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501 Bento Box Lunches Review

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a contributor in the long awaited 501 Bento Lunches: 501 Unique Recipes for Brilliant Bento book. For those that have nosed through the author bios going, “I see no Pikko!”, I’m credited in the back as Crystal Watanabe. Everyone in the bento community saw this book on Amazon for probably around a year and it eventually came out a couple of months ago.

One of my bentos is on the cover (the sushi in the top right) and already I can tell you that while I’m thrilled to have work on the cover of a book, I’m NOT happy about the shoddy Photoshop job done at the top pieces of sushi. It’s embarrassing. Unfortunately for me, the embarrassment doesn’t end there.

One of the most misleading parts about this book cover are the bright, sharp photos. With such a colorful cover you’d of course expect the rest of the book to look exactly the same. Not so. The majority of the photos in the book itself are dark and hard to see. Even the book photo of the sushi on the cover is dark in the book. Now, I realize that the photos being dark means that I took these horribly dark photos, but that doesn’t mean that’s how they should have been published. I knew how dark they looked when I took them off my camera.

The point is, I touched all of my photos up for the blog so that made up for my crappy photography skills. When I sent these images in, I assumed that they’d brighten up the hi-resolution shots to ready them for book printing. This assumption was a mistake, as you can now see in full published glory. I’m not the only one who now has extremely poorly lit photography credited to their name. Many of the bento photos in this book suffer the same problems as mine.

As for recipes, by recipes the publisher means “instructions” for creating the bento pictured. Very few actual food recipes are found in the book and when they are included, they’re extremely difficult to find as they’re written in a format that is utterly impossible to distinguish from the other write-ups that don’t include a recipe. This is where having 501 bento in a single book has obviously affected the book quality.

There are six bento sections: Art, Cute, Colorful, Traditional, Stylish, and Holiday and Special Occasions. I’m not even really sure what the Traditional section is supposed to be. I had thought it would mean traditional Japanese bento, but when looking through the section, it seems more like if the bento included onigiri or sushi, it got put in here. The rest appear to be well balanced, if this is what is meant by traditional.

The Art Bento section is mostly for gazing at. While the Goose Bento certainly looks spectacular, I wouldn’t eat it. Apple sauce dyed blue and placed on top of couscous and rice just doesn’t sound appetizing to me at all. In another, the Guitar Bento, it’s made out of red rice, apple, cheese, and bamboo shoots. For me, this isn’t really a bento, as it doesn’t follow any sort of nutritional balance being made basically from only carbs. It’s rather odd that this is the first section that comes after a very nicely written introduction on food balance in a bento should be.

The saving grace of this book is the sheer volume of images and ideas that are presented to the readers. Those looking for ideas on how to make their lunches more attractive can certainly obtain oodles of them from the pictures in here, but people looking for traditional recipes or a coffee table book of bento will find themselves disappointed. Still, at less than $14 on Amazon, it’s not like you aren’t getting your money’s worth.

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