In the Kitchen with Rachael Hutchings

Hello! My name is Rachael Hutchings and I am the founder/blogger of La Fuji Mama. When I moved to Japan for the first time in September of 2002, it was love at first sight. I was enthralled by all of the new sights and sounds, the culture, and above all, the food. We were the only foreigners in our neighborhood, situated on the outskirts of Yokohama, about a 25-minute train ride from downtown Tokyo. One of our neighbors was a young family of 4. The wife, Miki, reached out to me and began inviting me over to her home for “language exchanges” where we would communicate through sometimes comical attempts at speaking each other’s languages, and more often than not, hand gestures. It was in her kitchen that I had my first exposure to Japanese home cooking, and more specifically, to bentos. 
Miki had a young daughter who she packed a bento for every day to take to school. On many occasions I was in her home during this process. I was fascinated as I watched Miki lovingly prepare her daughter’s bentos. Little bits of different foods would be meticulously placed in a small bento box, and somehow the finished box always seemed to look like a work of art—a beautiful mix of color and texture. Although it would be several years before I had my first child, I acquired quite the collection of bento supplies during that first year of living in Japan.  

 Fast forward a few years when we found ourselves living in Japan for a second time. My first daughter, nicknamed “Squirrel,” was born in Tokyo and my bento collection continued to grow. When Squirrel started preschool, I was excited to start packing her bentos and use all of the bento gear I had accumulated over the years. Now I have three daughters, “Squirrel,” “Bug,” and “Monkey,” though Monkey is in preschool and still eats lunch at home. Over the past 10 years of bento packing I have developed my own way of doing things and have been posting pictures of my bentos on Instagram (@lafujimama) as a way to keep track of what I’ve been packing.

I love bentos, both for kids and adults. I am a visual person and love how bentos provide a method of packing a meal that is visually appealing. It makes packing them fun and helps take away some of the monotonous tedium of packing lunches every day. I also love bentos because they are a connection to the country that holds a piece of my heart and a way for me to send a bit of love with my kids to school each day.


Rachael’s Recipes

Broccolini Goma Ae
(Broccolini with Toasted Sesame Sauce)

Makes about 4 servings


8 ounces broccolini (including stalks), cut into 3 – 4 inch lengths

4 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds, divided

1 ½ teaspoons soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari)

2 teaspoons maple syrup  


  1. Rinse the broccolini under running water.  Trim the ends and cut them into 3 – 4 inch lengths.

  2. Set aside 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds.  To make the toasted sesame sauce, grind the remaining 3 tablespoons in a mortar and pestle.  Stir in the soy sauce and maple syrup, then set it aside.

  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add a pinch of salt.  Put the broccolini pieces into the boiling water. 

  4. While the broccolini is cooking, prepare a large bowl filled with ice water.

  5. Boil the broccolini for 2 minutes, then drain it and immediately transfer it to the prepared bowl of ice water.  

  6. Once chilled, drain the broccolini and toss it with the toasted sesame sauce.  Garnish with the 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds.  Serve immediately or pack in a bento.

Goma-ae is one of my favorite side dishes to pack in a bento. It is a classic Japanese dish made with vegetables tossed in a toasted sesame sauce. Two of the more common versions are made with spinach or green beans, but almost any vegetable will work! In my version I use maple syrup, instead of the traditional granulated sugar, but you can use any sweetener you prefer. Although I have included measurements, this is just a basic idea of how this dish works. I always adjust my amounts based on how the produce tastes. Sometimes I add more soy sauce or maple syrup, depending on what is tasting good with the vegetables I have chosen. Season it according to your tastes!

Instagram: @lafujimama
Website: La Fuji Mama