Over the last year I’ve referenced a number of Japanese-language cookbooks for bentos, general recipes and freezing, and readers have asked for specific book recommendations. I hear you! I’ve put together the first installment of some Japanese speed bento cookbooks & freezing books in my kitchen; later I’ll follow up with general and children’s bento books. All are trade paperbacks chock full of photos and step-by step instructions (often illustrated).
Amazon Japan ships books, CDs, DVDs and videos internationally (shipping info in English here), and you can turn most of the site into English by clicking on the “In English” button on the right of the red bar at the top of the page. Each Amazon entry shows the book’s ISBN number, so you might also be able to look them up in your local library or Japanese-language bookstore and browse through them in real life. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links; purchases made by accessing Amazon Japan through these links supports Lunch in a Box.)
Speed bento books:
- Obento Daijiten: 748 Recipe Oishii Obentou Tsukuri o Oen Shimasu! “Bento Encyclopedia” If I had to throw away all of my bento cookbooks but one, this would be the one I would keep. Large, comprehensive bento book with separate sections for speed, children, low-calorie, frugal, student (big/healthy), and multi-person picnic meals. Also has sections for meat/fish/eggs, recipes by color, bread/noodles, and easy-morning prep bentos (with ideas for freezing and leftover remakes). Lists prep time and calories for each meal.
- Aijou Tappuri! Obento: Chugakusei kara Otousan Made Kazoku Minna ga Daimanzoku “Bentos Full of Love: Satisfying everyone in the family from middle school students to Dad” All bentos made in 15 minutes or less, with an illustrated timetable and preparation tips, calorie count, and a recipe for an additional dish to add to each bento for big eaters like teenagers. Separate sections outline the theory of speedy bento prep & packing, equipment, and mini-catalogs of onigiri, speedy decorative garnishes, etc. The final section has individual recipes listed by protein and color. Quite a good book, I like to glance through it to get ideas.
- Papatto 15-fun! Oishii Obentou “Delicious bentos in just 15 minutes!” 252 recipes with photos showing time-saving and packing tips for each lunch. Part 1 has complete bento lunches sorted by main ingredient (pork, chicken, beef, ground meat, processed meat, fish and shellfish, veggies, eggs, tofu) and a few super-fast 10-minute bentos with prep timelines. Part 2 has lunches sorted by carbohydrate (rice, bread, noodles). Part 3 has single-dish recipes with photos and prep times; main dishes sorted by main protein, side dishes sorted by main color (see Packing by color). Part 4 is the dedicated speed bento section, with recipes incorporating frozen foods, recipes for an emergency bento food stash, sauces, and freezing tips.
- 5-fun de Dekita! Chobenri! Kawahaya Obento “Cute and Fast Bentos in 5 Minutes! Super Convenient!” Part of Lettuce Club MOOK’s popular “5-Minute” series, this focuses on showing how to cook an entire bento meal from scratch in 5 minutes. With extensive how-to photos and a graphic timeline for each meal, it also features a back section with super-fast recipes for dishes using frozen food to add to a bento as a one-off. This book was more interesting to me in theory than in practice as I’m not looking to duplicate an entire meal from a book, but I can see why it’s a popular series.
Books on freezing:
- Reitou Hozon & Tsukaikiri Maru Tokuwaza 555, “Techniques for Freezer Storage and Using Things Up” The definitive freezing resource from Shufu no Tomo household magazine. I can’t recommend this book highly enough; it’s got a comprehensive listing of different ways to freeze a huge variety of foods, ways to incorporate them into speedy meals and bentos, recipes, refrigerator and freezer organization tips, reader tips, and a chart with maximum storage times for many food items. Both inspiring and authoritative, I consider this a must-have in my kitchen.
- Freezing de Tsukaikiri Okazu “Dishes that Use Things up by Freezing” An earlier freezing book focusing on recipes; not as much of a comprehensive resource as the Shufu no Tomo book. Has a handy pull-out chart with freezing techniques, how to defrost, and other tips. Okay if you can’t get your hands on the Shufu no Tomo book, but in no way its equal.
- (EDITED TO ADD) Reitou Teku & Setsuyaku Recipe “Freezing Techniques and Frugal Recipes” Brief magazine-book on freezing, but falls short of the Reitou Hozon & Tsukaikiri Tokuwaza book above.
- A full list of food books in my kitchen
- Review: Children’s bento books on my bookshelf
- Organize: Magnets to track freezer inventory
- Freezing sandwiches
- Pre-fill sauce containers to save time
- Need for speed: A mommy’s lunch manifesto
- Biggie’s list of top speed tips, tutorials and equipment reviews