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Posted on Nov 7, 2007 in Shopping, Tips | 9 comments

Speed bento & freezing books in my kitchen

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.
  • 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.

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  1. Impressive project! Are any of these illustrated well enough to be worthwhile for non-Japanese readers? I’m really hoping you will also include any worthy English language resources you might have.

  2. Those books look awesome! I’ll have to learn my Japanese faster so I can order some. :D

    Hey, did you know that http://www.spatulatta.com/ has updated with videos for Bento lunches? They have 5 kid-friendly recipes up.

  3. @1 from Lisa: I’d say the 4th bento book (5-fun de Dekita! Chobenri! Kawahaya Obento “Cute and Fast Bentos in 5 Minutes! Super Convenient!”) and the first freezing book (Reitou Hozon & Tsukaikiri Maru Tokuwaza 555, “Techniques for Freezer Storage and Using Things Up”) are informative through photos alone. The 5-minute book has a photo of the ingredient mise en place (setup) and step-by-step photos for each lunch, so you can glean something. The freezing book is just chock full of step-by-step freezing and fridge organization photos (how to prep and freeze each different food); that’s really interesting just from a visual standpoint as well.

  4. Gosh, it’s been ten years since I studied Japanese. I love your website but I would need those books to be translated. Is that something you could do in the future? For example, take a page from one and translate it here for us? Thanks

  5. @2 from Kaits: Yes, Spatulatta e-mailed me about their bento segments — they look fun for kids to make. Recipes are for: beef teriyaki, tamago (egg), stir fry, sushi hand roll, and miso soup.

  6. @4 from Namahottie: I’d run into copyright issues if I did a word-for-word translation of an entire page, but from time to time I do summaries or translate one-off tips from these kinds of cookbooks.

  7. How cool is this?! I would love to see these books, just for the illustrations/ideas. My Japanese sister-in-law could translate them for me. I love the bento-box idea…but I always come up against my gaijin notions of what to put in them. Great post! Arigato Gozimas!

  8. @7 from Bad Home Cook: Oh heck, throw away any notions you have that keep you from packing lunch, if you’re inclined that way! It’s YOUR lunch (or your kid’s lunch), you’re in charge!

  9. I hope you’re still reading comments down here. I’ve been meaning to ask a question about the cookbooks, it just took me a while to get to it.

    I don’t have regular access to an Asian market. I can get spices and seasonings, but for produce and fish/meat, I am limited to what one would find in an average American grocery store. Would the Japanese cookbooks still be of use with American ingredients?