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Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals on the Go Perfect Paperback – September 28, 2001
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About the Author
Naomi Kijima is a well known cookbook author and teacher in Japan. She has appeared on Japanese television and her recipes are regularly featured in women's magazines and newspapers there.
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The structure of the cookbook is designed to build a variety of bento boxes: First, one is presented with complete boxes that are traditional Japanese favorites - crispy mackerel, beef sukiyaki, chicken dumplings, inari-zuzhi/maki-zushi, chicken-tofu rice ... Next one learns to vary elements with protein and vegetable recipes using crisp frying, grilling, pan frying, braising ... This is followed by the largest section which gives a variety of rice and noodle options including donburis, fried rice, rice balls ... with rice sprinkling options to add variety. This is finished with specialty items - low fat temptations, pickles, sprinkles etc. The final section is how to make soup packets to go with the bento boxes - appropriate as soup and rice are the traditional close to a Japanese meal.
If one gets confused and the pictures are insufficient, a search of the web should provide any assumed knowledge that you may not know e.g. how to easily julienne burdock (yes, I was recently shown a simple way compared to my big hassle method). But working through this book and observing the structure of the completed box will make you a very competent bento box creator.
What is left out is that you are supposed to pour part of the egg mixture into the pan. As it sets up, fold it in half so it sits on one side of the pan. Then pour more of the egg into the bare part of the pan. When it sets up, roll the previously cooked half back over the newly added side. Repeat the process.
This changes the texture of the finished product as well as the appearance.
Also as a word of warning, these will take a while to make. Some of the lunches presented incorporate 3-4 separate dishes. However you can mix and match so the book is a great resource in that sense. In addition the photos are beautiful and helps to make up what is missing in the directions.
I've been running a bento blog for going on 2 years and found the best way to learn about bento is to search web for Japanese bento blogs. Type the word "bento" in hiragana or try photo sites. This book is an excellent accompaniment to that sort of research because it enables you to identify what many of the items are and provides you with a recipe.
My only complaint is the book should have been spiral bound and laminated. My copy is in pretty bad shape from being used so much.
I got this book because I was looking for a book on Japanese cooking that
A) Had simple to prepare reciepies
B) Wasn't focused too much on Seafood (I'm 100's of miles from the nearest coast)
C) Had a good selection of..err.."normal" food that didn't require exotic ingredients or "acquired" tastes..
To this end this book has been a jewel. Real bang for the buck in terms of the normal of usable recipes-
The organization is not quite what we would expect, loosely by theme. But each page (or pair of pages) presents a complete menu of 3-5 dishes that might complement each other. The pictures of the finished product are quite nice, very few pictures (and not much explanation) of the preparation process. But that's ok, most of these dishes are simple enough. Still there might be one or two that confuse you.
The dishes themselves are delicious, nutritious and fairly easy once you get the hang of it. This by and large makes this book a runaway hit. I've got kids and a busy life so food that I can make quickly that the whole family can eat and doesn't come out of a box is really something. The portions they give in the book are for single meal servings. I've found that for the family tripling the amounts usually works well enough.
The book is now without room for improvement. They are several nice to haves but after you get over them they really don't detract from the core value (lots of good usable recipes you can fix at home).
-The biggest issue perhaps is the lack of a glossary. Your going to need some ingredients your not going to find at your local supermarket. It gives the Japanese name and sometimes a bad English translation. But going in I had no idea what Aburage or devils tounge jelly were. I am fortunate enough to live near a Japanese Market and got it all explained to me. They also don't cover any common substitutions that you might try.
-The organization of the book is a little odd, based more on menu than item or ingredient. So if you want to pick and choose (I want sukiyaki with the green bean thing) your spend a lot of time hunting till you remember where things are.
-A little more explanation on the prep could be useful for some. If you read the recipe and study the picture for a bit you'll get it eventually. But it keeps the book flowing and lots of space for pictures.
If you want a good, cheap cookbook to explore Japanese Home cooking this is the one for you! Well worth the money. Quite a few of the dishes have made their way into my permanent list of things to cook.