I was SO excited to see my bento books arrived in. I have been looking to expand my lunch packing and meal-making skills, so I found some good deals on three books that got good reviews on Amazon…
I’ve had a chance to check out all three and thought I will be happy to provide more in-depth reviews, I can share my initial thoughts.
The first book I really looked through was Hawai’i's Bento Box Cookbook by Susan Yuen. The bentos are ADORABLE. They are perfect for small children who would certainly delight in opening their lunchboxes to find whimsical scenes. I love that it’s in a spiral-bound book, which makes it VERY easy to lay flat and go through the steps without having to struggle to keep the book open. The book is broken into two main sections: the artistic bento hints and the recipes. The artistic bento IS indeed artistic, and for the most part extremely easy to do provided you have the right tools. The AMOUNT of tools you need in order to do them, however, can be a overwhelming. Nori punches or scrapbooking punches, cookie cutters (butterfly, cat, bear, bunny, pig, chick, fish, flowers, leaves, not to mention the plain circles, ovals, hearts, stars, etc), straws, sausage cutters, musubi (rice) molds, and a WHOLE lot I didn’t even mention. I would estimate that if I wanted to create the bentos in the book, I would need about $150-200 worth of tools in order to do them. On the other hand, I certainly appreciated the recipe section, which offers a variety of dishes that can be used in bento boxes, most of which need only a few “fresh” ingredients and then usually spices you would normally have around the house. I found several recipes that I would LOVE to try and do not seem intimidating to someone without a great deal of culinary finesse. Overall, the book is great to offer some fun ideas for your young child, just be aware you’ll need to designate a special drawer in the kitchen for all the accoutrements.
The second book I was reading was Yum-Yum Bento Box by Crystal Watanabe (aibento.net) and Maki Ogawa (cuteobento.com). This book is a bit more in depth than the Susan Yuen book, includes a bit of history behind bento, and a more comprehensive list of items one might use to create bento. Again, make sure you have a drawer designated for your bentomaking tools, but I got less of an overwhelming feeling from this book than the previous book, and I think it is due to how it is presented. There’s five full pages dedicated just to the tools used, and short explanations of what they are, how to use them best and where you might even find them, but I didn’t feel particularly pressured to acquire EVERYTHING. They even include two pages of different ways to create aspects of characters… for instance ears can be represented with deli meat cut outs, cheese cut outs, meatballs sliced in half or even two fried noodles. Once they move into highlighting their bento creations, the recipes are right there, along with estimated time it takes to make them, and tips for alternatives if you do not have all the ingredients or tools. Lastly, they offer a great deal of reference – a lot of websites to learn more about bento as well as places to purchase items you might not find locally, etc. As with the Susan Yuen book, the recipes look fairly easy to follow and create myself. Overall, I think the bento from this book would definitely appeal to not only my 11 year old daughter, but many dishes would definitely appeal to my husband (minus some of the cute faces).
The last book I picked up was The Just Bento Cookbook, Everyday Lunches To Go by Makiko Itoh, who also runs the website JustBento.com. This book is much different from the first two, in that there are no cute faces or characters – this book is dedicated to creating meals that are healthy portions, include healthy ingredients, are tasty, and are aesthetically pleasing. The recipes are almost stupid-easy, and Itoh is kind enough to mention how long something will keep in the fridge or freezer (this point is a real bonus for me!). The recipes are not just traditional Japanese foods, either. One group of recipes focuses on lamb or beef koftas, baba ghanoush and hummus, all of which look and sound incredibly tasty. There is also a section of bento staples to keep in your pantry and fridge, as well as a detailed description of many typical Japanese ingredients and where you can find them. Overall, aside from not being spiral bound, this book is just about perfection!
All three books offer something to me – I did not feel I wasted my money on any of them. I am eager to try recipes and ideas, and see how they go over with my family. As time permits to put each of these books through their paces, I’ll be doing a more detailed individual review. Enjoy!
