From Publishers Weekly
Long on ideas but short on recipes, this guide to eye-catching bento box lunches delivers its promised 501 variants on the iconic Japanese single-portion takeout meal, even if the final product may be out of reach for its readers. Roughly organized by theme-art, cute, colorful, traditional, stylish, holidays-contributors provide plenty of ideas for vibrant, healthy lunches. After a brief overview of basics from Dye-quick assembly, packing for maximum efficiency-the volume sets some high standards with showpieces featuring edible geese made out of mushrooms and a whimsical green eggs-and-ham meal, before moving to more traditional fare incorporating sushi, teriyaki chicken and yakitori. Menus stretch beyond the Pacific rim, with easy-to-assemble staples like beef stew and, for younger diners, sandwiches in the shape of scowls or grins. Some empty-the-fridge scavenger hunts (wraps, taco kits) can feel like little more than repackaged leftovers, and some impractical suggestions (french fries, eggs or pancakes, arcane ingredients) prove misleading. Still, these are the exceptions to the rule, which includes practical instructions, emphasizes assembly rather than preparation, and employs a wide range of kitchen tools. Those well-versed in Japanese cuisine and who own lots of culinary doodads will benefit most; novice cooks looking for simple, whimsical school lunches will likely be overwhelmed.
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Most Americans may be unfamiliar with bento boxes. Ubiquitous in Japan, these lacquered boxes or partitioned trays serve to pack lunches or dinners for easy transportation. Mothers pack bento boxes with children’s school meals, and travelers grab prepackaged boxes at station kiosks before boarding trains. This little book aims to educate Westerners in the art of the bento box. Although it has a few brief recipes for the pictured foods, they are too abstract for those not adept in Japanese culinary practice. The book’s real value lies in its illustrations, which show what the fertile imagination can do to turn the bento box into a panoply of artistic invention. Rice takes on fantastic hues, vegetables get carved into just about every conceivable shape, and meats combine to create animal shapes, flower arrangements, echoes of museum paintings, and many, many more. Food stylists can glean plenty of ideas here. --Mark Knoblauch