Ghibli feast #5: My Neighbor Totoro

May 17, 2010

in bento,non bento

Day 2 of Ghibli feast

Ghibli feast #5: My Neighbor Totoro

What food can you think of from the film My Neighbor Totoro?

The vegetables they chilled in the river look great, don’t they? But unfortunately, I HATE cucumber. There are two foods I don’t like and will not eat. Cucumber and cilantro. I don’t just HATE them I DESPISE them. It’s not like I’ve never had it. I’ve tried them and decided that I’d never eat them again. All my friends think it’s the funny that I HATE cucumber though. They say it’s the most non-offensive food, and they never met anyone who HATES it.

Anyway, enough with that evil food…

The other popular food in the film is freshly harvested corn. Mei and Satsuki carves “To mom” on the outside the corn and delivers it to their mom. The scene is very moving, but the uncooked corn is not much of a “food.” You can also see Mei eating caramel candy on the back of the truck, and the rice cakes and bean cakes the old lady made look delicious too. But we had toast with an egg, pancakes and sausage, fish and pumpkin pot pie before this, and we hadn’t had rice yet that day. So us being big rice lovers, I decided to make the bento box Satsuki prepares for Mei in the film.

I love that Satsuki and Mei cook for themselves. They’re both very young, yet it looks like they’ve been cooking since they’re even younger. Satsuki doesn’t waste any time when she cooks, and you can see Mei grilling fish outside. While she cooks breakfast, she also packs lunch boxes for her father, herself and Mei.

[Mei's bento made by Satsuki]

Ghibli feast #5: My Neighbor Totoro

The fish was pretty small, and I figured it was either shishamo (salt water smelts) or mezashi (Japanese anchovy). I found good shishamo at a Japanese super market, so I decided to use shishamo. If you’ve been to Japanese style izakaya, you might have had shishamo. It’s about 4 inch long, and usually grilled. You eat the whole thing, from the head to the tail. The bones are so small that you don’t feel them at all. It sometimes comes with a slice or lemon and grated radish.

I love shishamo but I’ve never actually cooked it, so I looked for the best way to cook grilled shishamo without a grill. The only thing you have to be careful when you’re cooking shishamo is that he fish is so small and the skin is very thin, if you don’t cook it well until it’s dry, the skin will stick to the bottom of the pan and break off when you try to flip it. After looking at a couple of different methods, I decided to use the frying pan with parchment paper method. I don’t recommend aluminum foil because the fish’s skin may stick to the foil.

Put parchment paper on the pan, and gently lay shishamo on it. (No oil needed)

shishamo 1

Nice shiny fishy!

Cook them in low to mid-heat, until the skin is completely dry. The water drips out from the fish, and start to sizzle, but don’t move the fish!

When you think the skin is dry, hold the tail gently and lift the fish. If the skin isn’t stuck to the bottom, flip it over, and cook until nice and brown. If the skin is still stuck to the bottom, keep cooking.

That’s it!

It sounds simple and easy but the important thing is to wait for the skin to dry completely. I can’t remember exactly how long I cooked, but it took a lot longer than I expected. While I was cooking, I tried to lift the fish a couple of times because the skin looked pretty dry. But the skin on the bottom was still stuck to the paper, so I let it go. At that point, I wasn’t sure if the fish would come out good, but after a long wait, I tried to lift the tail again, and it came off the paper very easily. So if you’re making this, just be very very patient.

shishamo 2

This is after I flipped the fish. (*The brown stains on the paper is the juice from fish.)

I also tried to cook some in a toaster oven. (I put parchment paper on top of aluminum foil.) It came out fine, but I felt that the ones cooked on the frying pan were juicier on the inside. Also the fishy smell stays inside the oven for a while.

shishamo 3

Cooked in the toaster oven.

Before I started packing the bento, I studied the bento carefully again.
I realized that Satsuki filled the whole bento box with rice! I totally thought the other side of the bento box had vegetables or something, but you can the whole bento is filled with rice. I guess the Kusakabe family really loves rice.

Ghibli feast #5: My Neighbor Totoro

Look how much rice each bento box has!

I filled the bento box with rice, and put shishamo in the middle. I sprinkled sakura denbu on rice, and put a sour plum. Then I put sweet peas I had bought, and realized that it probably wasn’t sweet peas in Mei’s bento… I didn’t think the color would be so different. =/

Ghibli feast #5: My Neighbor Totoro

I bought a bento box similar to Mei's for this feast. It's actually very tiny. 5-ich long, and 3-inch wide.

Ghibli feast #5: My Neighbor Totoro

The color might be off, but it still tasted goooood.

Well, I couldn’t help it, so I got regular peas later, and made the bento again.

