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Review: Hawai`i’s Bento Box Cookbook 2nd Course

A few weeks ago, Susan Yuen, my fellow bento cookbook author here in Hawaii sent me a copy of her new cookbook, Hawai`i’s Bento Box Cookbook: 2nd Course, for review and I have to shamefully admit that I’ve been so busy that it’s been sitting in my house this whole time with the cute musubis and cheese butterflies staring at me accusingly, wondering when I was going to be able to finally take a look at them. I put the book on my Google calendar for today and sat down to review it last night after I watched V.

I don’t think I ever reviewed Susan’s first book, though I do own a copy of it. The first time I heard about Susan was through my Aunty K in Hilo, who said she went into Borders and saw a bento book and immediately assumed that I had written it yet somehow forgotten to mention it to our entire family. Once she realized that Hawaii had another bento freak… er, wait. I meant to say, “bento enthusiast”. Anyway, once she realized it wasn’t me, she emailed me to tell me about it and I went out and got a copy. Since then, we’ve gotten to know each other through our blogs, Twitter, and first met at the tv station at the butt crack of dawn to pitch our Haiti Fundraiser.

Hawaii's Bento Box Cookbook Cover

I was very excited to hear that she was coming out with a sequel to the book because for one, it meant that her first was successful and therefore also meant that the bento community was growing. The cover of the book is much like the first, bright and vibrant in color with cute food. I prefer the 2nd course cover over the first, though, as I love seeing bentos on the cover instead of just the standalone charaben that were on the first cover.

Overall, I feel like the quality of the book has improved a lot since her first book. Though the food was adorable, it seemed as though the photos were taken with a regular camera with the flash on in some places. This time, her photos are lighted better and positioned better as well. Her step-by-step photos for cutting the shapes make an appearance again, which is good because I felt that was one of the strongest parts of her first book.

Anemone Bento

Out of the entire book, I think these clown fish were by far my favorite. Together with carrot somen as a sea anemone, they just make the most adorable ocean scene with such a simple charaben design that the only tools you’d need are a circle cutter, straw, and hole punch to make the clown fish. This is a big plus for me as one of the biggest hurdles for people are fancy cutters. I don’t think there are many people that couldn’t find a circle cookie cutter somewhere. She uses additional cutters for the seaweed and coral, but the clown fish are still the main attraction.


My second favorite was this coconut tree bento. Seriously, it’s hilarious. The coconuts are so freaking cute and I love how she uses fresh greens for the palm fronds. The drawback here for mainlanders is that the trunk is made out of fishcake, something that we can simply find next to the tofu at the market here in Hawaii but not necessarily on the mainland. Still, I’ve learned that successfully using bento cookbooks means being able to take what you see and adapt as needed. If you’re wondering how I learned this, it’s by staring at a Japanese bento mook and not being able to read a single word. For example, the coconut tree trunk could be replaced with a soy sauce omelet.

I have to admit I was a little alarmed when I saw one of the bentos in her sandwiches section.

Kitty Sandwich

It looks familiar doesn’t it? LOL! I couldn’t believe it! It looks just like my Kitty Cat Croissanwich, right down to the somen whiskers! I mean, obviously she made this months before me, but it just goes to show that we really do think alike. I swear I did not see this sammie of hers and simply make my own version, I really did just stare at a croissant sitting in a bag on the floor until I saw a cat. We’re going to have to compare family trees one day to make sure we’re not somehow related.

Chick Sammies Bento

Baby Girl left school with us after her May Day Program today, so I packed a bento for her to eat at my office (no kids will see them there, so it’s ok), using one of the designs in Susan’s book. All I really took was the chick characters, leaving the rest of the bento in the book alone to customize it for what I had and what she’d eat. Instead of bologna beaks, I used carrots. This helps to emphasize again: bento recipes don’t need to be followed to a ‘T’. They’re there for design ideas, food recipes, and charaben ideas. This is how I hope people will use Yum-Yum Bento Box as well, though making it exactly as photos is just as cool too.

As with the first book, this second course is full of recipes in the back. That by itself probably makes this worth the money as a cookbook, but the most important thing are the many cute ideas that Susan presents to her readers. Second Course features a total of 75 lunch ideas for kids, is 160 pages in length, and currently costs $14.95 on Amazon. While some foods in the book may be difficult for some areas of the mainland, this book is titled Hawai`i’s Bento Box Cookbook, therefore I feel it would be very unfair to count the ingredients against it.

I had felt the first book had areas that needed to be improved, but am happy to say that I feel Second Course has addressed each of those areas to put forth a much more polished and attractive bento cookbook. In general, it seems like Susan’s lunch designs have improved through her blogging, and I’m happy to give this book two enthusiastic thumbs up!