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Kawaii Bento Boxes Review

A couple weeks ago, I was asked to do a review on a bento book coming out later this year. Curious to see the latest attempt at a bento cookbook, I of course said I would. The book arrived quickly, taking about a week to get here. This is more than I can say for my copies of 501 Bento Lunches, which is still “in the mail”. *grumble*

My scanner is disconnected, so I had to just take a picture of the cover. I’m at home watching Baby Girl today because she has a fever, so I figured now was a good time to get this out there.

The first thing you notice about the book is the cute factor. It’s got approximately 80 bento lunches, many of them geared for kids and adults. The little section in the front on “Bento Basics” was really informative and there are other aspects of the book I found very useful, which I’ll get into later.

However, after one read-through of the book, something began to nag at my mind. Eventually, I was able to pinpoint that this nagging feeling was the impression that this wasn’t actually a bento book written for a US market, but rather a Japanese bento book translated into English and published in the US. There are several things that factor into this opinion of mine, but keep in mind they’re just my impressions. In the end, I think you’ll agree with my reasoning though.

For one, there’s a little intro on the inside cover that mentions bento is something “Japanese workers have [recently] begun to make”, which struck me as a little odd as I’d thought this was long common practice in Japan. Also note that it mentions “Japanese workers” and not the US bento community. The book is co-published by a company in Japan and the original copyright year is 2006.

The original publishing year begins to make sense when you see the bento boxes used and the tools pictured in the gear guide. As you all know by now, I’m as big a bento freak as they come with accessories and bento boxes. I have practically everything there is to own that’s been on the online markets for the last two years and there are things in this book I simply haven’t seen before, yet look similar to products I have now.

The bentos are split into nine different sections such as Onigiri Bento, Sushi Bento, Bread Bento, Pasta Bento, etc. Each bento comes with a menu box, sometimes a pictured recipe and other times a text recipe. On each photo is a little clock showing you approximately how long it would take you to make each lunch. I’m not sure how accurate these times are though, because some of the more complicated looking ones seem to have a time of 15 minutes, while another such as a quick sandwich bento with no cooking involved has a time of 20 minutes.

This section of the book was the most interesting to me. There were tabs for five different color sections with matching side dishes to fill your bento with. There’s also a pretty cool “quick dessert” page people might enjoy.

The recipes sounded pretty good, but I wasn’t very encouraged when I saw this:

The picture’s not that clear, but I’d like to ask any Hawaii resident what is wrong with this picture that they can tell. I asked three family members the same question and two of them were able to answer right away.

Have you got it? That’s right. THE SPAM IS RAW!!!

This was immediately apparent to me and I was horrified. It makes me wonder if this is why people on the mainland don’t like spam, cause they eat it like this. Anyway, the recipe just says to cut the spam and wrap it with nori around the rice. GROSS! Not to sound nitpicky, but this one thing causes me to question how everything else in the book tastes. If they’re going to tell you to eat raw spam, what else in here is going to be an unpleasant surprise come lunchtime? And even worse, it’s labeled “Hawaiian Musubi” like we eat it like this all the time. Ugh.

If you look at the first recipe picture, you’ll notice cheese sausage sushi. Those sausages appear to be served up raw as well. I’m the first in line at parties when there’s sashimi or raw fish sushi, but raw spam and sausage? I have to pass.

Something else to make note of about this book is that it’s got a lot of very regional dishes that I can’t see even my own kids eating. Things like stuffed shiitake mushrooms, eel donburi, fried squid rings, kinpira, sauteed lotus root, and natto riceballs are just a few examples. Overall, the book has a lot of cute ideas, bento layouts, and mini recipes, but I think people in less Asian-centric communities will find this book difficult to use without a lot of creative replacement on their part, which seems like a pretty big turnoff when it comes to a cookbook’s functionality.

The book is set to go on sale in September of this year for $18.95, which seems a little pricey to me considering it’s only 80 pages. I’m not sure how much success it’ll have being what looks like a regurgitated Japan book in a US market, but I’ll leave that determination up to all of you. 🙂