Ghibli feast #5: My Neighbor Totoro

These look more like the peas in Mei's bento.

Ghibli feast #5: My Neighbor Totoro

The greener the definitely better.

Ghibli feast #5: My Neighbor Totoro

Just looking at the sour plum makes me salivate. :P

Sakura denbu is basically sweet fish powder dyed pink. It’s mainly used for sushi (rolls) but can be used on regular rice. I thought maybe the pink stuff could be salmon flakes at first, but when I did the research, pretty much everyone believed that it was sakura denbu.

Sakura Denbu

Saura denbu: I remember eating it in secret when I was little. It tasted so sweet and good that it made me feel like I was doing something wrong.



Ghibli feast #5: My Neighbor Totoro

Simple, but you can appreciate the flavor of each food.




It made more sense when I actually ate the bento. Sour plum is very sour, and shishamo is kinda salty, so the sweet sakura denbu was the perfect neutralizer. As I ate this bento, I wondered if I’d have liked it at Mei’s age. Sour plum, grilled fish, and peas… Not sure if I’d be so excited and jumping up and down for it. As matter of a fact, I didn’t like sour plum when I was little because it was too sour. I guess good kids like them appreciated any food back then.

Eating this bento reminded me of how my dad always made me rice balls with sour plum in it, and I always had to remind him that I didn’t like sour plums. He’d just say “Oh, you don’t like them?” I don’t think I’ve told him that I can eat sour plum now but I don’t think it really matters anymore. He probably still doesn’t remember that I didn’t like sour plum anyway.

Our next feast was Spirited Away!

You can also see these pictures in Ghibi feast set on my flickr page!

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

ElenaNo Gravatar May 18, 2010 at 8:58 am

You have just found another cucumber-hater….hehehe
And form the other side of the world: Spain.
I also thought I was the only one, I’m released there are two of us at least!!!

PD: Sorry for my english


nicoleNo Gravatar May 18, 2010 at 10:20 am

I thought I was the only one that hated cilantro and cucumbers!
This bento looks yummy, and pretty easy to make if you have the fish.
It really does look exactly like the picture.

Love totoro <3


Jen @ Tiny Urban KitchenNo Gravatar May 18, 2010 at 11:11 am

Can I tell you how much I LOVE this movie food series? I like how you try really hard to be accurate, and I love the side-by-side comparisons with the movie shots. :)


MeaganNo Gravatar May 18, 2010 at 11:36 am

I don’t like cilantro or cucumbers either! I keep trying cucumbers, but they’re always just as gross as the time before. My family picks on me because I eat all kinds of other crazy stuff, but not cucumbers.

I think a support group is in order XD


JustinNo Gravatar May 18, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Love it


shawnaNo Gravatar May 19, 2010 at 1:20 am

my children love this movie, and Kiki’s Delivery Service too. You are amazing!


yakuNo Gravatar May 19, 2010 at 3:01 am

Wow you even had a bento the same shape and almost same color O_o I’m so far loving this posts of Ghibli menus, I wonder if the Ghibli museum should take some tips from you and recreate the food in their restaurants.

I don’t like cucumber either (unless it’s for a facial) so I don’t understand the people who say it’s a non-offensive food. It’s seems pretty offensive to me :D (I understand it’s not as aggressive in regards of taste or smell as other food, but doesn’t redeem the fact it’s disgusting for some people)


ConnieNo Gravatar May 19, 2010 at 3:17 am

OMG You are so awesome beyond words…..
I’ve been following you for a while but this Ghibli series~ it’s such a cool idea
That fish pie is just….I’m speechless


MarooNo Gravatar May 19, 2010 at 10:14 am

The bento looks really good! But you’re right, so many rice LOL. I wanna try the sakura denbu… XD


AliyahNo Gravatar May 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm

I don’t like cucumbers either! Never had cilantro, so i can’t say….

But YAY! I love this Ghibli series and it’s great to find site with bento recipes! I’m just starting to get into them, though i’ve been loving the idea since seeing My Neighbor Totoro for the first time. I was younger than Mei :) (Fav movie ever btw)

If you need more ideas after you finish this series, please do a series on bentos for super-tasters, or one for school kids with veeeeeeery limited time in the mornings. That would probably make my year!

Thanks so much!
Aliyah, NJ USA (xD)


suliNo Gravatar June 5, 2010 at 3:25 am

clap, clap, clap!