I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. I found these really slick fork/knife/chopstick utensils on Think Geek, and I may pick them up when I have a few other items to purchase from them. I could not determine, however, whether the chopstick ends were roughened to make it easier to pickup and hold food. If the stick ends are just as slick and shiny as the fork and knife ends, I see slapstick comedy occurring and a very frustrated woman angrily tossing them away while resorting to eating with her fingers in an effort to avoid starving to death.
I also found this funky set on jbox. This set appears to more of a cooking utensil set, but still cool as hell. Based on the knowledge that the ends are silicone, I could guess that it would be easier to try and eat with them, and what this set lacks in a knife is made up for with a small spoon. I’d love to give them a try!
As I said, I LOVE bento, which means I also love bento boxes! I have a fondness for containers in general, but bento boxes are in a class all their own. I have seen everything from the cartoon-y Hello Kitty bento boxes marketed for very small children (and college girls who want to be adorable), to some very sleek, modern styles marketed for professional businessmen.
I had a wonderful friend even send me a couple of bento boxes and accessories right from Singapore – I cannot tell you how freakin’ excited I was to get THAT package in the mail!
So in my grand search to find the perfect bento box, I discovered a set from Black + Blum. Researching their other products, they have a style reminiscent of IKEA – clean, simple and functional. Since I am a fan of ReUseIt, a website dedicated to reusable, recycle-able or otherwise environmentally conscious products, I chose to purchase the small and large lunch boxes from them (hint: they do run sales).
While waiting for my new bento boxes to arrive, I decided to read reviews about them. I was very glad I did, because there were some complaints. Some people were upset that the clear top of the box got scratched and became opaque, others found that even putting the items on the top rack of a dishwasher caused some warping, and others greatly disliked how the side tabs broke off and rendered the product useless.
I’ll admit, I was a little worried. Had I fallen for the pretty packaging and would I be left with a worthless product and less money in my pocket?
Then they arrived. For a couple of weeks I just left them on my shelf, admiring the design and cleanliness of them, and afraid to use them for fear of wrecking them.
Yeah, I was afraid to use them. I’m a moron like that sometimes.
But when I started really getting into learning how to make sushi rice properly, there came the realization that I could do something similar with my 11 year old daughter’s lunches. I wasn’t feeling confident enough to try packing her sushi for lunch (well, onigiri really since sushi obviously has to be made fresh and and consumed quickly), so I made wraps and sliced them like sushi…
Bologna in a wrap, a few carrot sticks and broccoli, and the little sauce pot had veggie dip. Yeah, it’s wasn’t spectacular by any artistic means, but she LOVED IT. The container made her feel so sophisticated, and for about 2 weeks straight she didn’t use anything else but this container.
Each afternoon I made sure to get it back from her, hand-washed it (I have no dishwasher anyway) with the soft side of the sponge, and let it air dry in the dish drain. Easy!
There was one time that my daughter neglected to remember where she put it. She swore she had it in her hand when she left school, but it was nowhere to be found. After two days she finally pulled everything out of her backpack and discovered it at the bottom, with one of the side clips popped off.
I was devastated! I read reviews where that had happened to other people and it was useless afterward.
Except, apparently the company read the same reviews I did and did a little REDESIGN, and I was one of the people with the new design! Once I cleaned all the pieces (I remember the soy sauce… everywhere), it was a simple matter of popping the clip back on. Simple, easy, and no problems.
REVIEW SUMMARY: I freakin’ LOVE this bento box! It looks small, but once you pack it with food, it really is just the right amount.
I also have the large version (below), but have not used it extensively yet. The smaller one is perfect for tightly packed food (noodles, sushi, etc), the larger would work great for lighter, more airy foods like salads so people who are into portion control can put them to the best use. Enjoy!
I have learned how to make some very basic bento meals, but I am still quite the novice. I learned how to make sticky rice with sushi vinegar (makes a HUGE difference!), and have collected some rice forms so I could make onigiri (the family seems to like that a lot).