Review of Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals On The Go

Bento Boxes: Japanese Meals On the Go is, I believe, the only book available in English at the moment that is wholly dedicated to Japanese bento box lunches. I didn’t have much incentive to get this for myself, but someone kindly sent me a copy to take a look at recently, so I can finally review it properly.

This slim softcover book (64 pages) is published by a Japanese publishing company. It’s quite obviously a translation from a Japanese book, one I am guessing published about 10 years ago (the publication date of this English version is 2001). I’m not familiar with the author, Naomi Kijima, though that doesn’t mean much. The bentos are very attractive, if a bit old-fashioned in feeling, and the photographs are beautiful.

However there are a few problems with this book. As I said, it’s a translation of a Japanese book and seems to be aimed at a Japanese audience of fairly experienced home cooks. Many of the bentos feature ingredients that are not that easy to get outside of Japan. This would put off most people from trying out the recipes I think, unless they were really determined. A few of the recipes even intimidated me a bit - even though I do have big stock of Japanese staples, some of the fresh ingredients are hard if not impossible for me to get my hands on.

Of course you do need Japanese ingredients to make Japanese food, but one of the major aims of both this site and Just Hungry is to try to gently incorporate these Japanese ingredients with more widely available ingredients, for people who aren’t Japanese or don’t live in Japan. With a directly-translated-from-Japanese cookbook, that kind of thing isn’t taken into consideration.

The other problem with the book is that the recipes are quite abbreviated, so that a Japanese cooking beginner would be left with many questions.

All in all I’m not sure I’d recommend this book wholeheartedly, unless you live in Japan or in an area with easy accessibility to Japanese ingredients. It’s a bit in-between…too advanced for a Japanese cooking beginner, yet lacking detailed instructions. On the other hand it’s not expensive, so if you want an inspirational book to get your bento-creating juices going, or a good visual guide to traditional style Japanese bento lunches, it might be worth adding to your collection. (The bento styling looks a tad old-fashioned and stuffy to me though. The Japanese bento books I recommended earlier are much fresher and modern to my eyes. This is a matter of personal taste of course.)

I would definitely supplement it with a basic Japanese cooking book in any case. In that category there are more choices in English, such as the one I reviewed some time ago (by one of my favorite Japanese cooking gurus).

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You would put this up the

You would put this up the day my copy shipped. smacks forehead ;)


Well, you don’t regret it probably…it is nice to look at, and you could try the recipes as a challenge :)

Agreed in general

This ironically, is my first Bento book - indeed, my introduction to Bento. I picked it up when it caught my eye, realized it fit my interests in producing meals efficiently, and snagged it.

I’m a reasonably experienced cook, so adapting recepies and looking things up wasn’t too hard, as was making a few creative substitutes. In fact, the recepies turned out pretty well so far, and it taught me a lot.

However, I agree it’s not for a beginner at Bento and DEFINITELY not a book for an inexperienced cook.

The plus side is you do get a lot of nice recepies and ideas, it’s a very nice looking book, and there’s some recepies that are really interesting and useful. I’d probably say it’s not a bad book to have around at all, but is neither indespensible nor meant for beginners.

Don’t suppose you’d be

Don’t suppose you’d be willing to share some of the substitutions and things? I’m a mom kind of cook, so I hope that won’t be a big problem, but substitutions would probably be beyond me. And if the ingredients are hard to come by, then the book becomes something that’s just pretty rather than useful. I need useful. lol

In general or from the book?

In general or from the book? I wasn’t sure which you meant.

(Actually substitutions in general would be a GREAT post for this blog. For instance, I found you can use sweet potatoes in place of carrots, and boil brown rice in no-sodium broth to change the flavor.)

Substitutions for stuff in

Substitutions for stuff in the book or in general? Most of what I did in the book was trying different mushrooms, vegetables, types of rice, or different side dishes.

This was one of the first

This was one of the first Japanese cook books that I got and I really enjoy it. I have made many dishes from it.

Funny you should say

Funny you should say that…the only bookstore I’ve ever found it in was in Kyoto.

I love it though

This is the first and only Japanese cookbook I have so far. I love it! I’m an inexperienced cook, but I have no problem following the instructions. I had tried out a few dishes and they all turned out tasty. What I like about this cookbook is that the recipes are simple, quick to prepare and yield for 1 serving (just great for a small family like mine - I simply double the ingredient amount to make 2 servings for my husband and myself).

I know single servings are part of bento-making, but...

I know single servings are part of bento-making, but this book really surprised me when I got it home and realized the recipes were for…exactly one serving. I had to laugh at myself for buying this book and thought about returning it, but then, thought, I’ll just quadruple the ingredients and make enough for 4 servings!

I also have to agree that this isn’t really a bento book for novices of Japanese cooking. I have some familiarity with Japanese cooking, but still having figured out what “Japanese bunching onion” is…it said “naganegi” so is it just green onions? I think a better translation of ingredients and possible substitutions would be helpful in a revised edition, though I doubt one is forthcoming.

More love for your site and congratuations on your weight loss through healthy bento eating!

Sorry if I posted the previous comment in a previous post

Sorry, I’m forgetful.

I found this book

I found this book indispensable for bento ideas and as a quick guide. I’m a fairly compentent cook so I do actually like the fact that the recipes are short and to the point. I find the instructions very clear and concise and easy to follow and I like the book precisely for its slimness, compared to the tomes that I have on my recipe shelf. I suppose they might be a bit too brief for a beginner. As for substitution, nothing like using a bit of imagination, which is all part of the fun of cooking :) The recipes do work, for those that I’ve tried, and taste authentic, which is important when you can’t get Japanese food easily!

It's not a bad book by any means

It’s great that many people have had good experiences with this book. It’s not a bad one by any means at all. I just don’t know if 1) it was the best bento book in Japanese to choose to translate (who knows how they came to that decision, and imho there are a lot of better ones in Japanese they could have chosen from) and 2) if it’s a good Japanese cooking intro book (there are better, in English.) Maybe I should try to convince a Japanese publisher to translate one of my faves…or something :) (I guess they’d have to be convinced there’s a big enough English speaking market for it though.)

I was so excited when I

I was so excited when I found this book on Amazon, but you’re right about some of the elements being too obscure to procure. I live near a fairly large Asian population, and I still had trouble tracking down a lot of the ingredients.

The one positive about the book was that it allowed me to see some beautiful bento pictures and layouts that weren’t the more cutey-pie stuff I usually catch on the internet. Loved the use of space in each bento box.

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