I always wondered about the pink thing on the rice


AnaNo Gravatar June 15, 2010 at 9:44 am

The bento looks really good! But you’re right, so many rice LOL. I wanna try the sakura denbu… XD


yakuNo Gravatar July 16, 2010 at 12:15 am

May I ask you something? can wax paper be used instead of parchment? I was wondering in case I could use just what I have around the house instead of buying more things to clutter the drawes, thank you so much ^^


AnnaTheRedNo Gravatar July 18, 2010 at 12:42 am

Hi yaku

I’d definitely get parchment paper for cooking shishamo. I’ve used wax paper by mistake when I made Totoro cream puffs before, and the wax paper started smoking! Waxed paper is not meant for use in the oven or direct heat because the wax will start melting. Parchment paper has a different coating than wax paper, and can withstand very high temperatures. (You can check the package of parchment paper for details)


yakuNo Gravatar July 18, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Thank goodness I waited for your help or else I would’ve ended up with a house full of smoke! =D thank you so much for your advice, will buy some parchment paper asap ^^


BNo Gravatar July 30, 2010 at 4:31 pm

You are unimaginably imaginative!!! I found your site today and i can’t stop reading everything. The first thing i will try is to dye the eggs to yellow, red and blue :) Thank you for sharing your creativity and craftsmanship. They are wonderful.


LillianNo Gravatar October 6, 2011 at 5:09 am

The color and texture of the green stuff reminded me of uguisu mame, which is also sweet…?


madeofsteamNo Gravatar June 25, 2012 at 6:25 pm

awww I love your real life ghibli food sooooo much. Its funny how much of a part the food is in these charming little movies or maybe its just the care and detail that makes them seam that way. I love the homespun feel of the cooking scenes to and the totoro bento scene and Kiki’s herring pie are so adorable I think about kiki everytime I make pancakes and how being broke eating pancakes will make me fat fat faaaaat…now if only I had an above charming bakery loft overlooking the sea!

AAAAAAAAnny ways I remember in the movie (and I might be rong cause its been so long now since Ive watched it…shamefull) that she was chopping up what looked like chard or kale and Im thinking it was probobly something of that nature cooked down (personaly BLEGH) but I like your substitute.

ALSO Im crazy excited to go to our asian market and try to find some sour plums. sounds awsome!

what I like to do with cucumbers is peel them then scrape out the seedy squishy part then slice them real thin or chop them real small then squeeze lime juce on them and sprinkle some salt and toss them into a salad

alot of efort for something that will never effect your life either way ;P

verry nifty project TWO THUMBS UP


Tina IgnatievNo Gravatar July 2, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Could it be soy beans instead of English peas?


Greg LNo Gravatar December 3, 2012 at 11:16 am

How bout the bacon & eggs from Howl’s Moving Castle?


beccaNo Gravatar March 6, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I’ve always thought the pink stuff was either mentaiko or tarako o:


theashweeNo Gravatar January 24, 2014 at 8:57 pm

I’m in love with your blog! I attempted a few of these myself, but yours actually turned out PERFECT!


CatNo Gravatar August 30, 2014 at 8:18 pm

I love your blog. The food in ghibli movies always made me hungry, thanks! :)
Just like you I cannot stand cucumber. Even the smell of it puts me off. My dad has the same thing, we both hate cucumber. Apparently people are repulsed by cucumber and this is because of a gene! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenylthiocarbamide !! http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/72/6/1424.full


CarrieNo Gravatar February 6, 2015 at 1:52 pm

This is adorable! I found it when searching for inspiration for our Fiction Kitchen podcast where I made a version: http://www.fictionkitchenpodcast.com/fried-smelt-sesame-greens-daikon-pickle-totoro-bento/ I’d like to try the smelt the way you did it!


MelanieNo Gravatar May 10, 2015 at 2:17 am

I would have thought it might be edamame instead of peas. But whatever it is, it sure looks delicious ♥


yae-rimNo Gravatar November 15, 2015 at 12:00 pm

The green peas would’ve probably been edamame beans I think. Anyways, I love your blog so far!! Keep it up :3


orinoco wombleNo Gravatar July 28, 2016 at 11:26 pm

I really enjoyed this blogpost! Re: peas, in the morning scene Satsuki is chopping and cooking chard. According to NHK World’s cooking shows, chard is so common in Japan that they just refer to it as “greens”. Since the grilled fish are also in the bento, I always assumed that the green stuff in the box would be the chard she just cooked. I also think that Mei is jumping up and down, not because of what’s in the bento, but because she gets to have a bento too, just like Satsuki, even though she’s not going to school that day. Remember how she puts on her hat and asks Dad “Do I look like a big girl?”

I will admit I searched until I found a bento box that looked just like Mei’s! It was this very film that got me interested in Japanese food. Growing up in the 60s the only dish we knew about was teryaki, and frankly I could take it or leave it. Sushi is OK, but it was when I learned about things like miso soup and kara-age and…oh yum…time to plan lunch!


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