I have been looking and looking for a good book in English that matches the quality of information in Japanese books about bento lunches and charaben (cute decorated bentos). This one comes the closest. No wonder really, since it is a translation of a popular Japanese bento book! The photos are really clear, and the directions are easy to follow. Anyone can start making their own bentos, decorative or not, from this book. I just took off one star because it does use a number of ingredients that may be unfamiliar to non-Japanese readers, and doesn't really describe them. (That's where bento blogs step in.) It's still practical to use for an American bento enthusiast.
I just received this book and I am very excited about it. I know some other Bento Books have been lacking when it comes to recipes, but this one is loaded with good ones. The recipes are a little quick and are pretty self explanatory. This is a good starter book for ideas, but some people who have never heard of some of the ingredients used will be lost. (That is what google is for) Overall, Its a great book with clear pictures and descriptions. The last few pages are color coded to the color food you want in your bento. If you want more yellow in your lunch, the recipe for curried cauliflower, more red.. shrimp in chili sauce.. etc etc.. Which is a good asset to avoid having a monochromatic bento lunch. I would also buy Hana Sushi for better sushi ideas.
I live in Japan so I can get all the ingredients listed which makes this book extremely convenient for me. My daughter pretty much took onigiri (rice balls) or some form of rice for lunch her entire first year in youchien (preschool). Now she's asking me for stuff she sees her friends bringing to school so I wanted to get a bento cook book in English. I am so happy I got this one! First of all, my two daughters look at this book daily to point out things they want to try or to determine the following day's menu. They've even put tabs of paper in each page that has something they want to eat (which means there is a tab on nearly every page). Granted a lot of this is Japanese style food and may be way to out of the ordinary for the average American. My daughter is an extremely picky eater and has stepped out of her comfort zone and eaten things she wouldn't normally since using this cookbook. A word of caution, each recipe lists how long it will take to make but I find them to be off. It doesn't include time it takes to cook rice and other important steps. Also, if you are a novice like me it takes a lot longer to make some of the details. Second, it uses ingredients that aren't exactly common in America. Quail eggs are at all the stores here, but I can't think of ever seeing them in America. I have included pictures of 5 different bentos I made last week with notes on the pictures. This will give you an idea of some of the recipes in the book. Also, I mix and match recipes based on what I have fresh in the kitchen. If you are thinking about moving away from the standard American lunch then I would definitely look into Kawaii Bento Boxes, everyone in this house loves it!
I first attempted making lunch for my 2 daughters and myself bento style about 3 years ago. I started by following bento blogs like Just Bento and Lunch in a Box. Both are great resources, but when it came to putting together 3 lunches everyday, I ran out of inspiration (and time). My lunches ended up usually just being leftovers from dinner the night before, which is boring even it it's served in a cute lunch box. I stopped making lunch because this school year we moved to a district with better lunch offerings, and the kids wanted to buy lunch instead of taking it. A couple weeks ago my 11 year old mentioned that she usually got pizza and french fries instead of the daily lunch offering, and I decided it was high time to dust off my collection of bento boxes and get cooking.
I have several traditional bento cookbooks, and though they're lovely to look at, I very rarely use them for lunch recipes. This book, however, was a game changer. The pictures and menus give me ideas for combinations that are tasty together, easy to make, and pleasingly attractive. One photo showed thinly sliced beef rolled around green beans and carrot sections. Grocery stores don't have steak sliced as thinly as shown in the book, but breakfast steaks pounded to death with a meat tenderizer worked great. Inspired by the photos, I used leftover taco meat and Mexican rice to make a staggeringly inauthentic (but yummy) version of fried rice, served with a hard boiled egg, corn with blanched spinach, cherry tomatoes stuffed with cheese, and fruit.
I don't know how good this book will be for a beginning cook, as the recipes can be sparse on specifics like temperature and cooking times, and some require ingredients that may not be stocked at your local grocery store.Read more ›
Let me start by saying that I love the format of this book. There are tons of photos and nothing looks too "perfect" (some of the cucumbers looked a little rancid- lol) so you can see what it will really look like if you make it.
That being said, I probably won't make anything in it. The reason I pack bento lunches for my children is for their health and the sake of the environment- which I believe is common in the USA as cute bento lunches aren't a cultural norm like they are in other countries. The meals in this book looked cute but a lot of the items in the pictures were frozen, processed foods (like these french fries with faces). Also, there are a lot of really unhealthy meats shown which I would just never use in a bento. I can not see my children eating some of the foods cold in a bento- like the omelets- though they might like them hot.
It gets 3 stars because the photos are pretty inspirational and for the section on how to cut some fruits and veggies to make good garnishes. That was cute.
Bottom line: If you are looking for inspiration, this is great. If you want recipes, try another book.