take his Indian lunches to school and work. He offers them a roti wrap as a tasty sandwich substitute. To make prep faster during the morning rush, he fills the flatbread with leftovers from dinner like spiced cauliflower and potato (aloo gobi) and adds a dollop of yogurt as a cooling condiment.
Kilewala sometimes gives his children palak paneer, a curry with puréed spinach and Indian cheese young children tend to enjoy that’s high in protein and iron. Compared to meat curries, the dish stands up well without refrigeration. For dessert, he makes kheer, a creamy cardamom-infused rice pudding.
Mohammed Akbary, owner of Zaffron Palace (1855 Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver), claims that his kids aren’t shy about taking Persian lunches to school. “Anytime, they’ll eat my food,” he says. Akbary’s two daughters are now 22 and 28 years old, but when they were younger, they couldn’t wait until noon arrived so that they could break out what Dad had packed. Inside their lunch boxes were barbecued-chicken and ground-beef kebabs, spiced with saffron, as well as a side of Persian saffron basmati rice.
Also popular with the Akbary girls were kebab sandwiches, with the kebab meat wrapped in pita bread along with lettuce, pickles, mushrooms, parsley, tomato, onion, cucumber, and a drizzle of yogurt.
Eric Lee’s daughter is only a year old, but he’s already planning what he’ll give her when she reaches school age—the kind of lunches his mom used to pack for him. Lee, chef at Damso Modern Korean Cuisine (867 Denman Street), has a dream lunch box in store for his little girl. “There’ll be steamed rice, that’s for sure. It’ll be multigrain instead of regular white rice, because it’s healthier,” he explains in a phone interview. Along with the rice, Lee will give his daughter fermented sesame leaves to use as wrappers.
Lee will make fish cakes by mashing cooked cod or halibut with chopped onion and scallions. He’ll form the mixture into small rounds, dipping them in egg and then flour and pan-frying them until golden. Lee gets especially excited when he talks about the three kinds of kimchi he’ll include in the lunch box: regular cabbage kimchi, daikon kimchi, and white cabbage kimchi, which, unlike the others, isn’t seasoned with chili pepper.
Hopefully, if more parents give their children food from a wide variety of cultures for lunch, kids will be begging to trade their run-of-the-mill sandwiches for Lee’s daughter’s awesome Korean lunch.